Monday 14 June 2010
Brian Viner: Cock-ups all round as ITV yield early advantage to BBC in broadcasters' battle
View From The Sofa: To miss one goal may be regarded as misfortune; to miss two looks very much like carelessness
It was, all the experts agreed, an absolutely catastrophic blunder – a truly dreadful thing to happen when everything seemed to be going so well. "You can't legislate for it," said Gareth Southgate. "You can't legislate for it," echoed Kevin Keegan. On the ITV panel, nobody was doing any legislating. And although they were talking about the fumble by Robert Green that gifted an equaliser to the USA, they might equally have been talking about the monumental cock-up that had earlier led to ITV HD viewers being presented with a Hyundai commercial just as Steven Gerrard scored England's goal.
Regrettably, ITV have some previous form in this area, having mistakenly cut to a Tic-Tac commercial a split-second before Everton's winner in an FA Cup tie against Liverpool last year. To paraphrase Lady Bracknell, to miss one goal may be regarded as misfortune; to miss two looks very much like carelessness. Within moments, Ladbrokes were cheekily offering odds that ITV might be denied the chance to broadcast Euro 2012.
More immediately, will poor Rob Green be denied a start against Algeria on Friday? If not, he can console himself with the thought his stock is high in the US, unlike that of BP, whose boss Tony Hayward might have ruefully wondered how an Englishman responsible for an accidental spill can become an instant hero over there.
Earlier, ITV's anchorman Adrian Chiles had started proceedings by striking just the right introductory tone. "There's nothing better, or indeed worse, than watching England in the World Cup," he mused, with his trademark lugubriousness. Amen to that. In fact, Chiles could yet be the one Englishman to emerge from the World Cup with his reputation enhanced. I liked his response to Patrick Vieira, who had been extolling the coaching virtues of Fabio Capello – strict, no-nonsense, meticulous, all that kind of stuff. "But you wouldn't want to go on holiday with him," countered Chiles, whereupon Vieira chuckled uncertainly. The Frenchman has come to understand many aspects of England and Englishness, but he can still be foxed by the subtleties of mordant Black Country humour.
Speaking of foxes, nobody in any broadcasting medium said anything more stupid on Saturday than the woman who popped up on Radio 4's Any Answers to suggest that, in the savaging of the two baby girls in their bedroom in Hackney, her sympathies were with the attacker, which was probably just minding its own innocent vulpine business when the children wriggled and frightened it.
Gerrard, however, came close – the England skipper opining after the game that, "I don't think you can criticise the goalkeeper". Pardon me, but I think you can. Even Southgate did, and he's one of the few men who knows what it feels like to commit a really whopping howler for England in a big game (the Euro '96 penalty miss which Chiles rather generously omitted to mention). So did Vieira, albeit in the gentle, charmingly-accented voice which some Frenchmen deploy to talk impressionable Englishwomen into bed. It is one of the curiosities of sport that the most pugnacious performers rarely have voices to match their deeds. Graham Gooch, Graham Thorpe, Chris Eubank and Jack Nicklaus spring squeakily to mind, and WG Grace is said to have sounded like Joe Pasquale. Vieira sounds like Sacha Distel talking into a silk muffler.
On Saturday evening, incidentally, the great man was seated between Southgate and Keegan. That afternoon, for Argentina v Nigeria, the BBC had plonked Emmanuel Adebayor between Alan Shearer and Jurgen Klinsmann. Yesterday, in the studio for Algeria v Slovenia, the Beeb had Shearer and Alan Hansen on either side of Clarence Seedorf. It's still early doors, of course, but I think I see a World Cup punditry pattern emerging: a black guy in the middle of two white guys. Is this because the studio directors like what they call the visuals, or is it somehow considered a metaphor for the new South Africa? Over the next four weeks, perhaps we'll find out.
We will find out, too, which of our mighty broadcasters will enjoy a better tournament. After three days, the BBC have already nosed ahead, but only because of ITV's high-definition horror. Chiles might help to even things up, but his opposite number Gary Lineker has also made a solid start, introducing yesterday's other Group C match with the news that the whole England team "is behind Robert Green". A beat. "In retrospect that's quite a good place to stand."
As we all know, the BBC team has a perennial advantage, not having to cut to commercial breaks. For ITV, already left high and dry by Hyundai, the objective must now be to cut to commercial breaks only when they're supposed to.
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