World Cup on TV: Second-class delivery on postcards from Dallas

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The Independent Online
IN A week of departures and many tears, few phrases slumped as elegantly to the occasion as the one summoned by the ITV World Cup host Matthew Lorenzo last Monday night. 'So it's goodbye to the Irish,' he said, signing off, making up in accuracy for what he lacked in tact. Given that the match had been transmitted live several hours earlier by the BBC, you would have thought he had had enough time to come up with something slightly more poetic - but no, seconds later he plugged the ITV World Cup song 'Gloryland', perhaps sensing that sales in the Dublin area were due for a slump. This was plainly a business-like attitude; the Irish team were now 'dead meat' in showbiz terms, even though their boss wasn't. For, yes, it could be revealed that Big Jack was joining the ITV team.

Despite the fanfare, most of us had spotted Jack's imminent recruitment to the 'Group of Death' - Lorenzo, Denis Law, Don Howe and Tony Francis - the night before the fateful Dutch game, when his arrival had been heavily nudged-and-winked, with lots of 'see you in the next few days, Denis' and 'talk to you very soon', which probably didn't do much for the Irish fans.

But do ITV know what they'll be getting? Charlton's labyrinthine explanation about Ireland not being able to get to grips with Holland's 'first, second and third runners' suggested that the plain- speaking may be more abstruse than they might wish. 'It's all a bit technical,' Jack offered, 'but Don'll understand.' I thought Howe looked as blank as the rest of the panel, and it plainly had not got through to the Irish team who managed, in the cliche of the tournament, to be 'naive at the back' and, well, 'naive at the front' too.

Not that Gary Newbon - usually a reliably insensitive door-stepping interviewer in touchy post-match tunnels - could summon a challenge to his new colleague about, say, not starting the game with McAteer, or sticking doggedly to one forward, even at 2-0 down and with Koeman moving as fast as a Railtrack executive.

Indeed, the only critique of Charlton's tactical plan came from Liam Brady, sitting at Barry Davies's right hand. 'The Dutch have got three or four players who'll take people on with the ball. Ireland have got nobody' was his succinct assessment. Brady's performance was terrific. He was shrewd, unbiased, unsentimental and always capable of the precise phrase, which, managerial commitments permitting, suggests that he has a bigger future outside the Ireland and Serie A axis.

But the hiring of Charlton will at least bring some welcome variety to ITV's woeful output. Even Tony Francis - usually an ironic and witty reporter - has been dropping his standards, suggesting before the Saudi Arabia v Sweden game that Arab princes might be arriving on a 'flying carpet'. This sort of stuff is only inches away from fatwa territory. Meanwhile, in what looked like an attempt at investigative reporting, Gabriel Clarke had found two cousins of Romania's Gheorghe Hagi running a pizza parlour in Hollywood.

Quite why ITV has persisted with its Dallas studio is still not clear. For the opening fortnight, I'd had a nagging suspicion that, rather like the set-up in the film Capricorn One in which astronauts are taken to a film studio and made to pretend they are on another planet, the ITV team were really holed-up on a disused TV-am set in Camden Town. Indeed, I was prepared, Chalky White fashion, to offer a crisp fiver for any sightings of Don and his brown titfer in north London rather than central Texas.

But with the honourable exception of Butch Wilkins, who paid eloquent tribute to Italy's courage against Nigeria, the gassy banality of the panel's comments and the vacuity of their 'fillers' tell us that they are all actually out there. Like holidaymakers liberated from the restraints of their usual routines, they are probably too busy having a good time to realise what crappy postcards they are sending back to us.

The BBC's errors of judgement seem small in comparison - thank God we won't be hearing the jokey version of 'Irish Eyes' again, nor the Few Dollars More music that preceded Mexico's game against Bulgaria. The game itself provided Motty and Trev with enough talking points to last a week, as the tournament started to accumulate more cards than Gordon Fraser. But you couldn't help admiring Motty's ability to spot the gap for a fact - 'You had a shot stuck in a stanchion once, didn't you Trev?' he asked during the goal-transplant. And we also learnt that Hugo Sanchez, who did not even come on, got his trademark somersault from his gymnast sister. Bon Motsons are beginning to look priceless.

If he ever gets fed up with football commentating, he'd make a great police constable in a creaky Agatha Christie play, ever ready to ease the plot along with a fact or two. Meanwhile, the bets are down - will it be Keegan, Big Jack or Big Ron who finally gets round to re-christening Bulgaria's be-wigged goalie Siropov?

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