THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Armchair viewers are left bewildered as pundits get lost for words. Fortunately Simon Tyers isn't

It cannot be any more than coincidence that Rodney Marsh’s return to television on I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! has come in the same month as the latest Sex Pistols reunion, but anyone who has seen Johnny Rotten interviewed in the last few years will appreciate the similarities between the public face both put on. There are uncanny similarities – the forced inertia, the garrulous body language, the belief that their headline comments are in any way meant to shake up our expectations of them, right down to how both have flown in from their American poolsides.

For Marsh, taking two days to outline a critique of feminism apparently constructed from the routines of the late Bernard Manning was an interesting way to attempt to win the viewers over, especially on a show aimed at a female ABC1 demographic. It only served to demonstrate that, as he did so often on Soccer Saturday, Marsh cannot help but look like he’s trying too hard and will only be disappointed when he finds out he wasn’t the most hated person in the camp. At the time of writing he’d crossed the physical boundary, too, temporarily out of the show having injured himself while collecting logs, which seems like an appropriate way to bring his ego down.

Ian Wright probably uses the phrase “political correctness gone mad” unironically even in quiet moments, having recently called for the reintroduction of both hanging and National Service in the Observer. Even by his standards, though, telling Alan Hansen he’d taken “a left turn to negative town – come back, baby!” seemed unnecessary, especially for a 44-year-old. The positive attitude permeating the television build-up – not quite hubris, as there was still plenty at stake once Russia had lost, but certainly a quiet-to-medium level of confidence – reached a peak as early as Saturday night on Sky, as Richard Keys tried manfully to get Trevor Francis and Glenn Hoddle to accept that England qualification was not quite a done deal, the pair seemingly more concerned with judging who might make a late charge for the finals squad – Francis even managing to cut off Keys linking into the break in his determination to name-check Gabriel Agbonlahor.

On the night, after a day when Sky’s James Silver had just about edged it as the most frenzied cheerleader, alarm bells should have rung during Steve McClaren’s pre-match interview with Ray Stubbs for Match of the Day when he referred to the potential of “Stevie G”. Who in international management refers to players by their media nicknames? Wright, meanwhile, was critical of his own Sun column, where he’d suggested David Beckham should start ahead of his own son, but never quite paused to explain what tactical reasons there were for him to change his mind other than what had ­happened wasn’t what he thought should have happened. He did, however, find time to debut a scary high-pitched chuckle, following his own assertion in response to Alan Hansen calling Peter Crouch “a huge player” that “he is huge!” Whatever floats your boat, Ian.

It’s rarer than you might imagine that you hear commentators actually lost for what to say next about the game they’re watching, but once Croatia had scored through an error Mark Lawrenson described as “more Frank Carson than Scott” it was plain for pretty much the whole first half that the sheer ineptitude from all areas had as much stunned him and John Motson as it had the home crowd. Motson even dropped a hint as to whom he’d prefer to see, pondering whether it was too early after 25 minutes for a substitution and answering himself with “Mourinho would, wouldn’t he?” “Yeah. And others would as well,” was Lawrenson’s advisedly cagey response.

By the second half, Motson’s powers of judgment had eroded so far he was reduced to praising how Croatia had “come here to play a real game”, not specifying what level of play he’d expected, and in second-half injury time interpreting frenzied signals from Slaven Bilic as a sign that “he just wants to win”. Why, it’s almost as if they’d come to England not wanting to play dead. Perhaps this is why he asked Lawrenson to “take the pressure off me” soon after the final whistle. That said, Hansen’s opinion that Croatia “realistically could have won by six or seven”, though undoubtedly heartfelt, seemed excessive even in these circumstances. Mind you, it’s not like realism plays much of a part when the national team are involved.

From WSC 251 January 2008

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