In the latest part of Johnny Nic’s World Cup diary, we hear about his problems with Lionel Messi, Talksport, slugs coming up the sink, and his other recurring pet peeves…
MONDAY NOVEMBER 28
Cameroon v Serbia
The start of a new week and it’s already the last four-game day, which I’m a bit relieved about. Eating four football dinners per day does make you feel a bit bloated, even for a football epicurean like me.
The weather forecast is predicting a dry 10 days, which seems unlikely. I set about doing a couple of hours in the garden raking leaves to make leaf mould and pruning the buddleia right back. We try to grow all our own vegetables here and I love all the work involved and always listen to the radio while pottering around.
So I turn on Emma Saunders on 5Live and Vicky Sparks is reporting from the Cameroon game, but the background noise from the stadium announcer is louder than the voice of god, booming out at such high volume that I have to turn the radio down to suppress this noise terrorism. A robin sits in front of me and picks grubs out of the soil I’ve disturbed. I talk to it as I’m working and as Kelly Sommers talks to Gareth, who is as calm and erudite as ever. I will miss him when he’s gone after this tournament, as he surely will be. It’s been so nice having a thoughtful grown-up as England manager, who has navigated all his media duties like a real pro. Hopefully, he has set a new template for the next mug in the job.
Archie Rhind-Tutt chats about Germany and Niclas Fullkrug, the 29-year-old goalscorer from last night’s game. I love Archie. He’s always a welcome rather boyish voice and seems to really know his German stuff. When it’s over, I emerge knowing more than I did. And that’s all I want out of every day.
I start weeding out creeping buttercups. It’s so invasive. Then spend half an hour picking slugs off the sprouts, throwing them into the field next door. We suffer from terrible slugs. They even come up the plug hole in the kitchen sink at night. The upside is we’ve got a lot of thrushes who love to eat them and who doesn’t love that firm, noble, upright bird?
Vicky and Pat Nevin are on for Cameroon v Serbia with Seb Bassong chipping in. Pat has been very good in every game, full of energy, excitement and anticipation, especially good on how injuries happen, having been stamped on more often than most in his playing days. He describes what it’s like having studs raked down your calf and onto your Achilles so well that I can almost feel the pain. It’s a pulsating game with the boy Nevin purring over Vincent Aboubakar’s scoop over a 6’9” keeper, something that was a bit of trademark Nevin trick back in the day. It ends three-all and we move on.
South Korea v Ghana.
Postie has left a large pot of matt varnish but no records. Boo. Maz Farookah and Clinton Morrison are doing this game as I try to weed around the fruit trees. It’s only her second commentary at this World Cup. While it isn’t exactly her first rodeo, it is probably her highest profile gig yet on 5Live, but she doesn’t betray any nerves despite being presented with far from the easiest cast list of names in the Korean team. They seem to be developing into a good pairing. Clinton is a supportive co-comm. He can certainly be relied on to fill any dead air on the radio and is very self-confident. She makes a good point about South Korean centre-back Kim Min-jae using his physicality well, as he does for Napoli and it’s not something often associated with the Koreans. Another excellent game.
Switzerland v Brazil
The temperature starts to drop under clear skies. We have yet to have a frost but may get one tonight. I scurry inside and make an egg, lentil and okra curry. ‘That is a fart bomb,’ says Dawn, coming in wrapped up in a big padded lumberjack shirt and holding some sort of tool that looks more like a sharp weapon used in trepanning. 5Live now has Kelly back flying the 747 of broadcasting and Tim Vickery is onboard with tales of Richarlison, who is a big personality, evidently. So big, when Johnny Infant presented him with his Copa America medal he said ‘see you next year, baldy’ which I’m sure is far from the worse thing Fifa’s f**king c**t has been called.
Tim has good advice ‘always make your predictions after the game’. Rio is also on the radio. At first I didn’t recognise him. He sounds quite different. His voice is deeper and smoother and somehow more erudite. I’d like to hear more of him on the wireless.
After eating I wander into the room and turn the game on but mute the sound, to see what it’s like without any commentary. The answer is; weird. It is hard to engage with the game and it feels like you are watching from behind a thick glass window. We might complain about commentators and co-comms but they are essential, I think. The camera pans to Real Ronaldo sitting there like a giant sponge pudding, his hair a grated chocolate topping. Some Brazil fans have feather headdresses on. Is that cultural appropriation?
I run a bath and listen to the rest of the game on the radio with ABB and Sutton as I bob around like a large potato in a pan of boiling water.
Portugal v Uruguay
The draw for the third round of the FA Cup takes place as this game plays out. It seems incongruous but just seeing those familiar club names on the screen makes me know where my real loyalty to football is and it’s not in a sportswashing project in an oppressive autocratic state. Shrewsbury v Sunderland suddenly sounds very appealing, its smallness comforting.
