Friday 25 June 2021

Euro 2020 Day 14: The disturbing new Matterface of football commentary

The trouble with youth is that it can make you feel old.

I was six when I watched the 1982 World Cup, and after some early confusion ("So dad, twenty four teams play each other? On one pitch?") I understood that the top two teams from each group entered into a 'second phase' format, where the clunky number of twelve qualifiers were split into four mini-groups of three. I can't say for sure that I was aware of the increase to 24 competing nations in Spain (from 16 in Argentina '78) or that this second phase format - four years before the advent of best third place finishers in 'Mexico '86 -  wasn't the norm, but what I do know is that the groups of three produced some of the most memorable moments in World Cup history; Maradona sent off against Brazil, Rossi hat trick against Brazil, Brazil the architects of mesmerising beauty and their own downfall; Keegan missing a sitter against the home nation. And many more...

Fast forward 39 years and ITV's new fresh-faced lead football commentator, Sam Matterface, weighing in at 43 years of age, is putting the words to England v Czech Republic at Wembley, and references the '82 World Cup. I'm not sure why (a connection with England's defensive achievements, maybe?  It doesn't always pay to listen.) But what did stick with me was Matterface's jokey add-on:  "I'm reliably informed a second group stage was a thing in the 1982 World Cup."

Now, I may berate Clive Tyldesley for many things, but his sense of history isn't one. Yes, Matterface was only three when the 1982 World Cup was on, but should he not, as ITV's lead football commentator, be obsessed and fixated, or at least be aware of, structures and formats of the greatest spectacle in the world game? I presume that he, as ITV's lead football commentator, has shown interest in football's past, read books, watched DVD's/videos. I'm sure he knows about the Maradona's sending off and the Keegan miss and the Rossi hat trick (or you'd hope he does) but it seems odd that he couldn't tell you in which context they happened. You know, for ITV's lead football commentator.      

But I wonder whether this dismissal of "a thing" of football past is just part of the wider ITV plan, which as with everything, is to kneel before the youths. It's not just about writing off historic events as dusty works of art, but it's also in Matterface's cool, casual relationship with stuffy old football rules. During the same commentary, Lee Dixon corrected him on a stoppage in play when the ref blew the whistle, not for a foul as Matterface said, but because the official himself had got in the way of the ball. This instruction  has been in place since the start of last season, yet ITV's lead football commentator, once - again - reliably informed, replied "Ah, that's what happens when the ball hits you".

For ITV's lead football commentator, he seems pretty open about not knowing much about football. It is possible that it's just an act, that he's always known about the second phase of '82 and why it was planned that way, and is only too aware, as many football fans who aren't ITV's lead commentator are, that the ref will stop the game if the ball hits them. In the words of his predecessor, it may be - just may be - that ITV chiefs are ordering this nonchalance, that they want the commentating equivalent of a B side Oasis track which has the feedback left on and someone coughing. I haven't got it in me to call for Tyldesley to return to the throne, but there are some of his values that ITV football would do well to keep.

Where is the professionalism? Quite frankly, who cares?  

Sunday 20 June 2021

Euro 2020 Day 9 - Line of International Duty

So Lucas Digne is French, is he?

That's Everton left back and not Spaniard, Lucas Digne. Before his appearance in the white shirt of France yesterday, playing on the Budapest pitch against Hungary in the second round of group games, I had, in my subconscious, assumed that Digne was, like Mikel Arteta when he played, one of those good Premier League players who could get nowhere near the Spain international team. But no, I've been labouring under another long-term Jorginhio-esque/Soyuncu misapprehension. The partly shaven-headed, tattoo-armed, good for a free-kick-and-cross Goodison successor to Leighton Baines is in the French squad that is hotly tipped to win this tournament.

It must have been Digne's Barcelona connections that fooled me. Or am I now getting him mixed up with Gerard Delofeu, who also played for Everton and Barcelona? Delofeu's not in the Spanish first team, but is that because he's not good enough for them or because he's not good enough for France? I mean he's got a French forename hasn't he, like Houllier and Depardieu? But then of course, there's Gerard Pique, who definitely played for Spain and Barcelona. So confusing. Now I come to think of it, there are players in Arsenal's first team whose country of birth or representation I am unsure of. Thomas Partey? At least when I watch him in an international I won't be taken by surprise.

