25 July ~ Cast your minds back a month or so and you may recall that the BBC's coverage of the Spain v Portugal World Cup second round match was notable for something. The game was followed directly by Mark Lawrenson's historical documentary on the Battle of Spion Kop. The fear, on seeing that our guide to this tragic military miscalculation was to be Lawro, was that perhaps he might sit in front of the battlefield on a comfortable sofa, joking gloomily on the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers' shocking defence against the set-piece snipe.
And yet he crawled and yomped and spread his palms over the rocky landscape like a method-actor protégé of Simon Schama, accomplishing the tricky feat of imparting information without coming across like a Blue Peter presenter or someone fulfilling a contractual obligation to the BBC. If a DVD called Lawro's Fairly Serious Military Gaffes and Cock-Ups appears in the shops this Christmas one wouldn't be at all surprised.
To see Lawrenson transformed into a competent and enthusiastic television presenter was quite a shock because, by common consent, the BBC had a dreadful World Cup. Most of their panellists, with the exception of Clarence Seedorf, scarcely bothered to even feign interest in many of the games, for which they were roundly criticised by TV reviewers and bloggers throughout the tournament. In fact, as with the England team, this mostly embarrassing set of performances felt like the culmination of years of neglect.
Hansen, Lawrenson and co stopped trying a long while ago and have instead settled for repeating what they see as their defining characteristics: Hansen – terse and dismissive; Lawrenson – sardonic and world-weary; Shearer – well, it's difficult to know quite what is going on there. All we can safely say is that he is bullishly convinced that every single time someone gets a head on the ball in the penalty area, "he should score that". He seems to be waiting for Lineker or Hansen to say "You would have scored that wouldn't you, Alan", but they rarely give him the satisfaction.
We see the effects of this general torpor every week on Match of the Day, and occasionally on the Sunday version whenever one of the big guns drops in to accompany the far more engaged Lee Dixon. In between rounds of golf and drinks on the hotel veranda, the Beeb's A team may have been made aware of the flak they were receiving back home a few days into the tournament. Why else would Gary Lineker have introduced New Zealand v Slovakia by saying "You can't accuse us of underselling this game. This is what the World Cup is about"?
Now is the the test – the new season is nearly here. Do the main players have it in them to change or are they too set in their ways? I think I know the answer. Lineker will begin the first programme of the season with a dreadful pun devised for him by one of the failed comedy writers who seems to be regularly employed by BBC Sport. Hansen will lean back and recite a list of adjectives and Shearer will look as though he's about to thump someone. Carl Gordon