Our Johnny has been flicking between TV and radio for most of this World Cup while cooking and drinking rather a lot.
You can read the first part of his World Cup media diary here.
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 24
Switzerland v Cameroon
I start the day by making us smoked salmon, poached eggs, Hollandaise sauce and some sourdough toast. One of my favourites and have just got the last of it down me when we’re off again on ITV.
Laura is dressed all in white, with HRK, NDJ and Karen C in the drained pool. The PA is so ridiculously loud it’s hard to hear what anyone is saying. HRK has got his holiday clothes on. KC’s black eyeliner gives her a Whitby-ish goth air. There’s yakking about England, CR7 and Michelle Owen does some Welshing.
The game is played in the vagina stadium. A drone orbits around slowly as though to allow us to linger on its pudenda similarities. Dawn stops, points her caulking gun at the TV and says “mine doesn’t have footballers in the middle – or at least it hasn’t for a long time”.
Postie is on strike. Fair play to them. The local DIY shop sends a man with a van with some long pieces of wood. The lad who delivers it thinks I’m doing something with it. I disabused him of this notion, telling him Dawn ordered it. “A doll, good with her hands…that’s magic,” he says and I agree. It is.
“It’s Red Dressed Pine – RPB,” says Dawn. I nod like I know what she means.
Vicky And Pat are doing 5live’s coverage. Pat says “it’s set up to be a cracker” which turns out to be something of a hostage to fortune. The Cameroon substitute goalkeeper is called Simon Ngapandouetnbu. I wonder if Vicky or Seb Hutch on ITV have practised pronouncing that. Seb’s got Andros Townsend in the back of his cab for this one but I opt for the radio as I’ve got to do some housework.
Rigobert Song is the Cameroon manager. Pat, who seems in a very chirpy mood, says he’s a cool dude.
But the game largely passes me by as I discover we’ve had a mouse living down the back of the sofa, probably living off the crumbs of my pies. I fish out the stiff wee corpse of a wood mouse, but don’t tell Dawn, who is squeamish about such things.
Uruguay v South Korea
On 5Live, Mark Chapman gets Tim Vickery on board for some detailed Uruguay natter. He discusses how they’ll set up with and even quotes Thunderbirds, while saying Valderi has seven lungs, which would be very useful.
There’s also an in-depth talk with Ghanaian broadcaster George Addo Jnr about Ghanaian football. Really interesting.
An old clip of Chris Sutton and ABB doing the Germany v Korean comms at the last tournament is hilarious, as Sutton is yelling and cackling while Manuel Neuer is out of his goal and Korea run through to score. Japanese TV are interviewing him as they think he’s some sort of oracle after predicting Japan would beat Germany.
I catch the BBC’s opening credits for the first time. The psychedelic kaleidoscope scrapbook is very striking, not sure if I like it though. And here’s Gabby, Klinsy, Pablo Z and Ashley Williams. It’s all Son to begin with, He’s such a joyful character and brings so much pleasure, especially to Koreans.
Maz Farookhi is radio comms and I don’t think I’ve ever heard her before but I can’t stay as it’s actually stopped raining for once, so we go walking up Strone Hill for a couple of hours, sitting atop a peak looking down the Firth of Clyde, a point which, if you travel as the crow flies, there is supposedly no land between you and Spain. Far out.
Portugal v Ghana
We return to find Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal on the TV playing Ghana. Champo and Coisty are rattling along as per usual. As ever it’s all about CR7. At half-time Souey has an expensive-looking beige t-shirt that is vibrating my TV. Perhaps it is actually vibrating. Outside the lights are strobing like it’s 1973 and Hawkwind are on stage.
Champion says it takes five people to make a VAR decision. Coisty wonders how many Fifa officials it takes to change a light bulb. Sometimes I imagine them talking over the garden fence, waving at neighbours as they pass by.
Let’s get a word from Peter Walton. No, let’s not bother.
There’s a brilliant Ghanaian fella with a white painted face in the crowd going wild like he’s summoning the spirits. I make and steam some prawn Gyoza and a soy, ginger and rice wine vinegar dipping sauce and we eat them listening to Denno and Matt Upson, who I again mistake for Rob Green, on 5live, while watching TV. Not much seems to be going on until Ronaldo scores a penalty. I’ve seen enough close-ups of his massive protruding Adam’s apple to last a lifetime. “It looks like he’s got a small hamster poking out of his neck,” says Dawn. Poor Hammy.
