High definition punditry

Cameron Carter gets more than an eyeful

Often technology, while improving the quality of one part of our lives, has an adverse effect on another. And so it is with widescreen television, because, while it allows us to see Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker’s arm and shoulder in one shot – wider than we’ve ever seen before – it also gives us the unholy spectacle of Shearer’s too-tight trousers in fuller detail than we could ever need. Watching the England v Argentina punditry in widescreen “cinema” mode, I could descry the exact lie of the man’s genitals, right down to the fact that he is clearly not of Orthodox Jewish faith. This detracted from my enjoyment of thousands of Argentina fans looking shell-shocked and, indeed, if I know in advance that Shearer is guesting again in the studio I shall make sure I am watching on the grainy upstairs portable. Also his trousers are shiny grey, like an employee of the Trumpton biscuit factory.

Just as disturbing is Andy Townsend’s position while Ally McCoist is giving on-pitch analysis of Champions League games. He looks directly into McCoist’s profile at close range like an ear specialist – and here credit must go to the ebullient Scotsman for keeping the patter coming without a flinch. On Sunday’s The Championship, the same pair’s weekly joshing about each other’s age is beginning to lose its shine, while presenter Matt Smith has the presence of some bloke telling you he is your friend while you’re trying to lose consciousness in an opium den.

Back on the BBC, Tony Adams appears to have assumed the Jack Charlton role of mispronouncing foreign players’ names, although Tony is more unassuming and apologises between syllables where Jack would stubbornly refer to the “big lad at the back”. In TV terms, Adams isn’t house-trained yet and on occasion it seems that the whole Football Focus studio is involved in the struggle to form his next word. All perhaps except Graeme Le Saux who, while Adams was battling to describe recently what he meant by the “new newness” of Italian football for Patrick Vieira, stole a quick grimacing smile to the camera just to let his friends know he was thinking the same. Mark Lawrenson, an ordinary man convinced by a witch’s curse that he is a bit of a joker, was seen later to nudge Le Saux in schoolboy style when his comic reference to “the Double Glaziers” at Man Utd went unnoticed by Manish Bhasin. Not unnoticed, Mark, overlooked. 

November has largely been taken up with a long-running melodrama that has seduced a nation. The Peter Crouch affair, widely covered by television, has brought people together from all walks of life to urge a frail young English gentleman to success. At the time of writing the goal drought – 18 games for Liverpool and England – hasn’t yet reached Garry Birtles proportions and Crouch clearly does possess the ability to be near goals when they happen (Michael Owen had to pretty much push him out of the way in Geneva). So if we see Crouch’s role as a goal valet, an usher of goals, rather than as a plain old goalscorer, then the £7 million fee ceases to be such a problem.

Another fellow who would make a good goal valet is Chelsea’s Eidur Gudjohnsen, who, as Hernán Crespo busily wrong-footed a clutch of Newcastle defenders, elected to run right up near the goalline to be ready to hail the goal when the shot came. He would have been clearly offside if Crespo had passed, so we must assume that Gudjohnsen’s only thought was: “I must get as near as possible to my colleague’s forthcoming goal and then hail it.” Just as men unconsciously like to be near other men who have proven fertility, so forwards like to be close to goals scored by more successful team-mates. Gudjohnsen and Crouch don’t even know what they are doing and that makes it all the more poignant.

One last thing – if you’re going to applaud an official sarcastically at the risk of admonition, ensure first that you are not wearing gloves. When Robert Pires scored a penalty for Arsenal in the Champions League (rather selfishly going for goal himself), the cameras caught an embittered FC Thun defender applauding the assistant referee. However: first, sarcasm loses some of its viciousness when you’re wearing sensible woollen gloves; second, no one heard the pad-pad-pad of his clapping through the thick material. Wool and satire do not mix, they are fire and ice.

Cameron Carter

From WSC 227 January 2006. What was happening this month