At half-time ITV showed a photo of Souey and Johann Cryuff in 1983. Joe Cole says “that was the most dangerous place to be in the 1980s; Graeme Souness bearing down on you”. Souey looks very pleased, the fire still burning in the heart of the old lion.
Coisty and Champion are on the microphones, a pitch invader runs past during the second half, holding a rainbow flag. The camera doesn’t follow him. Yeah, don’t give him the oxygen of publicity. Dear me, as Coisty would say.
Uruguay lost the game and were a disappointment, but it is such a small country with a population a little over half that of Scotland at 3.4 million, so it constantly bats higher up the order than it should.
TUESDAY NOVEMBER 29
With just two games per day to watch now, things feel a bit more civilised and there is room for life outside of football.
Netherlands v Qatar.
ITV have chosen to show this game on ITV1 rather than Senegal v Ecuador. That was an odd choice really as Qatar were so poor that the other game between Senegal and Ecuador was always likely to be a better spectacle which was over on ITV4. Maybe it makes no difference which channel anything is on but I always assume they put the most significant one on 1.
Laura is on hand with NDJ, JC and Nadia Nadim who has especially thick lush hair. Dawn thinks Joe Cole looks like Desperate Dan – “same chin’ she says. Not sure about that. He does say that Memphis Depay is ‘muscle bound’ and ‘needs to get his football body back,’ which does sound like it’s been stolen. It was a boring game and I’m glad when it’s over.
England v Wales
We have a delicious early tea of brown lentil lasagne and Dawn goes off to do some ceiling painting. Mark Chapman is handling the build up on 5Live. John Murray announces the team which seems a very reasonable selection, but will annoy someone, because it always does. ‘The principles you have to start with should never change,” says Micah, talking critically of how Southgate sets up the team, but that is largely what Southgate does. He sets out not to lose and knows more likely than not, someone will score.
Against USA it was obvious that Southgate was playing the percentages. That was eminently sensible also but bound to anger up the shouty idiots who England seems to attract in huge and dispiriting numbers.
I’ve long thought Southgate has got England over-performing most of the time, not under-performing. The narrative that he is wasting a golden generation stands little scrutiny. I think it annoys the less cerebral that he has worked out how to get the best out of the team. It doesn’t work all the time, but it doesn’t for anyone.
Readers may have noticed that so far I have ignored talkSPORT’s output altogether. But I’d always planned to start dipping into them when there were fewer games every day. And so that time is now.
There are a few issues that a listener needs to address about the station. First, you’ve got to be prepared to put up with a lot of adverts on a regular basis, second and more seriously, you’ve got to put up with the endless variety of adverts for gambling, and third you have to tolerate in-game odds, temptations to bet and everything up to and including reading out the team sheets will have a sponsor.
If none of that bothers you, welcome aboard. I’m not critical of their model, it’s how they have survived and thrived and fair play to them for that. I’m also aware it must be galling to have to compete with BBC radio who are funded by a publicly mandated licence fee so don’t have to worry about drumming up enough cash to pay everyone.
All that being said, in my normal listening life, I can’t tolerate much of it apart from Trans Euro Express and, somewhat inexplicably, Danny et al seem absent from their World Cup coverage despite being very knowledgeable. The whole architecture of their broadcasting is problematic to me. I know that’s not fair, because, as I say, they need to generate income like the rest of us. However, as a consumer, it does put me off. Sorry. Dawn passes through and holds up two wooden orbs. ‘Knobs’ she says, as she often does.
I dipped in to listen to an hour of build up to the England game. Stuart Pearce, Dean Ashton and Dean Saunders were on hand to talk for a few minutes. It was all perfectly decent, though Saunders’ assertion that England were “a team of men – 6’3″ solid men apart from Phil Foden who is still learning the game” was a few inches wide of the mark. Dean Ashton is more thoughtful and Pearce’s unreconstructed accent is like a distant echo of the 1960s and 1970s working class. I was just thinking that this was better than I anticipated when the chat ended and we didn’t hear anything more from them for over half an hour or maybe longer.
As the game approached there were more adverts, then there was William Hill’s rep with the odds calling on a terrible phone line, followed by the sponsored reading out of the teams. As there’s not going to be any ads for at least 45 minutes, they have to cram more in the hour beforehand but there was so little football content in that hour, I felt like I was wasting my time listening. I certainly knew I was missing out on something more satisfying on 5Live. Perhaps people just turn off, knowing this is the case, and turn back on for the commentary, so that’s what I’ll try at a later date.
I put World Cup Extra on the TV for the game with John Murray and Matt Upson on the lip mic. This a sign of how far up the co-comm food chain, Matt has risen, even if I get him confused with Rob Green.