There’s just time for a bath to ease my walking muscles before the Brazil game, which I’ve been looking forward to all day.
Brazil v Serbia
As I’m soaking in Epsom salts, Tim Vickery gives us a masterclass on Brazil’s selections, pronunciations, politics and tactics. Kelly reminds us that Neymar is a big supporter of Bolsonaro, the right-wing nut job who has just been beaten in the election (not that he accepts it) then speaks to a Serbian journalist about their team and pleasingly, we arrive at kick off knowing more than we did and that’s all I ask.
I emerge from the bath wearing some outsize tartan pyjamas which Dawn assures me are popular in the rap community. Phew. I go into iPlayer and pick World Cup Extra to get pictures with ABB and Mr Sutton on comms. ABB says that he’s aware of all the issues (i.e. deaths) around the building of the stadium and wants to be sensitive to them. What a thing to have to say. There’s no forgetting the heinous crimes this regime has committed against innocent people.
Some of the Serbian side looks like they belong in a prison XI and as I pour myself a livener of a double double of vodka, ice and a squeeze of lemon, I find myself warming to Sutton saying the massive, imposing Serbian defenders look like doormen denying Neymar et al entry to a club. They are huge and look meaner than a junkyard dog.
Half-time TV entertainment is Alan and Micah and Gilberto Silva, who looks like a former member of Santana. Guy Mowbray and Keown are doing the TV comms and I’d rather repeatedly hit myself in the face with a brick than listen to Martin.
Then our 9 meg of broadband breaks down. Shameful that BT can’t upgrade us to a speed that is compatible to what we had in Edinburgh 17 years ago. I have another double double, and put some early Aerosmith 7” singles on while the whole thing reboots but it is still too slow to stream without constantly buffering.
Brazil win, but it’s a bit annoying that every skilful, extravagant goal is somehow defined as uniquely Brazilian. Richarlison’s goal was great, but others from elsewhere score great goals too. They don’t own the Great Goal trademark.
FRIDAY NOVEMBER 25
On the R4 Today programme, a Welsh lad in Qatar says the locals have been very nice to him and his friends. Yes, pal, that’s how sportswashing works.
Wales v Iran
On the BBC, Gabby is the gaffer in a floral print, Ashley Williams has a very big gap between his eyebrows which suggest serious plucking work, and he is joined by the ageless Klinsy – who looks like a university Geography lecturer – and Rushy, who is the colour of Caramac.
The preamble is basically all Bale (who apparently ‘transcends football’. How?), Keifer, long ball, bucket hats. Fair enough. I make some digestive biscuits with some Scotland The Bread whole wheat organic flour and put a pot of coffee on while they bake. Postie is still on strike. I hope he gets the money he deserves. He works so hard, not least carrying all my vinyl up the hill to the front door.
Dawn brings in a bolt of blue-checked fabric she’s bought off eBay, declares she’s making curtains and sets up the sewing machine. It looks quite similar to Souey’s jacket.
A short film about Rob Page reveals him to be very down to earth. There’s some nice drone shots of the valleys and at home with his wife and kids, who appear to have got dressed up to make dinner. Kenny Jackett appears and looks very like Alex Lifeson from Rush, which is odd. Bale inserts “yeah” all the time into, yeah, sentences even when it has, yeah, no place to be there. Yeah. He always looks hypnotised, eyes wide, a beatific grin on his lips, like the member of a cult.
The Iran national anthem is very emotional, and is booed for obvious reasons given the ongoing struggles there. The players half sing it, fearing reprisals when they get home if they don’t. One old lad is weeping buckets, it’s all very moving. How can they play football in these circumstances? Oh God.
Steve Wilson and Danny Gabbidon are on TV comms; I prefer Denno and Pat on 5Live. Denno observes there are many women in the Iranian end. They are not allowed to attend games in Iran, apparently. A reminder of what an oppressive regime the women of Iran are fighting against with such nobility.
