The big story
On Wednesday evening, England play Croatia for a place in the World Cup final. It is our first semi-final in 22 years. So, what is the top story on The Sun’s World Cup homepage at 11am?
a) A call-to-arms for Harry Kane to score the goals to take us to the promised land?
b) In-depth analysis of every Croatia player?
c) Analysis of where the semi-final will be won and lost?
or is it d) ‘Can you guess the England stars dressed up as Ali G… and who is Mrs Doubtfire?’
What’s wrong with them?
You cannot doubt The Sun’s ability to whip up a storm ahead of England’s biggest match in 22 years, though. Their front-cover wrap includes:
– Bobby Moore mocked up next to Harry Kane.
– A double-page comparison between the runs to the World Cup final of the 1966 and 2018 team.
– An A2 poster with the 2018 team interspersed with the 1966 side. They do know we haven’t won it yet?
– The information that Jordan and Gordon rhyme. For those unsure, Pickford does not rhyme with Banks. We don’t know if this means England will win or lose.
– A full-page spread given to a 16-verse poem called ‘England Expects’ printed onto a St George’s cross.
It’s fair to say that they have gone big on this one.
In the Sun’s defence (urgh), this is entirely what is expected of them. But Mediawatch does have one serious problem: In re-writing the lyrics to Three Lions on their back page, they go for ‘that tackle by Jord’ in reference to Jordan Pickford.
He’s a sodding goalkeeper, guys. They don’t really do tackling.
Omen, oh man
From the Sun’s sport section:
‘Forget the waistcoat – Gareth Southgate has another lucky fashion item.
‘Three Lions boss Southgate is finding plenty going his way in Russia as England have reached a third World Cup semi-final in history. Southgate & Co have Croatia standing between them and a second final.
‘And his good fortune could be down to the £115 “denim blue” friendship bracelet bought for him by his wife and children before the tournament.’
We expect this sort of guff on the front pages, but not in the sport section. Not everything that someone who is good at their job wears is ‘lucky’. And that’s particularly true given that Southgate actually spoke about his lack of superstitions on Tuesday:
“I’ll tell you a story about me and superstitions. When I was managing at Middlesbrough, we had a game at Reading and I was under a bit of pressure. When I went to get changed at the hotel, I’d forgotten my socks. So, I went to the kit-man and I borrowed a pair of black goalkeeper socks. Anyway, we won and the staff made this big thing about my lucky socks, saying I had to wear them next game.
“So, we were at home and I went to get changed and I thought, ‘Hmmm, shall I wear those socks?’. We still needed the win but I thought, ‘No, it’s ridiculous’. So, we lost the game and then on the Tuesday we were playing again, so I thought, ‘Well, I’d better put the socks on’.
“So, I did and we won 2-0. And then I went upstairs and got sacked! So, really, from that moment, superstitions have rather gone out the window.”
Exactly. So calling a sodding bracelet that Southgate wears ‘lucky’ is reductive nonsense that detracts from what the manager and his players have actually done. Leave that guff to the ‘news’ pages.
On the same page
‘The pressure is now OFF Gareth Southgate’s squad’ – Jermaine Jenas, Daily Mirror.
‘If we lose this semi-final, these lads will finish their careers and think “Oh my God. If only. That side we came up against in the semi-final, we could have beaten them”’ – Jermaine Jenas, Daily Mirror.
You’ve made us feel more nervous, Jermaine.
Now you could fairly accuse Mediawatch of cynicism on almost every weekday, but Charlie Sale of the Daily Mail really takes the biscuit on Wednesday. On the subject of the mood of optimism in the England camp, Sale writes:
‘The FA have managed their media operation at the World Cup in great detail, which explains why FA chairman Greg Clarke and chief executive Martin Glenn have kept such a low profile, as have Gareth Southgate’s backroom staff.
‘The squad, especially on social media, have been made to look as normal as possible and pictured or filmed having fun together.’
It’s a wild thought, but rather than ‘being made to look normal’ maybe they are, y’know, normal.
On Wednesday morning, a perfectly reasonable piece by Matthew Dunn of the Daily Express was published on the Express Sport website.
In the piece, Dunn calls Luka Modric Tottenham’s ‘midfield gem’ and talked up the ‘energy’ and ‘reading of the game’ that earned him a move to Real Madrid. All good so far.
Unfortunately, Express Sport exists solely to drive clicks and balanced pieces do not drive clicks. By the time Dunn’s work had reached the website, the headline became inflammatory: ‘From Spurs flop to World Cup semi-final – the rise of Luka Modric’.
Unsurprisingly that headline received a lot of flak, with Dunn himself taking to Twitter to explain the situation:
Thanks to all who've taken the trouble to say what they think of me based on one word in a headline, since changed, that I didn't even write. By my reckoning, only one of you took the trouble to read the 842 words I did write. Thanks btw @chilly_spurshttps://t.co/pvRRVVnLuz
— Matthew Dunn (@MattDunnExpress) July 11, 2018
The thing is Matt, we get why you’re being snarky but you’re angry at the wrong people. The general public doesn’t know or care who writes the headlines, and those that do write them aren’t namechecked anyway. If they see a piece with your name on it with that headline, they will react.
What’s more, your employer wants them to react. That’s why they put the sodding inflammatory headline on it in the first place.
Do we feel for Dunn? Yes. Do we think he has every right to be angry? Yes. But he is directing that anger at the wrong people. It’s not the readers who have stitched you up, but your colleagues.
‘“You’re f****** shit!”: Astonishing moment Liverpool-supporting Tranmere player abuses Loris Karius after latest gaffe in pre-season friendly’ – Mail Sport.
Footballers swearing at each other? Consider us shook. Although we do enjoy Mail Sport bothering to censor ‘fucking’ but not ‘shit’.
D*ck of the day
‘An England fan who fell through a bus shelter roof while celebrating the win over Sweden joked: “I might do it again if we beat Croatia!”
‘A video of scaffolder Terry Stephenson shattering it after jumping from a double-decker bus at Clapham Junction went viral. Terry, 40, suffered cuts and apologised for his “moment of madness”’ – The Sun.
He certainly sounds like he’s learned his lesson.
The Sun feature idea of the day
Before England played Colombia, The Sun sent an actual journalist to play a trumpet at night outside the Colombian team hotel. Just in case you were wondering why the English might not be liked abroad.
Before England play Croatia, The Sun have sent an actual journalist – Jonathan Reilly, there is a photo and everything – into an amphitheatre in the ancient Croatian city of Pula dressed as a gladiator and draped in an England flag. They call this ‘striking a blow for England’.
Worst headline of the day
‘We’ve got waistcoats now let’s… waste Croats’ – The Sun.
Recommended reading of the day
Tom Fordyce on being a football fan.
Adam Bate on Kylian Mbappe.
Jorge Valdano on Luka Modric.