Carling Cup coverage

Cameron Carter settles down to watch the 2010 Carling Cup final and spends most of his time wondering whether it is worth his attention

Historically speaking, it is not always possible to determine something’s significance at the time. Who knew that an off-hand shooting of some old Austrian guy would lead to the First World War? Or that Howard would be a non-expendable member of Take That? The BBC experienced the same dilemma with the Carling Cup final. While whoever has the rights to the FA Cup coverage each year repeatedly informs us it is a competition everyone really still strains to win, the Carling Cup’s significance is an even tougher media sale.

BBC News 24 began the task the morning before the final, giving a few tantalising seconds of a Gary Lineker interview with Wayne Rooney, presented as if it were a delicately unearthed piece of arcana. All that could be discerned from the ten seconds of sacred footage was Rooney mumbling about Villa having fast players in a voice like a wasp forgetting why it came out.

Football Focus continued at lunchtime, broadcasting excitingly direct from Wembley. Dan Walker wandered around this fantastic landscape, occasionally encountering Mark Lawrenson and Dwight Yorke, like Alice in Wonderland chancing upon two timid creatures who can only converse by talking into microphones. The whole of Football Focus was staged as a visitors’ centre for the final. Some of us may have lost a few minutes of it wincing at Walker’s introductory sally, in which it is quite possible he mentioned the two teams’ “march to the Arch”, but the main thrust of the programme appeared to be that a trophy is a trophy and every player considers a Wembley appearance of any kind to be worthwhile.

The word “silverware” cropped up rather a lot. It is not a very evocative word. Children surely do not dream of “picking up some silverware” as they clatter about playgrounds chasing a tennis ball, but that is about as high as the BBC felt it could sincerely aim the tone. During the full version of the Lineker-Rooney interview on Football Focus, the final exchange – “Bit of silverware?” “Yeah, would be nice” – made it quite clear that the Carling Cup can be categorised as quite a nice thing to have, like a cheese slice or a framed picture of your cat in the bathroom.

It took a lot of the neutral’s energy while watching Sunday’s final deciding whether this was actually worth watching. The panel – Lineker, Shearer, Southgate and Hansen – themselves went through the whole rainbow of commitment as the afternoon wore on. At first it was generally agreed that both teams wanted to win (and, of course, it would be silverware for the trophy cabinet), but then the news that Rooney was not starting came through. This shocked Shearer into saying something pertinent, namely that United had other priorities this season, which preceded a self-conscious fumbling around for a positive spin to put on this news.

A little later, an injured veteran of the war in Afghanistan was pictured carrying the trophy onto the pitch, which provoked awkward and barely audible mumblings from Lineker and Hansen that this “put things in perspective”. So we can finally now place the Carling Cup confidently in the grand scheme of things: 1) human life; 2) the Premier League title; 3) a new Michael Bublé album; 4) the FA Cup, Masterchef final; 5) the Carling Cup, a chrome kettle, a digital radio; 6) Introductory Latin & Ballroom Bronze – American Smooth. At least we’ve got that sorted out now.

One by-product of the John Terry affair is the resurgence to prominence of hand-shaking, or not hand-shaking, as a social ritual. Rather than attacking him in a pub car park, Wayne Bridge thrilled millions through his 18th-century-style put-down of his sexual foe. It would have been even better if he’d tapped Terry lightly on the chops with a white glove and then shot him in the face with a flintlock, but the result was about the same.

Take a further lunging step down from John Terry’s predicament in the public eye and you find Ashley Cole, unable to play at the moment and intermittently ambushed by his own television as women with thinking disorders on daytime panel shows question his right to exist on a daily basis. MPs fiddling their expenses, comedians overstepping the mark, footballers playing away – there is a puritanical wind blowing through this land and Terry and Cole just walked bollock naked into its path.

From WSC 278 April 2010