Pat thinks Iranians stayed out of the stadium for the anthems and that’s why it filled up later. Politics is everywhere here. After Iran won, everything was very emotional. You can hear it in Pat, Ian and Mark Chapman’s voices, not for Wales’ loss – they were poor – but with empathy for Iran’s win in such very difficult circumstances. Wow, that was all very touching and great broadcasting.
Time for tea. I put in a sourdough loaf I’ve had proving overnight and the house fills with the smell of baking bread.
Qatar v Senegal
This doesn’t exactly shout watch me, does it? So I bail out early and we go for a bike ride up into the hills on the forestry roads. Unlike the football, it’s exhilarating, but rain quickly sweeps in and we return home drenched to the skin after just half an hour, laughing hysterically at being so very wet. A huge, almost biblical, rainbow arcs over our house. It feels like a sign, though of what, I have no idea.
On the plus side I catch Jonathan Wilson doing a half-time piece on Maradona and the history of Argentine football and how he expresses both sides of the gaucho in those two goals against England. It is absolutely brilliant and I wish it was an hour long.
There’s also some extraordinary footage from inside the Saudi dressing room at half-time v Argentina of Hervé Renard berating his team. He looks like a movie star.
Gary, Rio, DD and Alex are present and Didier is wearing a from-the-future white shirt, the sort of thing you’d see an alien doctor wearing on ‘Star Trek Deep Space Nine’.
The second half is quite good. Jonno Pearce is on the mic with Dion and mentions how he saw Qataris dancing outside the stadium after their first game. Dion asks if he joined in. “I was there, shakin’ an’ a movin’. The police took an interest and I ran,” says Jonno dryly, which makes me laugh so loud it frightens Rabbie, our cat.
Netherlands v Ecuador
Before the game, I make a Japanese buckwheat noodle dish which we eat while watching telly.
On ITV, Seema is back with NDJ, Eni and a suited and booted HRK. Gabriel Clarke reports on LGBT fans’ feelings of exclusion from the World Cup. Qatar actively persecutes LGBT people in a way that was typical in the UK within my lifetime. There’s a statement from Fifa saying everyone is welcome, when we know that’s not true on the ground. It’s a powerful piece.
Eni makes a good point that it’s a worldwide problem and in men’s football in the UK players don’t feel comfortable coming out. HRK says that this issue transcends football but we’re talking about it because of football. I hope this sort of discussion runs through the next three weeks and doesn’t get ignored.
Louis van Gaal has a touch of a Jon Voight look about him as he parades pre-game. It’s ABB on 5live with Matt Upson which is nice but Clive has been paired with Coisty and that’s got to be this game’s first choice. When you’ve got a great comm and co-comm, it actively makes you look forward to the game.
Cody Gakpo scores and I’d wager there’s a big fee coming his way from the Premier League this summer. It’s 11 hours and 42 minutes since Ecuador conceded, says Clive, which is the sort of stat we love.
There’s a loud rasping noise outside which means Dawn has got her mitre saw out and is working under a spotlight as it’s almost dark already. Terrifying thing. Rabbie has come back in to sit on me and get warm as a chill has set in. Cats always make you feel honoured to be in their presence, don’t they?
England v USA
Before the game, there was little doubt from the ITV gang of Pougers, Wrighty, Gary Nev and Roy that England would win. On the radio Micah and Rob Green were equally certain. All of which made me shout “haven’t you ever watched England in the last 50 years, you idiots?”
I’m no psychic but as soon as the defenders started slowly passing it between themselves, I knew how it would go. Gareth said in interviews England have to play at pace to be effective. And here they were not doing that.
Flipping between TV and radio at half time, everyone seemed shocked and again I shouted ‘haven’t you ever watched England before?’ This time it was so loud, it scared the cat and he left for the pleasures of the night garden.
Dawn comes in covered in sawdust, carrying some pieces of chipboard. “Have they gone shit again?” she said, seeing the look on my face. I nodded. She encouraged me to eat some pies as that would make me feel better, so I did, and poured myself a large Glenmorangie. She was right.
Listening to John Murray and Rob Green, the former keeper was pretending it was good that the game wasn’t chaotic as it’d play into USA’s hands if it was. Kelly says USA are Leeds and that seemed a good insight. Micah, who seems allergic to adverbs, said what anyone could see, England were moving the ball too slow. But hey, we didn’t lose, USA was good and I’m over it immediately.
