Sunday, June 24, 2012

Euro 2012: Clive and kicking

England expects. Again. To an extent.

The last quarter final of Euro 2012 sees the heroes of Albion face Italy in Kiev this evening.

A strange tournament for England, the late appointment of Roy Hodgson robbing the build-up of the normal outpouring of patriotic fantasising.

So the team has quietly progressed, the odd flirtation with ineptitude covered by a general attainment of underwhelming competence.

Which may or may not be enough of a foundation to sneak past Italy tonight.

England's progress allows the BBC and ITV from remain resolutely steadfast in their main narrative focus of the tournament.

Whatever's happening in any given game we know Gary Lineker and Adrian Chiles are just itching to switch the half-time action to Gaby or Gabriel in Krakow for the latest update from Roy's boys.

These trysts with the press must give Hodgson hope. If his tactics rely on an iron socialist will, a belief in the triumph of the collective rather than sparks of genius from the individual, then the way in which Steven Gerrard, Joe Hart and the rest can hide any hint of personality in these less than forensic bouts with the media point to a squad prostrate at the feet of Chairman Roy.

It doesn't give Chiles and Lineker much to work with though. The internet has helped make all the world a critic. And how we like to criticise our broadcast hosts and their pundit sidekicks.

If some of the abuse is unfair, if the constant bleating is becoming as offensive as Alan Shearer's crotch-clinging slacks, there remains something heartening for the medium of TV: it can still unite the nation, even if the threads that now bind us are a loathing for Adrian Chiles and a communal disdain for the way Mark Lawrenson has married a distaste for modern football with a love of bad puns to create a world weary style of disengaged, uninformative co-commentary.

How would the nation's major broadcasters cope without England?

In 1978 they had to do just that. Clive James, the greatest of TV critics with, thankfully, less of a foot in the grave than The Mirror reported this week, suggests modern football didn't invent inept TV coverage:
Once England’s hopes of competing in the World Cup had vanished, it was an understandable case of transferred nationalism that the English, instantly restyling themselves as the British, should heap Scotland with the burden of national expectations. But it was hubris to be so confident that Scotland would do well. Television, during the past week, has not been as bad as the Press in pouring scorn on Ally and his army, but it was at least as bad in the way it built them up in the first place. The best you can say in mitigation is that the Scots themselves showed less judgment than anybody.

Anyway, you had a choice of channels on which to view the unfolding disaster. For the connoisseur of high drama, the BBC was, as usual, the better bet. The Saturday afternoon preludes to the Scotland-Peru match were referred to by Dickie Davis of ITV as ‘the build-up to and coverage of the big one’. Unfortunately Dickie, after announcing the build-up to and coverage of the big one, disappeared from the screen, resurfacing only to provide links. On the Beeb Frank Bough was there all the time. ‘What a day it must be to be a Scotsman,’ he mused ecstatically. There was no getting rid of him. When Jimmy Hill and the experts showed up, Frank was right there with them.

Videotape of past triumphs was resurrected, principally in order to demonstrate a quality known as Scotland’s Power in the Air. There were awed voices-over from the assembled experts. ‘Dalglish … I don’t think any player but Dalglish could have got in there … I don’t think anybody in the world … Dalglish.’ The experts, referred to by Frank as ‘some great characters’, were unanimous.

Out in Argentina, David Coleman chimed in, telling us, with no apparent sense of impending doom, that Ally MacLeod had described his own goalkeeper as ‘one of the best in the World Cup’ and his own midfield as ‘one of the best in the world’. The tune began changing when the Peruvians, one goal down, suddenly revealed an ability to run faster with the ball than the Scots could run without it. When Peru levelled, the Scots back home must have been regurgitating their haggis.

‘We are really watching a fascinating game of football,’ said Frank at half-time. For once he was right. On ITV Kevin Keegan said: ‘I think they’ve got problems.’ Referring to the Peruvians, Paddy Crerand said: ‘They’ve frightened the life out of me.’ The charming Andy Gray looked equally distraught. A disarming trio, these, but I craved the madder music of the Beeb, switching back just in time to hear David say: ‘Dalglish, who’s so far made little impression.’

After several mentions of the hole in Asa Hartford’s heart, David referred to him as a ‘whole-hearted player’, but managed to get in an apology before the BBC switchboard broke down completely. David, at least, was on form. So, alas, was Peru. They saved a penalty – another sporran-chewing moment for the watching Scots. The second Peruvian goal must have had them hitting each other with cabers. ‘Sad the way this match has drifted away from Scotland,’ murmured David. I suppose there was a Roman commentator saying the same kind of thing at Cannae. ‘Sad the way this battle has drifted away from the legions.’

‘You’ve got to admit the best team won,’ said Keegan on ITV. ‘They could have by a lot more.’ It was agreed that it was ‘unfortunate that there are so many short players in the Scottish team.’ The mysterious evaporation of Scotland’s Power in the Air was thus explained. Back on the Beeb, Ally MacLeod bravely spoke to David, regretting his team’s ‘pure performance’. There was no point in asking him to be mure specific. That it was indeed a pure performance was not to be ignured.

From the book Clive James on Television

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