As Euro 2016 enters the home straight, Johnny puts his trousers back on, tries to pretend he’s a well-adjusted member of the human race, rounds up what’s happened this week and runs the rule over the whole competition.
Not much in the way of interesting fashion statements on display this week. Luca Vialli sported another nice blue suit, Manu Petit at one point was wearing the sort of substantial button-down tab collar last seen on an Elvis jumpsuit in 1972. More pundits should wear jumpsuits. Nice that the Frenchman is still sticking with the early 90s record executive ponytail. Rio is still sticking with the buttoned up shirt thing. It’s starting to look as though he’s just forgotten to bring any ties. Roy Keane seems to be reverting to his leech gatherer of the moors, bearded freako look. The fact he’s got two symmetrical white patches actually makes it look like it’s been painted and not grown.
Some British ex-footballers have a strange relationship with the English language. When they’re not mispronouncing words, they’re inventing entirely new ones. This week John Hartson gave it the full booner and reinvented “anonymous” as “uneonymous”. Glenn Hoddle – a man with a long reputation of abusing the finest traditions of spoken English – made up the word “fatigueness”. Not sure why. We have lots of words for being tired and really didn’t need another, but thems the thing what Glenn does.
For Welsh reasons Dean Saunders pronounces “formula” as “formala”, and Deano was responsible for the best comment of the week when talking about Hal Robson-Kanu’s Cryuff turn, saying the defenders ‘have all gone for a crepe suzette.’ Wonderfully daft and somehow very 1970s.
‘What’s amazed me, not amazed me…” said Robbie Savage, at one point, presumably quickly contradicting himself before anyone else can. He also seems to get stuck saying “Chappers” at the end of every sentence, Chappers. Mind, he also said Wales had “three centre backs like men”. Which is fair enough, they do look like men and I had assumed they actually were.
Meanwhile, look who’s popped up on ITV. It’s celebrity “love-rat” Ryan Giggs, a man who can say the word “excited” in the least exciting way. With long pauses and lots of staring into the middle-distance as though trying to recall where he’d left an intimate item of clothing, Ryan was, in his way, an extraordinary performer. It was as if he and Roy Keane were strangers, and not team-mates for years. And Ryan has a voice much like the drone of a hurdy gurdy; kind of hypnotic and sleep-inducing. Presumably he’s about to appear on ITV2’s Love Island in order to boost his credibility as a potential manager and in that, it’ll probably be more successful than his pundit work to date.
But back to strange choices of words. Martin Keown referred to a 31-year-old player as “the young man”. Only in football can you be “young” at 31, or, if you’re a British manager, 51.
Martin also said he could “see the warrior” in Bonucci’s eyes, which does rather suggest the ex-Arsenal man has been drinking from the spiked kool-aid which might also explain why he said, when Pelle missed his penalty, “He’s got to be hitting the target from there”. Yes Martin, yes he does. You have successfully grabbed the whole point of the penalty.
But hang on, Frank Lampard has put down his cheesecake to tell us something we didn’t know. ‘Bad performances send you home,” said the ex-Chelsea dancer. And when asked who should be the next England manager he went for “a younger forward thinking manager….but the name is not jumping out.” It’s this level of detailed insight that makes us all feel we’re experts.
Similarly, Mark Bowen’s co-comm work on the Welsh semi-final struck new levels of “you don’t say” when he told us that Ronaldo is “dangerous from free-kicks” Weirdly this managed to be both stating the obvious and also wrong, as he hit another over the bar, registering over 40 major tournament attempts without a goal.
Danny Mills seemed to keep confusing himself when talking about Iceland, saying before the France game, “it’s only Iceland” before going on to say how they shouldn’t be underestimated, before underestimating them by saying “it’s only Iceland” again, as though he couldn’t quite settle on how to think about it. Very odd.
There was a bit of poetry from the always engaging Neil Lennon describing Gareth Bale as “a tropical plant in a hedgerow,” which actually doesn’t work as an analogy at all because a tropical plant isn’t better than a hedgerow, but merely different. And how would it survive? But anyway, you knew what he meant. And I like his ginger eyelashes and I don’t care who knows it.
The single finest thing of the week was ITV’s feature with Chris Coleman and others, talking about Gary Speed, who he’d known since aged 10. With a profound, dark-eyed brooding upset laid on top of barely suppressed emotion, you’d have had to have a heart of ice not to shed a tear. Coleman was absolutely immense.
So with just the final to sort out (weirdly broadcast on both channels simultaneously), who’s had the best tournament on the telly and radio?
I think everyone enjoyed Slaven Bilic for his animation, insight and ability to grab a man to make a point. Vialli’s performances have been full of smiling passion and charm coupled with very blue jackets.
For some reason Thierry Henry on the BBC is a creature transformed from the energyless, so-laid-back-he’s-asleep man that gigs for Sky. He’s been funny and entertaining on TV and very good value on the radio too. I suspect he just enjoyed the company he kept.
Neil Lennon has been quick-witted and amusing throughout too. Alan Shearer on England was gritty and had real heft, even if it was a job pitch. His upward curve towards being a Premier League pundit continues apace. Of course, Gary Lineker was his usual consummate, urbane, professional self. I’d just like to say how lovely it is to see Gary do these shows. We take him for granted, sometimes, but he dispenses good vibes, makes things friendly and good-natured, whilst delivering the technical side of broadcasting with a relaxed ease. Wonderful. Helluva tan, an’ all.