After the game, I couldn’t face any more talk about it, so I turn off the TV, momentarily noting that Gary Nev seems to have a coin slot in his forehead.
Here are 16 sensible conclusions on that game.
SATURDAY NOVEMBER 26
Tunisia v Australia
This the first offering of the day on the BBC. I watch as I eat black pudding and beans on toast. Mark Chapman is mein host with Mark Schwarzer, Alex and Rushy. The Welshman is wearing a vibrant two-tone fuchsia floral shirt, his hair platinum white and his eyes as blue as robins’ eggs. It’s hard not to imagine he’s wearing a strap-on comedy nose, so smooth, rubbery and substantial is the beak.
There’s a nice light cheerful vibe to this panel. When you’ve got someone as tall and wide as the Aussie they must have to place him just right in order to get his head in as well as Alex’s, who is a foot and a bit shorter. Alex prefers to praise the USA for last night’s game rather than blame England, which seems very grown up in these bipolar days.
I listen on 5Live because Danny Murphy is the co-comm on TV and I can’t risk him making me feel depressed. They pair Conor McNamara with American Englander Karen Bardsley in Salford. Conor is a bit under-rated I think. He’s such an expressive commentator describing the Aussies as ‘gnarling their teeth’ and, as Karen was a very cheerful presence, laughing a lot and making pleasure noises as the play swung from end to end, it all made for great entertainment.
Conor has a habit of raising his voice to a crescendo in moments of high tension and when the chance is missed, giving out a low throaty growl, almost as though he is deflating. It’s all very engaging from the voice of Squawk The Parrot. I hope they ask KB back as she was great value and proof of the fact that in order to take anything seriously, you have to be able to laugh at it. Also nice to hear her make an SNL reference to Fatty McGhee, without actually saying ‘fatty’.
The post-game interview with coach Graham Arnold was tremendous in its unreconstructed maleness, so gruff and unfiltered, like something from a bygone age. All ‘mate’ and ‘the boys’ and, of course, ‘the beers’.
Poland v Saudi Arabia
Postie is back at work and delivers a box of screws, two wooden knobs and 23 records, some early 70s hard rock and some 80s metal 12”ers.
Seema (who seems to look younger with every broadcast and though 37, could pass for 20), is Head Prefect for ITV on this game and is joined by Eni and Karen Carney. No third pundit, which is really good. I’ve long thought three is one too many as it means no-one gets long enough and the studios often look too crowded, especially if one of the tall and wide boys is present. I find myself wondering if an all-female panel has a different vibe to it. Nice to have a break from the more typical alpha maleness. There’s some great old footage of The Wettest World Cup Ever in West Germany 1974 where Poland finished third and Grzegorz Lato was top scorer.
Pat and Pien are on 5Live duty. I liked Pat’s description of the Polish defenders as ‘big lumps.’ Saudi manager Hervé Renard, who is a fierce shade of tangerine, and wears a white shirt better than anyone, looks very cool.. He was briefly Cambridge United manager, you know. Pat predicts the next scorer will be Lewandowksi…and it is. That’s another win for Pat. Lewie is sobbing after scoring. Aw.
France v Denmark
This game marks Shearer’s debut on the radio at this tournament. He doesn’t do a lot of co-comm work but when he does, he’s invariably very good. He’s with the boy Murray. Champo and Coisty are on ITV.
TV sees Laura, now in all black, HRK, Wrighty and Souey in a military green t-shirt who says England shouldn’t be hard on themselves, USA were a good team. “I think that was a compliment about England,” says Laura, grinning like a happy cat. “That’s me, I can’t go back to Scotland,” adds Souey, who is also cynical about Giroud’s achievements, calling them ‘an anomaly’. I know what he means.
There’s been a story in the Telegraph about 80-year-old Des Lynam thinking Laura’s use of ‘Wrighty’ was over informal. Whether that was why she called Wrighty ‘Ian’ this evening, I don’t know. Wrighty’s response was “You know what Lozza, it doesn’t matter, you don’t have to call me Ian. Look, how long we’ve known each other. Call me Wrighty like you normally do.”
They roll some 1998 World Cup footage. Hard to believe it was 20 years ago and all those players are retired now. I could watch it all day.
Kelly is in the 5Live Qatar studio, which John Murray says is basically a flat. I love how unglamorous all of this is.