Jane Ludlow, former Arsenal player and current Manchester City technical director of Manchester City Girls’ Academy is in the Salford studio to cast some Welsh perspective, and Juliette Ferrington is behind the goal, near to Chesney (are there any other Chesneys?) Hawkes apparently, which must have seemed like some sort of hallucinatory experience.
Southgate has picked Foden who takes to the field wearing a haircut that resembles a yarmulke. Dawn comes in for a vodka and oatmilk, knackered after rollering the ceiling. ‘Why’s he wearing a swimming cap?’ she asks of Foden.
I have a long tradition of getting drunk when England plays, so I get a double double of gin, add some soda water and lemon juice, leaving the room to try and encourage England to score. It doesn’t work. I only worry about a dull first-half because I know the usual social media loons will depict it as a human rights crime. However, the second half was really good, very enjoyable and an easy win. Ludlow contributes much in difficult circumstances, at one point suggesting that preparation for their next tournament could start now by introducing youngsters. I hope we hear more from her in future weeks and months as she was a clear, articulate voice.
Gary is in the studio with Rio, Shearer, Ashley and Rushie; a collective of expensive independent menswear store clothing, stretched tight across bulging thighs. Alan is in Lee Van Cleef mode again talking about concussion and IFAB, eyes narrowed as though in a sand storm. Rushie has skin like an old leather doctor’s bag and looks keen, but seems a bit isolated stuck out on the wing.
When England score their second, a surge of electricity goes up my spine; the old magic never dies. These are the moments of our lives. Gareth is interviewed and looks very pleased. Dawn says she likes Gareth because ‘he talks like a normal intelligent person,’ adding ‘I bet that’s what some people hate about him.’ I tell her his nickname was ‘Nord’ because teammates thought he sounded posh like Denis Norden. She looks at me with the sort of incredulity common amongst non-football civilians. We watch Masterchef, marvel at how Gregg Wallace has turned eating food into a career, have another drink and retire to bed to sleep it off.
Read more: England 3-0 Wales: 16 Conclusions as the handbrake is released, Rashford shines and Bale vanishes
Another postal strike means no records delivered today, though many are on their way. I make a cheese omelette and spend the morning organising the 7” singles into bigger boxes, but getting them in alphabetic order is impossible without throwing about 200 hours at it. At least they’re not all over the place any more. Dawn is giving the bedroom ceiling a second coating of navy blue paint. Never had a dark ceiling before but I really like it. It’s like looking up at the night sky.
As ever, after a good win, Southgate’s critics have gone quiet, at least for 24 hours. He has the best record in tournaments of any England manager, but I’m sure it won’t be long before he’s called a ‘woke dinosaur’ again, whatever that means.
I see Cody Gakpo is already being talked about as the next Manchester United signing, which seemed almost inevitable if only because saying Gakpo is very very satisfying.
Australia v Denmark
I miss an hour of the afternoon games as we have to take Rabbie to the vets to get him a second lot of his annual vaccinations but I catch the last minutes of Australia v Denmark on the car radio. Not for the first time I think that Middlesbrough’s Riley McGree is possibly the most Australian name I’ve ever heard since Crocodile Dundee.
Pat and Vicky are doing the 5Live comms. This is the fourth they’ve done together at the World Cup and I feel like they are far more relaxed and chatty with each other than at the start. Commentary relationships definitely develop over time and when they are comfortable with each other, it always makes for better broadcasting. This was their best so far, I think, Vicky giving it the full lung for the Aussie goal.
Poland v Argentina
After a healthy portion of salmon and prawn sweet potato pie, it’s time for the evening game on the BBC. Dawn watches the first five minutes but soon gets bored and says ‘how do you watch this for an hour and half? That’s ages,’’ and decides to sew curtain tape onto the new curtains instead. A task which looks almost impossible to my eyes and will take longer than an hour and a half.
It’s Gary, Alan, Rio and Pablo Z in tonight’s speedboat of soccer. Shearer is wearing a lovely military green lightweight sweater that may be a little too clingy for a man in his 50s. The best part of the broadcast is a package from 1982’s World Cup where Poland finished third and would probably have got to the final if Zbigniew Boniek hadn’t been suspended for the game against Italy. This was all set against the turbulent emergence of the Solidarity movement in Poland and Soviet Union aggression. The more things change, the more things stay the same, huh?. It’s a touching film, a reminder of hard times when we all lived with the real prospect of nuclear war. More importantly, it was full of some outrageously good football and footballers. A reminder that the Premier League era is nothing but a self-aggrandising artificial parameter and that football was great before it arrived and will be great after it is gone.
All the panel agree that Messi cheated for the penalty the way he cheated on his tax, but are too polite to say it quite so nakedly. There is general displeasure at the inconsistent and frankly idiotic operation of VAR and I’m sure most if not all of them would rather the game was rid of this witless, superfluous and joy-sucking system.
