This week John Nicholson gets himself a world football education from Tim Vickery.
Not one who spends a lot of time on our screens in the UK, but research reveals a man with distinctive, large features and a face that looks carved out of oak and tobacco. Twitter page profile depicts him as a rather pleasingly louche man, possible engaged in some physically pleasurable act. Clothing in photos usually seems to be open-necked shirts, without any slavish devotion to fashion. Hair is neat and greying but substantial. For some reason, he’s easy to imagine wearing a safari suit or a gaucho’s poncho, as he rides into town after a day on the pampas, all hot and sweaty.
Despite over more than 20 years in Brazil, retains a strong south-east twang. States everything with unwavering certainty, as though what he’s saying is no mere opinion, but stone cold fact. Manages to pronounce South American players’ names in the proper way without it sounding pretentious. Classy.
Never waffles at all. Gets into a sentence and gets out of it as soon as he’s done. That’s a proper broadcasting art. It makes everything crisp, well-informed and almost terse. There’s no exasperated panting, no playing for time whilst his brain kicks into gear, no falling back on cliches to fill dead air. It’s fair to say this is why those who know his work tend to really bloody love it. Also, he has a firmness of view that is easy to imagine teetering over into outright argumentative arsiness, which we all like to hear. The thing is, when talking about football that happens a long way away from your UK audience, it’d be easy to bluff your way through and no-one would really know if the new striker at Botafogo really was any good. But you never have the impression he’s doing that. Has real authority, like few other media people.
Hits and misses
His biggest hit is to be at the absolute top of the journo/pundit tree when it comes to South American football reporting. He is the go-to man and has few, if any, rivals in our media. This was evidenced during the last World Cup when, it was very interesting to note, everyone on the BBC seemed to totally defer to him. He bossed it. And it he was always totally across any South American player or team, as well as being really well versed in history, both sporting and social.
This is a talent always on display during the world football phone-in on 5live which has a lot of followers, even though the dude who presents it often sounds like he’s had a far too good lunch.
Whenever anyone needs a comment about a South American player, newly signed to an English club, Tim gets a call for an assessment of the man.
Given almost universal respect, he could surely walk into any British football media job, but chooses to stay in Brazil and be a specialist.
The breadth of his off-the-cuff contributions is really something and not just about South American football. Just last week I was listening to him talk about Mario Zagallo, the coach of the Brazil 1970 side and how he transformed the way Brazil played, and also about the young Ronaldo in 1993. Then he went on to talk about Cesare Maldini coaching Paraguay and the Italian side of 1998. Then he talked about an Argentinian central midfielder and a young Venezuela striker, who plays in Spain. And this was all in about 15 minutes of a 90-minute show. Though it’s a phone-in, it feels more like a magazine show. Wonderful stuff. It is the ease with which he does this which makes him so far ahead of all the default. I often feel as though he should be a regular on BT Sports European Football Show. He’d fit right into their combination of football Brains Trust and wit.
He writes a good column too and apparently once appeared in a Michael Palin travel programme recreating a Brazilian commentary. Is there nothing he can’t do?
Big club bias
Like everyone who loves the obscure, cobwebbed corners of the world game as much as the bright lights, it’s impossible to discern any BCB. In fact, one of the great joys of his work is that the great and good receive equal billing with the not so great and not so good.
Loved or loathed
The regular British football consumer hasn’t even heard of Tim V because they’re not overly interested in the current form of Bahia, nor care about the Copa de Libertadores. World football? Not for me, Clive, it’s a foreign land innit? However, to those whose horizons are a little wider, my social media research reveals a deep river of appreciation for his work. Some say they could listen to him for hours, others that he is both entertainment and education, especially with his knowledge of football and social history, because the two are so often related.
Many feel that he is the gold standard that we should aim at for at all levels of the football media.
I think we would all like to hear him talk about British football more, just so we had one extra sentient contributor to dilute some of the cliche merchants and slack-jawed ninnys.
We’re often sold someone as ‘an expert’ when they’re not, but Tim is the real deal. Someone called him a PFJ – proper football journalist, and that seems spot on.
Proper Football Man
Your PFM doesn’t like clever people what know things, and firmly believe being stupid is the really clever thing but the overseas journo is safe from the PFM’s thick, jabbing finger, because basically they don’t care about football anywhere else. Yeah, yeah, Corinthians might have won the Brazilian league but can they do it on a wet Tuesday in Stoke, eh? And what sort of name is that for a football team anyway? So anyone making a living from being an expert on football in a land far away is of no use to any PFM, unless they can slip them a few quid, get them to scout players and then pass off their knowledge as their own, because there’s nothing any PFM likes better than to take credit for someone else’s work, whilst never taking the blame for anything and being furious if anyone points out their inadequacies.
However, where the PFM’s not-inconsiderable rage is provoked is when an overseas type deigns to comment on English football because, as anyone who has heard Sean Dyche talking about Gary Neville can testify, they bloody hate being judged by anyone from England, let alone someone what lives somewhere what isn’t here, Andy, and he’s not even a foreign, except he sort of is. Weirdo.
This being said, any PFM pays lip service to ‘samba football’, even though that’s mostly so they can say, when a lower-league English player displays a bit of skill, “if we saw a Brazilian do that, people would think it was a worldy”. Because any good PFM likes to turn anything, no matter how wonderful, into something paranoid and ugly.
But another plus is any mention of Brazil allows them to make loud, lewd jokes about pubic hair, bikinis, naked women and ladyboys, and then look around with mock innocence, before laughing in that aggressive way which feels like it’s a form of assault.
What do they drink in Brazil, Andy? No, I’m pretty sure it’s not Um Bongo, Micky…they drink that in the Congo, don’t they? And why are you wearing hot pants and beads? They don’t have a carnival in Alderley Edge, do they? Deano, I’ve told you not to drink that lager Reidy made out of toxic waste, anal bleach and cod liver oil, it’s well past it’s sell-by date. Deano? It’s knocked him sparko. Quick Dion, stop playing your bloody Dube and go and get the bikini wax.
Being married to a Brazilian gets all PFMs nudging each other and endlessly making the same jokes, but there doesn’t seem much chance of Tim emerging at 4.27am from legendary Sao Paolo nightclub ‘Pudenda’ with Miss Finely Ground Peanuts and Coconut Oil Body of 1976. So your PFM would share a few cachacas with Tim, and would admire a lifestyle which involves being surrounded by women with little or no public hair, but wouldn’t consider even letting him clean the toilets of the PFM executive abandoned World War II bunker, sponsored by UKIP.
Nah, he’s not one of us, Jeff. But I’m copying down what he says so I look clever on Soccer Saturday. I never even knew there was somewhere called Youreaguy. Venezuela? Is that the name of Terry Venables house? Eh? A country? Never ‘eard of it. Is Chile cold, Jeff?
Now, have you had a Brazilian, darlin? Sexy little thing, aren’t you? I’d like to mardi your gras right up your samba, all night long, as the great Lionel Ritchie once said. Eh? What’s oppressive objectification mean, luv?
Beyond the lighted stage
Like anyone who is a mature grown-up, as opposed to a culturally stunted ex-footballer, a man so well-versed in the history and culture of football must have a passion for other arts too. But no public evidence as to his passions exist. Might possibly be a Sepultura fan.