A midweek bonus takes in master intercepticons Man United, Arsenal's wealth of scorers, Liverpool's set-piece mastery and Eric Lamela tackling but not creating...
On Friday we'll sit in front of our televisions or Twitter, glued to what is basic administration. Daniel Storey stands on his soapbox and scrooges about the World Cup draw...
As the World Cup gets down to the nitty-gritty, we turn from the real business of shouting at Clive Tyldesley (we'll be covering pundits and commentators next week) to look at the 'features' ITV and BBC1 have been doing.
Maybe we're going soft in our old age, or it's the soothing effect of all the organic Gewürztraminer (Chilean, not German, we haven't gone totally Lord Haw-Haw) we've been drinking, but we've really enjoyed a lot of the non-football, complementary segments on both ITV and BBC.
On the BBC, there have been excellent short documentaries. To pick just three which we especially liked: first, an account of Sir Stanley Matthews' work in South Africa coaching black South Africans in townships throughout the 60s and 70s. This was somewhat controversial and not a little bit dangerous as whitey was understandably unpopular at the time. Stan is now looked upon as "like Jesus", as one fella said. We previously didn't know of his work and it was a pleasure to see his ex-pupils recount that tough time with such affection for the great man.
Another piece about Cape Town's District Six got right to the heart of the matter. This was an area of Cape Town that was forcibly cleared by the Apartheid regime starting in 1968, homes bulldozered and the rest. Its non-white residents were shoved miles out into the grim and desolate Cape Flats area, nowadays a by-word for crime and gangsterism in the city. Half of this column has been to the District Six Museum featured in the doc, and, we'll tell you what, Clive, if it doesn't make you weep at the sheer senseless cruelty of it all, then you're a hard-hearted sonuvabitch. Restitution, forgiveness and simmering resentment compete in the museum and the hearts of the people who lived through it, and this was superbly conveyed by the BBC's little segment.
A film bit about a prisoners' football league on Robben Island during the incarceration of Nelson and company was similarly moving, inspiring and fascinating, not least because the blokes concerned, now fat and old, were so decent. To think they were in jail essentially for being black: it still shocks.
The BBC's approach to the unique history and present day problems facing South Africa has been generally very good. They have clearly spent money on them and thus they have looked sensational. Previous 'features' segments of World Cup programming have tended towards the infantile - "Here's an interesting history of the Wiener Schnitzel"..."Did you know, The Japanese are fond of Hello Kitty?" and so on - but, thank God, some bods in White City have obviously realised that a much more grown-up approach is needed, and it has paid off.
That's not to say that Auntie's coverage has been without its annoyances. That Battle Bus business, with the two boymen who share a surname (Squit? Stude? Something?) is a guaranteed irritant, the worst sort of Blue Peter-style faux informative kidult s**te. At Cape Agulhas, viewers were told: "This place is the personification of tranquillity", which is a) a nonsense, being as a place is not a person and b) the sort of frigging drippy drivel you might expect to read on your 18-year-old cousin's Facebook diary about Finding Herself On Her Gap Year. Enjoy your holiday while it lasts, Walker Not-Brothers: the sun ain't gonna shine any more for thee, or at least not if there is any justice.
We even enjoyed the Gabby Logan features where she drifts around the big sky country looking winsome and broad shouldered like one of those Victorian women of Empire who travelled the world smoking cigars and having wild affairs with tribesmen. Not that we are suggesting La Gabby, etc etc. Regardless of content, these have been filmed with a degree of epic regard to the environment and look, frankly, fabulous.
What hasn't worked out so well, in the way that invading the Soviet Union didn't work out so well for Hitler, has been the interplay between football and political/social history. Alan Hansen's comment on Apartheid "That system was obviously fundamentally flawed...but now they've got the World Cup," has already rightly passed into punditry legend. And Alan Shearer being sent to townships to interview people who suffered under the aforementioned regime simply set the controls for the heart of the cringe. "Whole family murdered? He'll have to be disappointed with that." (We paraphrase, but only just). Alan Partridge's desperate programme-pitching ("Monkey tennis...Youth-hosteling with Chris Eubank...") could not have thrown up a worse idea.
The lesson, as if it were needed, is that the BBC can do really excellent documentaries, and really barely passable former England players as pundits, but never, ever should they be combined.
Incidentally, an almost-unprecedented attempt at something slightly off-beat and funny - The North Korea propaganda video - was amusing. We went on the Football365 forum after it aired on MOTD2 and saw some people on there, exactly the sort of brain-dead parrots who normally moan about the BBC's coverage being bland and predictable , claiming that they were "offended" by this mockery of Kim Jong-Il's hideous, and in some ways hilarious, regime. So what do you want; safe and boring or the hit-and-miss risk of something new?
In acknowledgement of the much smaller budget available to ITV, we have less to say about their features, which are by necessity shorter, less frequent and less ritzy. However, on the whole they too have grasped that South Africa requires a different approach than would, e.g. Germany, USA, Japan, wherever. Lots of people hated Adrian Chiles' "burger 'n' baseball bat" USA preview, but we could see it going down fairly well with their target audience. The live performance of their theme song by Vusi Mahlasela on Monday night was a treat. Overall, not bad.
It's often said that politics and sport do not mix, which strikes us an utterly cowardly and delusional cop-out. Politics shapes the world and football exists in the world. Thankfully, the BBC and ITV have realised that it would be ludicrous to cover this World Cup without addressing and, perhaps, even informing a bit, about the host country's history and problems. Hats off, we say.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers