It is little wonder protesters gathered grumpily outside the Copacabana studios where Gary Lineker, Adrian Chiles, their army of pundits (what is the appropriate collective noun – a blather? A blatter?) and Robbie Savage have set up camp for the next month. It is the only space left to kick up a fuss as the beach itself is full of TV types, all bouncing around with the excitement of being on the COPACABANA in BRAAZZZILLL. There goes Dan Walker panting with the sheer bloomin’ marvellousness of it all, and look out here’ssss Wrighty and his cameraman Lawro (no, not that one).
ITV decided having Ian Wright bouncing off the studio walls, especially now Roy Keane, the Barbara Woodhouse of today, is not around to order him to sit, is more trouble than it’s worth and so has let him off the lead to frolic happily on the beach. Wright’s natural joie de vivre makes him well-equipped for the role of roving reporter/happy ranter, although four weeks of him accosting strangers on the beach might divert even the Brazilian police’s attention from pepper-spraying protesters.
Wright is not the only happy man on TV. They all are, wide-eyed and carnival-spirited and it is that across-the-board enthusiasm for the event from old pros who have seen it, done it and bored us silly about it that brings home how special a World Cup in BRAAZZZILLL is. It’s infectious. Even Chiles jettisoned his usual lugubrious caipirinha half-empty view of the game. This is, so the message goes, where football’s soul lies, emerging from the soul-draining baggage that accompanies the Fifa World Cup.
Lineker looks as stirred as anyone. He has become as good a frontman in his second career as in his first and appears energised by being out in Rio. Lineker has dodged the pre-tournament trim and his growing hair, sculpted upwards from his forehead, is becoming his version of Des Lynam’s eyebrows, giving him an air of jolly surprise to match Lynam’s suggestive twitch. It also leaves him looking like Matthew Modine’s Private Joker in Full Metal Jacket – I see Alan Hansen as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.
BBC staff out in Rio have been briefed on riot training, including how to contain an overexcited Wright. The peppering of ITV’s studio – the Brit broadcasters have stuck together, as Britons like to do when abroad, and are in neighbouring studios – by a handful of protesters suggests there may be trouble ahead and captures some of the extreme contrasts of this tournament. Those inside football’s tent could not be happier, whatever those outside it might think.