Fleas, Freud and football on the box

“The Brazilians do it, the Argentinians do it, the Danes do it…” “Even educated fleas do it.”

That famous exchange between Mike ‘should have been a racehorse’ Channon and Brian Clough, recalled by Harry Pearson in The Guardian is a reminder of just how lacklustre football punditry has become. As Martin Kelner, picking up the point in Monday’s Grauniad, noted, for Alan Shearer to suggest that the Germans “always seem to make it through to the finals even when they’re not playing well” doesn’t seem fantastic value for our ever expanding licence fee. What we’d like from Magic Al is some clue as to how Joachim Low, in Kelner’s fine words, “managed to manoeuvre his ordinary players into the final while geniuses like Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole are on their hols.” Such insight – indeed, virtually any insight – was lacking. As was any explanation for Motty’s increasingly bizarre pronunciations: Xavi became Sharvey, Aragones ended in a sh and Low’s surname sounded like “lurrve” in Mottyspeak as if the German coach was a womanising soul legend. The only memorable bit of punditry from this tournament endures for all the wrong reasons. I’m referring to Andy Townsend’s observation that “Servette was literally right up his backside there.” (That might not be word for word as I was being shouted at by a Scottish drunk when he said it and various permutations of this quote have bloomed, like Mao’s hundred flowers, in cyberspace.) The only other decent bit of punditry came from the aforementioned drunk who, as Portugal laboured and fell over against Germany, shouted: “Portuguese men of war my arse!” It was refreshing, a few Euros ago, when the BBC made token acknowledgement of the fact that they were screening a European football tournament and invited folks like Ruud Gullit and Johan Cruyff on their panel, so they could briefly disturb the humdrum consensus that passes for discussion on BBC and ITV.

Cruyff could be perspicacious or incomprehensible, sometimes a bit of both, but he was fascinating to watch. As Martin O’Neill, who played for Clough, can be when he gets going. What really grinds my gears, as the sleazy dad said in Family Guy last week, is that the BBC and ITV seem a bit embarrassed about football. Sky Sports’ relentless cheerleading can get oppressive but surely there’s a middle way? At least Andy Gray sometimes tells you stuff you wouldn’t have spotted. BBC and ITV could do with some of his passion. Instead, they mosey on down the middle of the road, as if they fear that if they don’t spoon feed us, or get too tactical or confrontational they’ll alienate the apathetic masses awaiting their weekly dose of Last Of The Summer Wine or Heartbeat or the channel hoppers, flicking over in the ad break, to check the score. The importance of these casual viewers explains why, just before the cameras return to the stadium for the second half, Gary Lineker was contractually obliged to persuade a cohort to confirm that “there are more goals in this game, aren’t there?” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it is a great motto.

It’s not working spectacularly well but we can’t be bothered – or don’t have a clue how – to fix it isn’t so snappy.

Football broadcasting, at least on British terrestrial TV, has become an innovation free zone. The bottom of the barrel labelled “Alan Hansen looks appalled as yet another defence fails to live up to his exalted standards” has now been thoroughly scraped.

The only upside is we don’t get too many horrors like Townsend’s tactics truck, a wonderfully superfluous vehicle that left us wondering if he’d been so confined because of some personal hygiene problem or because his colleagues detested him. Which would have been harsh because, having interviewed him, he’s a very nice bloke. (He even apologised for being boring, bless him.) In Euro 2008, Vienna was the excuse for the BBC to spend much of one half-time in Vienna extolling the virtues of Carol Reed’s great movie The Third Man. All utterly irrelevant – apart from the geographical coincidence – but a relief from interchangeable reports from the man in the fanzone, so pointless they made Gazza’s ‘meet the people’ outside broadcasts during France 98 look BAFTA worthy. I suppose we were lucky no wag at the Beeb sought to draw comparisons between Euro 2008 and Vienna’s role as the birthplace of psychoanalysis. Mind you, I’d have paid good money to watch a half-time clip with a working title like: Observations on the tension between the id and the superego in Roberto Donadoni. Motty was innovative in his way. Very much so in fact. Those pronunciations. The way he never said “Indeed” without emphasising the invisible exclamation mark. The way he fawned over Iniesta’s “guile on the left” just seconds after the Barcelona midfielder had shown as much guile as a lentil. But with Motty going, Barry Davies gone and Clive Tyldesley irrelevant, some rejuvenation is in order. Or maybe they could stage a regeneration. It’s done wonders for Dr Who.

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