Anyway, England-Scotland, I watched it. I'd had a word with myself and have now stopped getting all grumpy about flags and excitement. Stopped telling people about my feelings. I explained myself on a family WhatsApp group last week and felt unburdened. I found myself looking forward to the match, like "everyone else", and yet after all the hype and the bantz and the record viewing figure for the year, it turned out to be Ian Buckells. A booed conclusion. Not from me, though, I enjoyed the tension, like I enjoyed Ally McCoist's co-commentary (less so, Lee Dixon's - love you, Lee), and even Sam Matterface wasn't that bad. Even better, the now traditional Lee Chapman at West Ham tribute act performed by Harry Kane on the international tournament stage meant there were no Spurs players on the pitch for the last 15 minutes. No Arsenal ones in the  England team either, though one in the Scots ranks.

England now face the Czech Republic on Tuesday, both on four points and heading for the knockout round - but through which door? Reminds me of the England-Belgium scenario in 2018, a top-the-group showdown with a twist; one of you will walk through a lovely flower garden with afternoon tea provided (Colombia, Sweden, Croatia) and the other will be confronted by barbed wire, attack dogs and snipers (Japan, Brazil, France).

Three days before Wembley there was Munich and, during Germany v France (I didn't realise how many teams would be getting home advantage at this tournament), I thought that Clive Tyldesley's demotion seemed to suit him. He produced an insightful, inclusive, self-indulgent-free performance alongside the ever-affable McCoist (prepared to have his playing career ripped the piss out of by people who could only have dreamed of getting anywhere near the level he reached). Maybe the pressure is off, and he is less focussed on the game going out in pubs. I did question his assertion at the end of the 1-0 win for France (a strong, flawlessly-managed effort by them which left me cold) that "there has been nothing to be terrified by". As McCoist said in response, "France have got a lot more in the tank".

What I hadn't expected them to fire out was Lucas Digne.                      

Monday 14 June 2021

Euro 2020 Day 4 - Identity crisis

Straight from the off, the delayed Euro 2020 championships (the one that in years from now will be the source of much anguish as people try to recall who hosted the event; 'well, it must have been us, mustn't it? The Final was at Wembley, yeah?... but then again, I'm sure that was also the year Welsh Clive went to Azerbaijan for a game. Or maybe that was a qualifier... honestly, you can't even trust your own memories!') has been causing surprises. {before I go on, I feel it's right to say that of course the biggest shock in these early days was the collapse of Denmark's Christian Eriksen against Finland, and all of A Fan of No Importance's best wishes are with him}. 

Opening night, Italy v Turkey, and it turns out Jorginho of Chelsea is Italian. Who knew? Plenty of people, obvs, but not me. I've been watching him for the last three (?) seasons believing him to be Brazilian. In truth, I'm not certain I even considered him to be Brazilian, and probably just subconsciously recalled other Selecao players down the years with the same name. To me, he has always just been 'Jorginho of Chelsea', sprayer of passes and expert penalty taker (except when he misses, like at home to Liverpool last season - 'why the hell does he persist with that stupid, poncey, leftie, hoppy-skippy technique, eh? Asking for trouble. Don't matter it worked 20 times before, it's nah that counts. Send him back's he from, Bomber...f**king Brazil! Might have known, the c**t').

No sooner had I recovered from the revelation of the J Man having a national identity, then Leicester City's Soyuncu is playing against him for Turkey when I swear down some commentator or pundit or Talksport mouthpiece (probably Sam Matterface, the dick) mentioned that he was Greek. If this is happening to me in the first game, then I have to wonder what other episodes of incredulity are about to be thrust upon me in the next three weeks. Thank goodness Republic of Ireland haven't qualified.    