In the second half, John announces the death of Doddie Weir, who Alan knew well. It brings a sombre moment. “Just a game this, Alan, isn’t it? It feels like everything, but it’s just a game,” said John, with real melancholy. I feel tears coming at this brief moment of reflection on our collective mortality. “RIP, big man,” says Alan. Gulp.
Argentina v Mexico
I pour myself a large gin and lemon water and try to get my feet under the ITV table but I last eight minutes with the ITV comms before I flip to the radio and ABB/Sutton strike partnership and find it much more satisfying even though it’s 90 seconds behind the TV pictures. I could try and line them up, but I like seeing what has happened and waiting for them to see it on the radio too. It’s like watching the game twice.
Chris makes a Suzanne Vega, ‘left of centre’ gag. Niche. Dawn, who is a fan, spots it and bursts into a passable impression singing, “…off of the strip, In the outskirts, In the fringes, In the corner, Out of the grip”. I applaud and she takes a bow and disappears into the bath with a cocktail of tart cherry juice, ginger syrup, vanilla and vodka. It tastes like linctus.
Half time on ITV is time for Roy, Joe C and GNev. Pougers, who I’ve loved for many years, lays back in his chair and looks a bit tired. If I was a betting man, I’d lay odds that Laura W will replace him as the head honcho when contracts allow.
“It’s hard to get up when you’re wearing silk pyjamas,” says Joe Cole. I’ve always thought his voice sounds like a cockney chimney sweep in Mary Poppins. Roy, whose beard seems to have grown an inch since yesterday, says it’s like a Championship game and scowls like it’s a sin. GNev thinks Argentina’s full-backs are shocking and players aren’t scared of Messi anymore. Then Messi scores and it’s all over.
Gabriel Clarke does an England report but such reports, whoever does them, are invariably anodyne or worthless, so I listen to Tim Vickery on the radio who asks is it 1990 or 2002 for Argentina? Good question. I hope it’s 1990.
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 27
Japan v Costa Rica
I’m a week in now and I’m flagging a bit, feeling the rest of the things I enjoy in life have been put on hold and there’s another three weeks to sit through. I like Japan but I just can’t face another game right away, plus it’s a dry and sunny morning and I’m in need of exercise, so we drive to Toward and walk along the southern coast of the Cowal Peninsula in a stiff wind. It’s glorious, so open and wild, the air as sweet as chilled wine. There are seals just off shore and they poke their heads up in that inquisitive way they have. It rains so much here but when the sun is out, man, it’s absolutely magnificent and it cheers my soul greatly.
I return refreshed, serve up bacon sandwiches and hot coffee and see that Costa Rica won. I’m well up for three games now. Funny how a break from it all for a couple of hours really puts you a better headspace.
Belgium v Morocco
I enjoy listening to Pien Mulensteen and Dion’s commentary on 5LIve for Belgium v Morocco while I make sweet potato and feta cheese frittata and let it cool. We’ll eat it with chilli sauce and cold drinks later. Pien is a good, clear, quick and sharp commentator and absolutely loses it when Morocco scores their second. Excellent. Every time I hear her name it always makes me sing ‘his name is Rex Bob Lowenstein’ Mark Germino’s tribute to a rebellious DJ. I don’t know why we get these things get triggered by a name that is, in fairness, only vaguely similar.
It’s a great win for Morocco in a thoroughly enjoyable game. I see the second half on World Cup Extra to get the radio comm with the pictures. In the TV studio it is Chappers with Pablo Z, Didier and Laura Georges who is a welcome force of real energy and is the Secretary General of the French Football Federation. I bet the English FA Secretary General isn’t as cool, nor as articulate.
Juliette Ferrington is presenting all afternoon on radio. She’s relatively new to the 5Live presenting gig and is more usually a producer on live broadcasts. While she’s definitely finding her feet in the role, she oversees a great afternoon of broadcasting, especially the stuff about Canada boss, Geordie John Herdman (OK Consett, which is technically not geordieland). Karen Bardsley is back too, which is good news. There’s an interesting interview with Chris Hadfield, Canada’s first space walker and now a novelist, who had been working with the Canada team as an inspirational speaker.