Rio Ferdinand has been a bit patchy. His pundit work reminds me of his early career as a player; long periods of excellence littered with lapses in concentration. But he does have flashes of peerless brilliance. His explanation of how Antoine Griezmann’s play as a 10 enhanced Olivier Giroud’s effectiveness, from the viewpoint of the problems it created for a defender, was short but enlightening and superbly delivered.
5live’s coverage has been, as ever, exemplary with Mark Chapman on especially superb form as the ringmaster of so many games, especially England. Props to Kelly Cates for doing the phone-ins with good humour and grace, which can’t be easy given the fact some callers are either heavily medicated, or have recently had a frontal lobe removed. Caroline Barker has had a great tournament too, making lots of jokes and generally taking the mick out of people.
A surprise hit with me has been Dean Saunders. He is such a rather gauche, unaffected bloke. His slightly dazed expression just makes me laugh, his emotion at Wales’ results, heart-warming.
Jens Lehmann was a unique presence, as though he was The Man Who Fell To Earth and we’d love to see more of him and his sibilant s’s.
It was no surprise that Lee Dixon would be ITV’s man of the tournament, especially once Slaven had gone back to the day job. But even so, it’s worth stating just what a star he is, capable of dissecting and disseminating how various in-play tactics have worked, but able to do so in an intelligent, accessible, warm and engaging way, even if Manu Petit does think he looks like Tin Tin. Proof not only the the good guys do sometimes win, and also that you don’t have to be a wacky personality to impress.
The occasional inclusion of European journalists on the BBC has been very welcome, especially the lovely Julien Laurens talking about France on the radio and doing a nice little piece on Griezmann for the TV. Rafa Honigstein at half time with Dan Walker in the France v Germany game was also a wonderful moment of insight. It is these specialist flavours that make the BBC’s football gravy so tasty, rich and spicy.
Another fine example was the half time feature in the France v Germany semi-final. Only the BBC would intersperse artfully presented quotes from French poets and philosophers with footage from the 1982 France v Germany game with (I’m told) an Agnes Obel soundtrack. Gary Lineker told me via Twitter that this was created by Andy Fraser (not the bass player from Free). It was a classy, wonderful work of visual art. Something which prickled the skin and elevated the soul, pushing the boundaries of what a sports programme can be. Stunning. Should win awards. In a world which increasingly knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, this was a blow against that especially evil empire.
It was an odd decision for ITV to have Louis Saha and Christian Karembeu standing somewhere, usually talking to Jacqui Oatley. They didn’t offer a lot really and it often seemed as the always excellent Jacqui (should have been in Pougers chair) was staring at them wondering what on earth they were on about and hoping it’d all be over soon.
My social media research consistently indicated widespread and across the board dissatisfaction with the performance of Hoddle and Savage above all others. The general view being that they’re relatively inarticulate, garble words, offer little insight beyond the obvious and have really been shown up by being around so many excellent co-workers. Similarly, there was disappointment in the undoubtedly very nice Peter Crouch, who just never really seemed to embrace the gig, and lolled in his seat like it was all too much effort, Lothar Matthaus wore one expression throughout and was clearly surplus to requirements, and the couple of times that Ryan Giggs has been on, he’s astonished many with his unremitting dullness.
Just to return to Hoddle. He’s very experienced on TV both as a co-comm and a pundit. He’s had a lot of time to get better and he clearly can’t. It’s not irrational bias against him, it’s just obvious that he’s not a good communicator. If the producers just did a bit of research they’d discover how poorly their booking is regarded and I’m willing to bet they could buy a lot better for a lot less. (Danny Higginbotham, please)
As you might know, I was disappointed by the complete lack of female pundits. I didn’t even see Eni Aluko. Diversity matters. We are all here. None of us are less than the rest.
But I do think at times there were too many pundits. Three on a panel plus a presenter is too many, especially on ITV with its disruptive ad breaks limiting discussion time.
Both TV stations had somewhat underwhelming intro graphics. ITV had put a lot of work in to their…well…whatever it was…but it seemed a bit insipid. The BBC’s was a fairly standard out-of-the-box affair. It’s not really important, though.
As ever 5live was the Premier Cru Chablis broadcaster. Their mix of ex-players, journalists and broadcasters is by far the most satisfying. Never afraid to be intelligent and educated, nor to be funny and populist, 5live paints from the full football rainbow. They have the finest commentators in John Murray and Conor McNamara, all presenters do a great job in being engaging and even tense TV performers seem to relax and open up on the radio. Even when people like Chris Waddle (who has been pronouncing penalty in the conventional manner, I note) and Danny Mills are spouting questionable notions, Alan Green is being sour-faced and Lawro is telling awful jokes, it’s still good fun and almost never aggravating. All have great qualities and are a pleasure to spend time with. Also, Mark is the only presenter to regularly represent and give weight to views that go against the Proper Football Man-type sloppy default thinking and provable delusions.
So it’s nearly over and if you’ve not had a good time in the presence of BBC and ITV’s TV and radio programmes, then you’ve not been trying hard enough. There has been much to roll around on, like a feline on cat mint, and very little grit in the football boot of life. It’s my ongoing view that we are living through a golden age of football broadcasting and Euro 2016 has done little to dissuade me of this view.
Too many spend too much time hating, when there is so much to love. And then there’s the football.