Danny Murphy turns co-commentary into miserabilist performance art as Portugal go Full Portugal

Dave Tickner
Francisco Conceicao scores the winner for Portugal against Czechia at Euro 2024
Francisco Conceicao shows what a sub can do in five minutes

“I’ve never really understood making substitutions this late in the game. I don’t get it. What can they do in five minutes?”

It’s the lowest of blows to highlight the words of Danny Murphy on BBC co-commentary duty approximately three minutes before 90th-minute substitute Pedro Neto set up 90th-minute substitute Francisco Conceicao to score Portugal’s winner against a stubborn but ultimately self-destructive Czech Republic side in Leipzig.

But at the same time it was also just the standout moment in a virtuoso display of the co-commentator’s craft that somehow emerged from the so-bad-it’s-good to being just bad to ending up somewhere close to performance art.

The substitute thing wasn’t even his only masterful contribution to the winning goal, his apparent total lack of familiarity with the rhetorical question causing him to respond ‘Yes’ with dead-eyed earnestness to Robyn Cowen’s perfectly timed ‘Can Portugal win it?’ just before Conceicao slammed the ball home.

This was also mere minutes after Diogo Jota had appeared to win it for Portugal, only to be denied by Cristiano Ronaldo having strayed offside before heading against the post.

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An entire thesis could be written on that disallowed goal alone.

On how it so succinctly and perfectly summed up Ronaldo’s evening, one spent in familiar international duty style mainly shaking his head and flapping his arms about at the sheer misfortune that had befallen him in being born in the same country as these inadequates only to himself deny them an apparent winner.

On Jota fighting with the keeper for the ball afterwards, despite Portugal having no urgent need to resume the game because it turned out he’d clearly promised his wife he was going to do the football-up-the-shirt baby celebration.

But most of all on, yes, the star of the show himself Mr Danny Murphy. On how his response to the news of a VAR check was to declare there wouldn’t be a problem with the goal. On how with utmost broadcasting precision he responded to it being given offside two seconds later by proclaiming ‘It’s given’.

On how suspiciously he initially noted how quickly the semi-automated offside had come to its decision before remembering that this was exactly what we supposedly wanted and declaring it a good thing.

But don’t be fooled into thinking Murphy had saved all his good work for the closing minutes.

Before all that there was a yellow card shown to Rafael Leao for a spectacularly shameless dive, an incident about which our co-comms hero espoused four mutually exclusive and contradictory opinions within the space of 20 seconds without so much as a moment’s pause for self-doubt or reflection.

The Czechs were, by the closing stages, also apparently tired because they’d been working tirelessly. We can perhaps suggest Murphy was lost in reverie trying to unpick that particularly thorny little philosophical puzzle when he appeared to just completely ignore Cowen asking him a question about the oldest player at the Euros and answering it with an absent-minded ‘Yeah’ before realising too late what was actually happening – perhaps after a nudge in the ribs – and saying ‘Sorry, did you ask me a question?’

Don’t worry about it, Danny. Answering questions posed by the commentator is too mundane, too trivial, too ordinary a task for a man taking co-commentary to brave and exciting new places. There’s the familiar Mark Lawrenson-flavoured grumpiness at being paid money to go to amazing places to watch major football tournaments but also so much more. Murphy’s disdain extends beyond the game in front of him and the sport in general to those he’s working with and indeed broadcasting to.

It’s not even entirely clear at all times that he even realises he’s broadcasting to a weary nation rather than just sounding off in the pub.

As for the match itself, it was pretty much Peak Portugal. Ronaldo didn’t score and you already know how that went. Bruno Fernandes got a bit shirty with the referee at one point.

The Czechs, for their part, came agonisingly close to a perfect smash-and-grab. Having scored through Lukas Provod with their only shot on target, another for this tournament’s already absurd collection of beauties, they then gave away two of the softest and silliest goals of the tournament so far. Which is another fast-growing collection.

We’re already huge fans of the fact that every goal at this tournament seems to be either a 25-yard pearler or the sh*ttiest own goal you’ve ever seen, but the goals with which Portugal won this game really were perhaps the daftest yet.

The slick conditions perhaps offer some explanation for Jindrich Stanek’s reluctance to simply gather what looked a pretty routine ball into the box, but even having opted for the parry it was an odd choice to go for ‘directly forwards into the helpless and hapless shins of Robin Hranac’.

The second goal, so soon after the Jota let-off, was another defensive calamity. The only logical explanation for it was a burning desire to prove Murphy wrong, and for that the Czechs perhaps deserve our respect and thanks.

Even without the late winner, Portugal are the one team in Germany you’d perhaps fear most after scraping an unconvincing point in their opening game. Scraping all three points as unconvincingly as this leaves us thoroughly convinced they’re winning the whole thing.

Especially if Murphy comes out and says they won’t.