Sport On TV: ITV and England on first-name terms with futility

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The Independent Online

Happy birthday for last Thursday, Clive. Sorry we forgot.

It was in pointing out the imminent birthday of the Czech coach during Wednesday's wearisome night at Wembley that Clive Tyldesley dropped in his own looming festivities. With Motty name-checking Matt Lucas of Little Britain at Craven Cottage on Saturday in one of the more surreal football-crossed-with-celebrity moments (did he really know who he was? Does he have the box set? Where was the tall one?), it would appear our two senior commentators might not yet have their minds fully on the job in these early days of the season.

By Thursday Clive was a year older, but Fabio Capello, according to everyone at ITV, was no wiser to the same old problems that had clogged up "Dutch" McClaren's time.

Those gory days had been brought to us by the BBC; now England are back on ITV, the channel that couldn't be bothered to show the final of the European Championship, possibly because there was no premium-rate phone number allowing viewers to vote for their finalists (Manchester United v a teenage gerbil juggler from Nuneaton?).

Like England, this was ITV's warm-up, a highlights run-out before the home qualifiers. And we were left in no doubt where our loyalties had to lie. "We" was England, the England of John, Wes and Rio; it is an immediate difference from the BBC, who have to at least keep up a front that not everyone in Britain is English. "We," said David Pleat in commentary.

The analysis was done on first-name terms for the home side. And no names at all when it came to the Czechs. The "lad" was Milan Baros, who looks a different player in his national colours compared to the dead-end magnet familiar to the Premier League.

ITV's analysis was much as it always is when they have the rare luxury of a bit of time: good. Andy Townsend, if you can excuse his odd lapse into boy-done-well speak, is the most under-rated pundit in the game. Tony Adams is more difficult to pin down. He knows his stuff, but delivers his thoughts with the plodding concern of a worried social worker.

He did pick out perhaps the most telling point of the night. The discussion was on England chasing the ball and being lured out of position. "English passion," said Adams, mournfully. Passion, in other words, is all very well but it can lead to getting caught with your trousers down, as the Football Association is well aware.

"Square pegs, round holes," Pleat muttered over a shot of Capello chewing a wasp. "I hope I get lots of presents," thought Clive. Probably.

Leon Taylor does not sound as if he would ever shy from voicing his thoughts. Taylor is a diver who has been shoehorned out of his trunks and into something a tad more roomy in the commentary box in Beijing. He does not mince his words, something of a characteristic among the diving community, it would seem. "That judge should be taken out and shot," he said after disagreeing with one set of marks. But there's a more thoughtful side to Taylor. "You need eyes in the back of your head for diving," he suggested before sensibly adding a disclaimer: "Although obviously you'd look a bit weird."