Robin Scott-Elliot: Cruel drama of England hanging on like 11 Rebekah Brooks

View From The Sofa: Women's World Cup, BBC & Eurosport
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The Independent Football

During the 2006 World Cup in Germany ahead of an evening kick-off in Cologne I took a boat trip on the Rhine. The city was still within sight when the banks became liberally lined with men enjoying a lazy Sunday morning with a spot of fishing, browsing the paper and sunbathing. And not wearing any clothes.

It's not a sight seen along the banks of the Thames and I mention it only to make the point that we really occupy a parallel universe to the Germans. We don't properly understand them and vice versa. Over here nudity is quite properly confined to the pages of our family newspapers, the ones that are left anyway. It's a mystery why more than 73,000 Germans went to the opening match of the Women's World Cup, why they continue to fill grounds around the country and why they have sat, clothed and unclothed, in front of TV screens in huge numbers for games as enticing as North Korea against Sweden.

It would not happen here, where women's football is as relevant as Lembit Opik. Our attitude to the women's game in this country is curious; it comes across part conscientious objector, part whatever will they want next – the vote? And part if it's England, we'd better get the flags out and drum it up into something everyone has to care about.

It's a scattergun approach that is not directed at more established women's sports, such as tennis or athletics and this confusion reflects itself in the BBC's coverage. It took a campaign by supporters of the women's game to get England's quarter-final against France promoted to BBC2 from the red button on Saturday. In Germany the BBC had their No 1 commentator, Guy Mowbray, but back in the studio it was not the A team with Gabby Logan but two female graduates of the Alan Shearer school of punditry and the endearingly earnest Martin Keown. This is obviously an event beneath Alan Hansen and his £1.5m annual salary.

One area that retained the consistency of the men's game was the cliché count and it extended to the pitch where a promising position was squandered against a superior side via a penalty shoot-out.

"Why are we so used to it?" wondered Mowbray. Back in the studio Sue Smith decided we "could have won it" but we (it was "we" throughout, another England tournament cliché from Britain's state broadcaster) could "move on from this".

The problem with watching football beneath the highest level is it requires emotional investment – which perhaps explains why the BBC sought to ratchet up the national angle. It's a chore to sit through Stoke against Birmingham unless you care about one of them. There were some neat patterns of play, largely from France, the odd bit of handbags (insert your own faintly sexist joke here), and the bad goalkeeping always cited to damn the women's game (two words in riposte – Robert Green). It was the cruel inevitability of what unfolded that saved the match as a spectacle; the drama of England hanging on like 11 Rebekah Brooks, while the penalties even saw them ahead for a time before reverting to script.

Later on Eurosport viewers were advised not to "write off the Germans" and informed the Japanese coach "never gives much away facially". It was to prove a painful evening for the host nation and they can now be written off as the face of a beaming Japanese coach nakedly acknowledged.