17 July ~ Items about poetry crop up from time to time on BBC football programmes. Barnsley FC's resident poet, Ian McMillan, ran through his usual shtick during the coverage of the FA Cup tie with Chelsea a couple of years ago while I can recall Football Focus once doing an item on David Webb's unlikely interest in composing blank verse when he was manager of Southend. So with ITV surging ahead on panel likeability during the World Cup, it was no great surprise that the BBC should have dropped into its final coverage a little shard of sophistication, just to remind us that it is still the channel of David Attenborough, I Claudius and The One Show.
Viewers who opted to follow the final on the Beeb will have seen Jonathan Pearce recite a surely self-penned prose poem about the Dutch national side, with the intermittent refrain "They know this". Jonathan would probably dismiss it as merely a sensitive audio essay, but the fact that it has a repeated, stressed phrase and Jonathan leaning soulfully against a sea wall means that it counts as a proper poem. Here the BBC won a point over the commercial station as there is no way Clive Tyldesley was lilting through an Italian sonnet on Spain’s possible weakness at left-back.
Nonetheless, a football poem of sorts did feature on ITV's World Cup advertising breaks with Graham Taylor solemnly intoning a bit of doggerel in praise of McDonald's and the regular folk who eat there. Among the carefully selected social archetypes featured in the ad there was no sign of any of the 24 per cent of Britons who are now clinically obese – a statistic which makes us the fattest nation in Europe (obesity levels in France and Italy are under ten per cent).
Football is by no means the only sport to have long-established commercial tie-ins to fast-food companies. But it's widely acknowledged that most under 16s don't get enough exercise at a time when public sports facilities seem to be closing on a daily basis. So it seems little short of a disgrace that McDonald's is still able to clamp itself onto football and indeed that someone like Graham Taylor, who you would assume is quite aware of the general decline in ours sports infrastructure, is happy to help promote burger culture. Plus the poem was terrible. Indigestible, you might say. Nick Mitchell