Canada v Croatia
Gabby’s next up on the oche with Micah, Ashley and Alex. I’m on World Cup Extra again with Matt U and Denno comms. The unexpected early Alfonso Davies goal allows Denno to unleash his nuclear roar which really pins your ears back.
At half time, Micah looks absolutely huge. Maybe it’s the angle of the camera or something but his upper body looks like it’s been inflated. Dawn comes in out of the cold and sits down with some tea. “Is that the laughing one? I like him on the radio,” she says. I confirm it is indeed the laughing one. “Does he look massive to you?” I ask. “Aye. He’s all sort of round and puffed up. Maybe he’s got a valve in his back and he gets pumped up before going on telly, only this time they’ve over-inflated him,” she says, dryly. For a moment I think she’s serious. It would explain a lot.
At which point she gets an email from Artfinder to say she’s sold three artworks to someone in America (when not making things, she’s a post-impressionist abstract artist – no I don’t know what it means, either. She’s bloody good though) and starts dancing around the room, clapping and chanting her own name. I mentally note that will pay for all the wood and paint. It’s all part of our ordinary madness. Rabbie raises his head and looks to see what all the fuss is about, but quickly sees it’s just the silly humans and goes back to sleep.
I enjoyed that game and Matt U summed it up well saying they’re short of goalscorers outside of Davies but have a lot of promise for four years’ time when they’re co-host.
Germany v Spain
Before the game, I take time out to look at all the records that were delivered yesterday. The Lizzy Borden double live looks very interesting. Never seen that before. I put them all on my ‘to be filed’ shelves. The 7 & 12” singles are in a terrible mess. I make a mental note to sort them out and file them properly this week as I’ve got an empty extra Kallax unit.
Dawn is working on some art in the studio this evening having spent all day over the electric sander. She takes her frittata out with her along with gin, ginger and orange with lots of ice.
There’s a great interview by Emma Saunders with Jack Grealish. His lugubrious tones in defending his manager against the witless criticism was excellent. Basically, ‘the clamour’ for whoever it is, is all bullshit, conducted by idiots. Ignore them.
Kelly is presenting on the wireless from within the stadium. On comms, Johnny M has got Peter Schmeichel along with him, possibly in his rucksack. Rafa Honigstein is there to let us know that The Evil World Cup isn’t popular in Germany and has had low viewing figures because it is The Evil World Cup. And while the Germany teams’ hand-across-mouth gesture had been well received elsewhere, in Germany it was thought weak and the popular view was that the German FA and the team should have taken Fifa on.
Rafa also says how a lot of the ultra groups are left-leaning and very concerned with human rights and women’s rights and that this is at the core of the national response. I hope TV has similar insight as this. It was important information, concisely delivered by one of the most thoughtful in the business.
The ‘semi-automated’ system rules Rüdiger’s goal offside. What is automated and what isn’t? No-one tells us. Regardless, it was rank bad defending by Spain and it occurs to me that if England were playing like either of these teams they’d be getting a fearful kicking off our lovely fans.
Half time and I can’t resist making a large vodka martini, which hits the spot very nicely as I flip to Gary, Klinsy, Rio and Mo Po who appears to be wearing George Costanza’s wig in that episode of Seinfeld. Same shape. It’s not a wig of course, just a fresh rinse. I’m reminded of what Dawn always says about Rio; he sounds like he’s talking while simultaneously letting out a burp.
It’s a bit of a coup for the BBC to get Poch and wasn’t flagged up ahead of the tournament, so must’ve been arranged at the last minute. Maybe it’s just me but I sometimes find him hard to understand.
I wonder if there are any former British players on German TV right now speaking as fluent German as Klinsy speaks English? He’s so erudite, cultured and lovely and has not aged much at all. I bet he wouldn’t have voted for Brexit.
Joe Allen pops up. “How’s the hens, Joe?” I shout.
“Calm down Peter, you look like you might self combust,” says Mr Murray at a very late offside flag which is driving everyone crazy. We know why it is happening. We don’t like it.
“Right foot…wallop,” JM says for the Niclas Füllkrug goal. Big centre forwards, eh. They’ll never catch on.
And that’s us done. Dawn comes in, we have tea, we watch that nice Hannah Fry explain how Alexa works then snuggle up in a cold bed, having had a lovely and silly day.