"Can't we get you on 'Mastermind', Sybil? Next contestant, Sybil Fawlty from Torquay, special subject the bleeding obvious." - The "Basil the Rat" episode of Fawlty Towers, first transmitted on BBC 2, 25 October 1979.
Sometimes the television coverage of the World Cup has the same sort of effect on me that life in general had on the immortal Basil Fawlty, not in the sense of wanting to bash a Spaniard over the head with a frying pan – although heaven knows, Fernando Torres needed something to wake him up in Saturday's quarter-final against Paraguay – but more in the sense of rendering me almost incoherent with frustration.
I mean, how much do some of those pundits get paid to spout the bleeding obvious? I have noticed, incidentally, a direct correlation between the pundit's stature as a player and the flaccidity of his contributions behind a table, be it ITV's table borrowed from the Starship Enterprise, or the BBC's more restrained Habitat job. This is clearly why great players so rarely make great managers; too many of them see the game only in terms of the bleeding obvious.
The transcendent example is Alan Shearer. His manifest rage following England's limp exit fuelled the utterance of four interesting sentences in succession, which was a clear personal best, but I think he might be broadcasting's answer to Bob Beamon, destined never again to hit such astonishing heights, or in Beamon's case lengths.
On Saturday, Shearer was once again shrouded in BO, which here at "View From The Sofa" we know to be the bleeding obvious rather than body odour. At half-time during Paraguay v Spain, the great man found seven different ways to express his surprise at how poor the Spanish had been. "The Spanish have been so poor, it's very surprising," he said, swiftly followed, with a slightly more furrowed brow, by "it's surprising how poor the Spanish have been."
In fairness, there wasn't much for any of the pundits to say after 45 minutes that could have been more profitably spent watching the test card. Do they still have test cards, by the way? For those of you too young to remember, they were whimsically slapped on screen to fill long, empty hours in the afternoon, rather like Alan Titchmarsh is now.
Anyway, what little there was to say was said best by Lee Dixon, who has more analytical powers in his belly button than Shearer has in his head. Dixon pointed out that the underdogs had pressed high up the pitch, which was followed by a little batch of highlights labelled "Paraguayan Pressing". Has there been a more desperate graphic in this entire World Cup? Was this why I had given up the chance to go to my friend Simon's birthday party, to stay at home watching Paraguayan Pressing, which sounds like a north London ironing service?
Happily, the second half was as thrilling as the first had been moribund, so much so that Jonathan Pearce in the commentary box started talking in alliterations. You know you've got a match on your hands when Pearce gets alliterative. I was thrilled to hear him mention, I think for the first time in this tournament, the "fickle finger of football fate". I'd been wondering where Jonathan's fickle finger of football fate had got to, and it was a relief to feel its forceful prod. Indeed, it more than compensated for Paraguayan Pressing, and even alleviated my disappointment that Pearce now has the excitable Mark Bright as his sidekick, his former companion Mick McCarthy having reportedly lost his lugubrious Barnsley vowels down an open mineshaft.
For my money (a few quid of which, if you're interested, was placed on Holland to win the World Cup way back when more illustrious sports writers were predicting Brazil and Argentina), the best of the co-commentators is still the BBC's ever-droll Mark Lawrenson, who ventured of the Argentinian goalkeeper Sergio Romero, after he conceded the first German goal on Saturday, that "suddenly the pony-tail doesn't look so good". I quite like ITV's Jim Beglin too, although he might have been reading too many Seamus Heaney poems. "This is... a more relaxed Ghana, a more confident Ghana, a more threatening Ghana," he said on Friday night, as, in the match against Uruguay, we saw something of Hampstead's other ironing service, Ghanaian Pressing. Half an hour later they were, alas, a distraught Ghana, a beaten Ghana, a tragic Ghana.
As for Germany, in case you hadn't heard, they scored three more after that opener, in a performance of quite scintillating verve. "The question is, can they win the World Cup?" said Shearer afterwards, portentously. "Playing like that, of course they can." Thanks again, Alan, for your astute professional insight, without which we on the sofa really would have to assume the Germans hadn't got a prayer.Reuse content