On Sunday, I watched ten minutes or so of England-Croatia, though of course I had little chance of avoiding it even though I'd committed myself to our new huge inflatable pool in the back garden in anti-tv sunshine.

"What was that noise?" Meredith asked next to me in the pool, aghast.

"I think England have just scored" I said, confident that the disappointment was disguised in my voice. No need to pass your prejudices on to your kids.

It's been three years since I came out as an English football fan who doesn't support England, but I have met new people since then that I talk regularly to, often about football, and the dilemma is always there. Meredith had a friend over during the first half who lives just round the corner, and her dad asked me if I'd "seen the team", before reading it out in expectation of my enthused or concerned response. At half time when he picked his daughter up, he talked of "a nice, bright twenty minutes". I didn't say anything, it didn't seem the time. A few days earlier, I’d already 'confessed' to another neighbour, who'd been talking with me generally before  conversation turned to the inescapable international football tournament about to start.

"What are the chances England can end up with the trophy?!" he’d speculated, at which point I closed off any possibility of warm engagement on the subject by stating my abstinence. He gave me the now customary reaction of silence while processing what exactly had just been filed into his ears. 

In 2018 I gave the impression on this blog that revealing my true self was an act of courage, or was at least my tipping point in a sea of ignorance. I truly believe that if I were to come out as gay, for instance, then the vast majority of people who know me would support and applaud my bravery, celebrating my new found freedom, and yet that support is absent whenever I explain my 'difference' regarding the national football team.

That said, thank you Guy Mowbray for saying late on in the Eng-Croa game that "no England fan will be resting easy". I salute your inclusivity. Normally an international tournament has a dizzying effect on G to the M, like a pasty ginger who's been laying out for 10 hours in 30degree sunshine protected only by a factor 4 sunscreen, but fair play to you there, pal, appreciate it.

Less appreciation from me for co-commentator - and one time League Cup Final winner, no less - Jermaine Jenas, who now sits alongside the greats of England co-voices down the years such as Jimmy Hill, Trevor Brooking, Kevin Keegan, Big Ron and Glenn Hoddle. It's fair to say JJ doesn't seem embarrassed by this, and neither, presumably, are the BBC - especially when you consider how long they've been promoting Mrs Brown's Boys. 

What do you mean "it's a man"?                          

Friday 4 June 2021

The AFONI's (A Fan of No Importance's) End of Season Awards

I think we can conclude that it's the end of the domestic season. It's not always easy to tell, but the Champions League Final being played is a strong clue. I've been feeling sad ever since that match, and presume this is because it's all come to an end, rather than anything specific happening in that final 90 minutes itself.

Anyway, my instincts tell me that I must make a few judgements, comments and fact-free insinuations on all (well not all, some) of what has happened on football pitches over the last eight months, and more importantly off it in batshit-crazy places like punditry areas and opinion studios. My own opinions on other people's opinions will be restricted to opinions projected on BBC output due to my continued rejection of satellite channels that explicitly sell football and ruin it (although BT Sport did show the Europa and Champions League Finals for free, so I can take down Savage and Ferdinand at least).  ITV doesn't have football anymore (they might have England games come to think of it, but that doesn't affect my participation as a viewer) although their supply of The Big Match Revisited is vast and impressive.

So here we go...

English team Manager of the Season: Brendan Rodgers     

Now before Pep Guardiola comes after me accusing me of just trying to be different, well, he can talk (no defensive midfielder in the CL Final other than your top scorer, eh?). Of course you're great PG, but it's Brendan Rodgers I'm going for here. I couldn't have imagined naming the pearly-whites smoothie in this category even just a few months ago, as frankly I didn't like him. He loved himself at Liverpool didn't he? Had an extra-marital affair with his tactics board; told the world about Arsenal's interest in him to secure a better contract at Leicester not long after being there. Bit full of himself. But I have come round to him, he'll be delighted to hear. He's coped excellently and uncomplainingly with a succession of different injuries, long and short-term, found the all-important "solutions" with the squad he has, kept City in the top four every week, often the top two, until the very last match when it was all just a step too far, Cruel that they should end up 5th, their fans mocked by Gareth Bale, a narcissist who I will never bend to, City's desperate search for a winner perfect prey for a man who preserves all of his energy for individual glory. 

