Football: View from the armchair: A verbal battle in a war of words

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The Independent Online
IT IS, to be fair, only early doors as yet, but already my grasp of the English language has begun to be affected by the cathode-ray emissions from France 98.

I'm disappointed with that but not, as yet, gutted. If truth is the first casualty of war then words are the first to be crocked in the World Cup. To the phrases above we can now add "dodge-pot", Alan Hansen's description of the Brazilian goalkeeper Taffarel after Wednesday's opening match. Later, Ron Atkinson, the Dr Johnson of football's lexicography, chipped in with a new one that will also stick, "the ugly ball", used to describe the source of Norway's two equalisers against Morocco.

This is also the month when the adverb will be horribly abused, stripped of its "ly" ending, which is then given a free transfer to players' surnames. Glenn Hoddle, in a live link-up with Des Lynam from England's base in Brittany told us that "things were going excellent". And of course there is permanent leave of absence for the "g"s in Trevor Brookin's Essex locutions.

This emphasis on the verbals would not have come about had the visuals been more interesting. The first day's football was much more open and much less brutal than we have been led to expect, and certainly outstandingly conducted by the two match referees despite the predictions of chaos. But its entertainment value was in contrast to the surrounding broadcasts from BBC and ITV, both of which suggested that a lot of money had been spent to no great effect.

The warning bells had rung early, with the BBC's tournament preview which featured Des lunching expensively with Arsene Wenger for one obscure quote, and then joining Ginola, Lineker and Hansen at a marina in the south of France to show off their designer sunglasses. It may just be down to the Judith Chalmers factor, in which, as a viewer, you become murderously inclined to those being highly paid to travel in warm climates on your behalf. But leaving that aside, my first instinct is that the BBC is throwing its sport budget at this World Cup tournament in a last hurrah, knowing that BSkyB and the German rights-owners will almost certainly team up to get the next.

Take the opening credits - possibly influenced by an infamous BBC Management weekend at the luxurious Lucknam Park in Wiltshire - which depict a French brasserie where images of World Cup moments appear, floating in the wine bottles and glasses. This almost certainly nails down the precise source of the design inspiration - a five hour lunch.

With this comes an expensive wall of mournful choral music, Faure's "Gazza Solemnis", but what really makes the eyes water is the BBC's World Cup studio. In what is clearly one of Mohammed Al Fayed's Parisian penthouses, Des and friends sprawled in front of a spectacular skyline and while they talked we could watch the bad weather rolling in behind the Eiffel Tower. The French windows of Lynam Park's balcony were open early for the pre- match festivities, allowing the panel to discard their ties and, in Jimmy Hill's case, even his socks. Ginola is clearly having an influence already.

But events at the stadium later forced a rethink, with the windows being firmly shut by full-time. The opening ceremony had suggested three security lapses - firstly that several hundred deranged escapees from EuroDisney had hijacked the proceedings, or that terrorists had managed to drop a ton of LSD into the Paris water supply. There was also the obvious threat of Ally McCoist making his way back to the penthouse from the stadium and causing a scene. McCoist, sporting a lager top hairdye and a tartan suit, may have been expunging his grief at being excluded from the Scottish squad.

Matters were a little calmer on ITV, where their budget has been underwritten to the tune of pounds 3m by Vauxhall in return for irritating promotional films. The nation should begin a whip round now to buy out the car company and save our sanity. It's either that or getting Big Ron to do it for just pounds 2m.

On the day, Ron was the star performer. Apart from his rich vernacular, something else came down the wires too - a genuine passion for watching football which didn't emerge in the BBC's commentary from Davies and Brooking. Ron was also dignified enough to soldier on after Bob Wilson had tactlessly revealed at half-time that a French coach had got his old job at Sheffield Wednesday. And he was diplomacy itself when he declined to correct Brian Moore's query about the deployment of a Moroccan substitute's Christian name on his shirt - "not bad for country with a 98.7 per cent Sunni Muslim population, Brian", as Ron could have said, but didn't.

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