Brian Viner: Sir Bobby fails to hit target as substitute for Big Ron
Friday 18 June 2004
In a long afternoon of televised sport yesterday, celebrations provided the two most memorable moments; Frankie Dettori's dismount from Papineau after winning the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, and Wayne Rooney's acrobatics after scoring England's opening goal against Switzerland. Which doesn't say much for the quality of the football. For extensive periods, what fluency there was came from the Swiss.
That exquisitely English brand of condescension, that it is impossible to name more than three famous Belgians, has been thoroughly undermined by the rise of tennis stars Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne. What with Audrey Hepburn, Eddy Merckx, Georges Simenon, Hergé of Tintin fame and a couple of Breughels, there must be getting on for 10 at least.
It is now the Swiss, I hear, who must fight off the "three famous people" calumny. Before yesterday evening, at any rate, it was hard for the man in the street to name more than Roger Federer and Martina Hingis. The chocolatier Toby Le Rone doesn't count, as he doesn't exist.
But now there are 11 famous Swiss, just for starters, and they are all footballers, Switzerland having given the English such a difficult time in Coimbra, at least for the first 75 minutes.
And that's quite aside from the problems faced by commentator Clive Tyldesley, who must have dreaded anyone tracking the attacking Hakan Yakin.
There are two dimensions to following international football tournaments in Britain. There is the football, and there is the television. You can have a vehement argument with someone about Euro 2004 before you've even started on the football, if they think that Ian Wright has raised the BBC's game to exciting new levels and you think he's a prat.
Some remember the 1998 World Cup for David Beckham's sending-off against Argentina, others for Jimmy Hill's excruciating St George's cross bow-tie. Dreadful errors both.
I sometimes wonder whether football fans in other countries get so exercised over the TV coverage. Is there a French or German version of Garth Crooks, perhaps, earnestly asking questions five paragraphs long? For their sakes, you have to hope not.
But what of ITV's coverage yesterday? It is obligatory for journalists to write about the performances of presenters and pundits by cleverly deploying football terminology; it's practically a law, as they say in that annoying advert about the topless women.
So here goes. In Portugal, the BBC and ITV have adopted different tactics. The BBC's front line of pundits are men who have no connection with the present England team, indeed who are not even English in the case of Alan Hansen, Gordon Strachan and Peter Schmeichel. Which is fine, of course, but in the coverage of England matches it hands the advantage to ITV, who in the articulate Gareth Southgate have a man who but for injury would have been in the squad, and in Terry Venables, the man who managed England to the semi-final of Euro '96.
Mind you, the only ITV man to correctly predict the 3-0 scoreline was Des Lynam, playing and managerial experience nil. Wherein, perhaps, lies a truth. That in punditry, nobody knows everything and everybody knows something.
As for the business at the sharp end, in the commentary box, Sir Bobby Robson is a fellow of many talents but knowing when to stop talking is not among them. Inclined also to get verbally tangled, there were times when he didn't let Tyldesley get an edge in wordways. To express it in football language, Big Ron Atkinson had to be taken off, but I'm still not convinced that Robson was the right man to bring on.
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