The football was pretty good, as has much of the competition so far. We just hope it doesn’t decay as the World Cup did. The presentation just felt dated; not necessarily inferior to Sky Sports’ suffocating analysis, but more that it simply appears to be scared to death of altering the format for the risk of upsetting the conservative majority who prefer complacency and platitudes to intelligence and insight.
What was good about it?
• Martin O’Neill’s comments offer a peek at his managerial style, as he always seems far more concerned about the mental state of the players and managers than he does about tactics. He was aghast that Thuram and Sagnol of France were ostensibly “not up” for playing, and later sympathised with the bumbling French coach Domenech about his bad luck (but even bad luck couldn’t excuse the inclusion of Boumsong in the squad).
• The commentary of John Motson. Perhaps we’re being needlessly sentimental, but there is something reassuring about Motty. Sure, he’s got some annoying ticks (not least the humourless bloodsucking leech also known as Mark Lawrenson), such as breathlessly saying, “If you’ve just come in…” which is an excuse he uses as way of summarising the game so far, and his style is starkly old fashioned. Which brings us to the question – is the modern style of commentary any better?
• This is largely impossible to answer as most commentators are old, and most of the new ones such as Steve Wilson follow Motty’s tradition. As a consequence, they are largely faceless and voiceless but competent. Sky’s Martin Tyler is another decent commentator but overuses the same hyperbole so that season reviews turn into an avalanche of “awesome strikes” and “unbelievable goals” (or is that Chris Kamara?).
• Jonathan Pearce is probably the best British commentator at Euro 2008, but even he is a strangled whimper compared with his previous incarnation as a bellowing baboon. Clive Tyldesley is mostly good, too, but impossible to judge so long as he is weighed down by the tongue-tied human saddlebag of David Pleat.
• Italian striker Luca Toni giving hope to players such as Carlton Cole, David Nugent and Ade Akinbiyi that they too can look forward to a glittering international career.
• Over on BBC3 during the Holland v Romania match, the myth that foreign players are causing a dearth of good quality players for the England team is blasted out of the water as the Dutch impress despite their full-backs being a combination of a player bombed out of Chelsea, Wigan’s right-back and an Aston Villa substitute. The problem is far deeper than a simple lack of players. In fact, no team’s defence, on paper or by club form but not in internationals, comes within a country mile of England’s.
What was bad about it?
• Gary Lineker: “The French and the Rumanians [sic] go home!” Well, we can decipher that the French will go home to France, but where will the Rumanians go? Certainly not to Rumania, as that place does not exist except in the anachronistic, jingoistic minds of blinkered BBC presenters and commentators who, judging by their obdurate refusal to address a nation by its proper name of Romania (yes, we know the native pronunciation is Ro-man-ee-ah, but the BBC won’t even phonetically pronounce it correctly on the spelling of Romania) still salute the Queen before bed, and openly lament the sun setting on the Great British Empire.
Do adoring couples book holidays to Rume to take in the wonders of the Coliseum? We can even forgive David Pleat his “Republic of Czechoslovakia” as that is rooted in his linguistic incompetence rather than an editorial decision set in stone by football-hating morons.
• However, we do applaud the BBC’s pronunciation of Joachim Low as “Lurve” – no matter the allusions to a Barry White concert – resisting the mockery of those 46-year-old men made physically and mentally impotent by swilling down pint after pint of tabloid xenophobia. Would they expect Ian Wright to be pronounced “Jan Vrigghutt”, or perhaps the common pronunciation of “Gurning Tosser” might be more apt.
• We remember when Alan Hansen used to enlighten us with his analytical skills, but either his expertise has been neutered by a BBC eager to pander to the lowest form of human life and thus reduce all half- and full-time analysis to a facile rerun of the major goals and incidents accompanied by a gruff authoritative Scots voice stating, “He lays it back there…” as if the audience are incapable of observing this for themselves.
Or maybe it’s that there is only a finite number of ways of analysing a football match, and soon every half-time becomes one amorphous blur of “defenders fear pace”, “he’ll be disappointed with that” and laughing at foreign players who are not attached to English Premier League clubs and therefore not risk upsetting the clubs before the new season (or worse their fans – the most glaring example of this was the incessant mantra that “Petr Cech is the best goalkeeper in the world”, when even up to the point of dropping the ball against Turkey, he had not been noticeably better than say Boruc, Van Der Sar, Casillas and Buffon. Cech is one of the best in the world, but is on a par with about 10 other keepers rather than being pre-eminent).
• But rather than accede to the degrading cabal of BBC, ITV and, to a lesser extent Sky Sports (the rambling Paul Merson is unlikely to morph into Albert Camus) that decrees a blanket policy of bland analysis moulded to fit the mentality of people who are impelled by the Ladbrokes advert – “Everyone’s got an opinion, what’s yourz wurf?” – to actually place a bet to validate their opinion, a cabal that mirrors the incestuous, broken circle of a two-party democracy, we do remember an instance when a football match on the BBC was analysed properly.
• During Euro 96, Ruud Gullit burrowed down the very marrow of Germany v Russia to explain why Germany were so dominant, intricately detailing the tactics that enabled the German midfield to run the show. It was stunning.
Sadly, barely a week later Gullit was BBC studio analyst for Czech Republic v Portugal. Anticipating a sublime preview we waited, salivating, to learn how, why and where this match would be won and lost. Instead, a lethargic Gullit appeared to have had all his vivacity sucked out of him as though he’d spent the preceding seven days in the BBC’s version of the Ministry of Love being cerebrally smashed so that he didn’t embarrass Hansen et al with his gleaming perspicacity. And all he could spout was: “We’re looking forward to some sexy football!”
And so was born one of the most loathsome phrases in sport broadcasting, a devolving cliché embodying the malaise that has prevailed into Euro 2008 and is made eternal flesh by the excruciating exchanges between Lineker and Shearer, Ryder and Townsend and Keys and Redknapp.
• The camera shots, determined by the host broadcaster, that persist with one of our personal bugbears – the manager close up to gauge euphoria and disappointment and so instruct the plastic automatons sitting at home how they should react too.