Steve Bower and Danny M are on TV comms, which is my cue to find World Cup Extra with Alistair Bruce-Ball and Chris Sutton. The whole game is peppered with them making jokes at each others’ expense, taking the pish, having faux arguments and laughing a lot. It’s quite a performance by the two flatmates for this tournament. Just as well because it’s an awful game. I find it hard to watch Messi. Everything about him is very annoying. Genius or no, he annoys the living feck out of me and I’m delighted he misses the penalty. Instant karma. On BBC 2 Guy Mowbray and Danny Gabbidon have a far superior game, Mowbray’s throaty ‘oh my goodness’ when Mexico hammer in a 30 yard free kick, was particularly stirring.
Poland went through despite being rank poor. They will play France, who must already be laughing at the prospect.
"Why have we not seen the evidence!!" 🤔
Graeme Souness demands answers after Japan's controversial winner over Spain… 👀#ITVFootball | #FIFAWorldCup pic.twitter.com/pOfZq01JBe
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) December 1, 2022
Belgium v Croatia
We go to Morrisons to stock up on milk and alcohol. Someone should write a song about that.
Mark Chapman is on 5live with Nedum Onuoha and Pablo Z and Rob Green to run the rule over Belgium’s misfiring squad. As he’s not been on TV, I assume that Nedum with his resonant but soft voice is in Salford and not at the World Cup, though if he is, it isn’t possible to tell from the broadcast’s sonics. He’s very distinctive and not short of wit and intelligence.
John Murray and Rob Green do the comms with Aaron Paul reporting on the Canada game in his usual cheerful way. In a poor game, Belgium reminds me of England before Southgate, in that they have talented players who don’t play as a team and fail in the crucial moments.
There is a ridiculous offside VAR Decision. This is now offside. Where the sleeve starts and the shoulder stops is completely opaque. Clearly, the offside law was not designed to be applied in these situations and was not invented to prevent goals being scored in such situations. That no-one in charge will back down on VAR in the face of such stupidity, is exactly the same as Brexit. No-one wants to admit they were wrong. But look, it’s bloody obvious. You’re wrong. Stop pretending you’re not.
In the TV studio, Gary, Alan, Micah and Didier pour scorn on the decision. There’s a clip of the quickest ever World Cup goal from 2002. ‘Can you tell we’ve nothing to talk about?’ says Alan. It doesn’t get much better in the second half as Lukaku misses several chances. On the radio and TV everyone agrees Belgium has been sh*te and that KDB was right in saying that they were too old and not good enough to win the World Cup, or, as it turned out, get out of the group.
Japan v Spain
I made some slow-cooked beef and tomato stew with marrow bone yesterday, so heat it up today and serve it for tea with a doorstep of fresh-baked wholewheat bread. It is unctuous, rich and delicious made, beef aside, from what we’ve grown.
In 5Live’s build up to the game, Kelly Cates talks to journeyman and one cap wonder, Jay Bothroyd, who played in Japan for the last six years of his career, about Japanese football. He had a really valuable insight, saying that culturally they don’t handle pressure well. When they’re expected to win, they often don’t perform but when the odds are against them, it brings the best out of them. He says they don’t produce great strikers because the pressure on them is too great and are better at producing creators. All of which turns out to be true against Spain. Well done, Jay.
I crack open a beautiful blue bottle of Bombay Sapphire and get started. Clive and Coisty are on the TV comms. The first half is all much of a muchness and at half-time, in the studio Souey – apparently dressed as a malted biscuit – purrs over Spain and wonders why England can’t play in the same way. But football makes fools out of all of us eventually as Japan reinvents themselves in the second half, score twice and defend like beavers.
The commentary boys are having a fine old time ‘a theatre performance has turned into a suspense drama’ says Clive. “It’s so football,” says Ally, succinctly. They take the pish out of the studio experts for not predicting this would happen. “We’re all experts after the event, aren’t we?” said Coisty, while chuckling away to himself. When Costa Rica scores to potentially send out both Spain and Germany, Ally is reduced to high-pitched squeaking, almost speechless.
“I feel sorry for you if you don’t love football,” says Mark Pougatch as they go back to the studio. Souey is putting gas under a conspiracy theory as to why Fifa haven’t released pictures of the ball for the second Japan goal, which Pougers tries to play down. It does seem odd. Eventually, under an electron microscope, the ball is shown to be a micron in play. What are we doing to the game with this ludicrous technology?
Dawn joins me for the post-game dissection after glueing something to something else, but hates the minutiae of it all, doesn’t understand why VAR even exists – “Just use your eyes and make a decision” – and goes to make some toast instead. I turn off the TV and put ‘I Sing The Body Electric’ by Weather Report on the turntable. As you do.
Read more: Johnny Nic’s World Cup media diary – Part one | Part two