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, 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?  

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