Thursday 4 April 2019

Friday Night Clive

There's nothing worse - other than terminal illness, terrorism and all senseless violence, or indeed genuine disasters like tsunami's and volcanoes, and not forgetting, of course, bankruptcy and mental health problems, in fact practically everything else in the world - than the Friday night international football fixture.

Not only - if you're English -  does it mean a literally pointless friendly against an opponent bereft of their best players, or a routine qualifying win over a nation that didn't exist 25 years ago, but also a bulldozing of the domestic weekend fixtures, too.

Why must I have a double header of this tripe? Why subject me to Clive Tyldesley twice in four days? I refused to get sucked in, and it was easy not to. ITV's trailer for England's Wembley Euro 2020-qualifying game-that-isn't-the-Nations-League against Czech Republic, had the voice of Tyldesley leading us through the trenches, "Deep breath, here we go again!"

This is exactly how I feel about any game that Tyldesley is commentating on. For instance, England v France, Euro 2004, when just prior to kick off he tell us "You can hold hands if you like".

If there is any consolation for Pay TV-avoiders losing their right to watch any European action, then it is not having to listen to C to the T, as he probably introduces himself. The highlights of  the Czech Republic game is there on the ITV Hub, sponsored by pizza, waiting for me to watch, but even if I am intrigued to hear who Tyldesley's new (or latest) co-commentator is in the absence of Glenn Hoddle, who I hope is recovering well from his heart attack, I would be more interested in watching The Real Housewives of Cheshire, and I'm never watching that.

Turning the sound off is an option, yes, which offers too, an authentic taste of the real live atmosphere as well as not having to hear the tedious Three Lions band competing with Tyldesley for most persistently inane backing vocals throughout the night (although the sugar-addled freak behind the Wembley public address system would trump both in the event of a basketball-type score). But then you're essentially watching Raheem Sterling and Harry Palmer, sorry Michael Kane, no Harry Kane, celebrating in silence, and I for one, don't want that.

But unlike Tyldesley, I don't want to be accused of talking on behalf of people ("Where were the Germans...frankly who cares? Nou Camp, 1999), and there will be those who appreciate both his patronising schtick, and the chance to watch their national team humiliate an underdog. It's just that, in the words of Barry Davies, as Great Britain's Hockey team beat West Germany in the 1988 Olympics Final, frankly who cares? Not me.

While these days a weekend without any of the sides in my team's division playing is just really annoying, I don't know  how I would have coped with this as a primary school age child. In those times, I was dependant on the hit of a score flash during the Saturday afternoon rugby league match on Grandstand. While Dad, a sports journalist, was out to work covering one of those those 3 o'clock's, I was prepared to put up with Mum's accusations that I was like an old man, rooted to the sofa watching, in the main, something I had little interest in, as she hoovered around me and fed me lunch, ideally sliding it into my mouth as if I was brain dead.

The point was I had chosen this lifestyle. Every seven days came freedom and indulgence, in between the anxiety of school and the pressure-cooker of the Sunday League match. Whether Dad had fed me my addiction by taking me to my first game at five and introducing me to Sunday league football at seven, or it was just in the blood, I couldn't think of any better way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The anticipation of the score flash was spine-tingling as I knew when one was coming. The clarity of the screen would suddenly dip, going darker, as if a cloud was hovering over the set. Then the rugby action would be minimised to make way for a square box containing silent news of the goal that had just been scored.

With live games a rarity in those days, there was a special, unique feel to Saturday football. If Arsenal were losing, which seemed to happen often, I would retain hope all the way up to the vidi-printer, which reeled off the full times against the sounds of a type writer. If the Arsenal defeat hadn't been confirmed yet, there was still a chance that it had been rescued, like the Missing in Action notice that hadn't yet become a fatality confirmation. I lived this week in, week out, and looking back, I'm not sure how I survived when the season was over. There was barely any football news in the cricket season, not like now when you don't get the chance to miss it and crave it.  

These Saturdays, though I don't feel the outright euphoria of old - the clenched, shaking fists, the barely repressed yells, the (probably) wild eyes and the gritted teeth - and that, in it's place, there is the urgency to get daughter to ballet and then after that, when all three kids are in one place again, the desperation to get us all as far away as from the house as possible, the 'football day' still arrives with a tingle of promise as I wake to a boot in the head from my youngest.

In truth, Sunday is now the big football day, with crucial live drama promised, often accompanied by Europe-instigated fixtures on the schedule.  The Yoof don't get my lament. They've grown up with scattered fixtures and ask me what my problem is with the FA Cup Final kicking off at 5.30. 

Since starting this post, I have caught up with relatives, and learned that two of my cousins took their sons and nephews to the England-Czech game, with one of the sons loving the occasion so much he wants to go back for one of the September fixtures for his birthday. One of those games is on a Saturday, ideal for the family with no school next day, and will provide the son with much excitement and enjoyment. 

And that is essentially what I'm railing against.


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