But Leicester had won the FA Cup by then, a memorably uplifting early evening (groan) in front of fans, whose joint reaction with the players was a better advert for the competition than the endless justifying of it's heritage by the Beeb. Had Rodgers not done the honourable thing in dropping James Maddison and Ayoze Perez for West Ham away late in the season for attending an illegal party during Covid restrictions, City may have held on to that 4th place, but these were the actions of a man setting a great example and putting principles before himself. 

Guardiola may have remarked that Man City's title win wasn't just down to "f***ing money", but it helps doesn't it, Pep, both in normal times and in a pandemic, in fact particularly a pandemic when teams have to play every six hours.

Worst Pundit: Jermaine Jenas      

Having already slated a Spurs player above, cynics may allege that team bias has directed me to my decision above. This may well be true (it is true) but Jenas only narrowly takes this award ahead of Danny Murphy...what's that, he played for Spurs as well, did he? Oh is that why he never criticises them?  Yes, makes sense now I think about it, why else would he focus so much negativity on Arsenal winning 3-1 at Palace but not say anything about Spurs haplessly losing at home to Villa? 

Anyway, Jenas. Honestly, sometimes I agree with things that he says, but then some people agree with things Boris Johnson says. Somebody at my work once declared that Jenas "gets on my tits", because of his array of criticisms of players. "You weren't Pele", the work friend added, and that's defo true, he wasn't Pele, still isn't. He wasn't even Abedi Pele. Nowhere near The Romford Pele. Indeed, how come this unremarkable Premier League footballer gets to co-commentate on Champions League and FA Cup Finals? But it is his MOTD2 appearance talking about/crying over the North London derby at The Emirates this season that lands him this highly contested gong. Six hours elapsed between the final whistle of Arsenal's 2-1 win and the beginning of the highlights show and still he failed spectacularly to find his professional hat. Such tantrum-based indignity leave me no choice. 

He probably wasn't even the Nottingham Pele.    

Best Use of a Famous Children's Book Saying During Half-Time of a Champions League Final - Rio Ferdinand           

Having taken time away from merking the grateful BT Sport crew, Rio identified the difficulty Manchester City faced in breaking through the Chelsea 'block' and informed the viewer that "you can't go through it, you can't go round it, you have to go over it." The omitted 'Under it' may actually have been an option, like the POW footballers in Escape to Victory digging a hole beneath the playing surface and would certainly have bemused the nasty German Tommy Tuchel far more than City not picking anyone who could tackle. But canny Rio realised just in time that he wasn't reading a bedtime story to the little Ferdinand's and was actually live on air, so quickly plucked out "round" before anyone noticed. Unless this is a new variant on players naming song titles in interviews and commentators saying naughty words during matches...

Best co-commentator: Chris Waddle

Simply because he challenged Ian Dennis' astonishment at Man City going several games unbeaten by making the point that they have the most money and the best players.   

Worst Judge of the Viewer's Mood: Robbie Savage

"Go on David De Gea!" Savage implored during the marathon penalty shoot out between Manchester United's and Villareal in the Europa League Final. Rob, we've been here with Tyldesley, most English people want the other team to win, mate.       

A few words on VAR    

I've stopped moaning about VAR, not just because I hate it, but because everyone else is doing the moaning for me, like younger legs doing all my running on the pitch. I actually find it entertaining and quite relaxing to hear all the pundits and fans slaughtering it, as it means I don't have to get all worked up myself. It's here to stay, and unlike the doomed Super League, people actually wanted it, so I hope they're enjoying it.   

That's all for now, might do a Part 2 to this, but it will soon be Euro 2020 (2021) and I'll need time to iron my Croatia, Scotland and Czech Republic shirts.  

End of season Premier League review club by club Part 2: 11-20

11th: Brighton & Hove Albion (48 points) Finishing one point behind your made up rivals must sting. A bit. It’s Millwall who hate Crysta...