SHE thought it was all over when England scuttled home, but tonight it really is and my long-suffering wife’s World Cup widowhood comes to an end.
Mrs A has borne the burden of the great soccer fest manfully – okay, womanfully – but it has only served to underpin her belief sport needs a radical makeover.
Her contention, you see, is footie would be all the better a spectacle if reduced to penalty shoot-outs, golf to putting competitions and tennis to tie-breaks, though she reluctantly admitted to being as transfixed as I was by the electrifying Jokovik-Federer Wimbledon men’s final last Sunday.
And cricket? Well, that should be banned by the International Criminal Court on the grounds that it abuses spectators’ human rights with rules beyond comprehension.
For the record, though, let me fast-back to a conversation of a couple of weeks ago, when my fair lady asked plaintively, ‘With England out, why are you still interested in the World Cup?’
‘Because I like to see how top class teams perform and England aren’t one of them,’ I replied. ‘Only a starry-eyed optimist believed Woy’s Wonders had the ghost of a chance of reaching round two, let alone the quarter finals.’
‘Then why do you keep saying the English Premier League is the world’s best?’
‘It is, but that’s because it’s crammed with talented foreigners.’
‘Why doesn’t someone ban them, then?’
‘It’s all about money – and European Union rules, which allow for the free movement of people, including footballers.’
‘Luis Suarez [now Barcelona-bound] isn’t European; he’s from Uruguay. So what’s he doing playing for Liverpool?’
Good shot, even if Mrs. A hasn’t quite got a handle on why World Cup referees were toting cans of shaving foam, when some – like England’s Howard Webb – are as bald as cue ball.
‘Can we have this conversation another day,’ I pleaded, feeling a tad sick as Steve Gerrard’s parrot, after Chewey Luis showed him the exit door with a brace of super goals, before acquiring a taste for Italian beefcake. ‘Besides, there’s an interesting game going on off the pitch.’
‘The one between the BBC and ITV over who’s providing the better coverage.’
‘You can’t be serious.’
‘And you can’t be John McEnroe.’
Ah, well, back to re-reruns of Downton Abbey and Homeland on the spare telly for one member of the household – clue: not yours truly.
So, returning to the theme of who won the punditry teams joust and who was their better skipper: boyish smoothie, Gary Lineker, who knows a thing or two about soccer, fronting the Beeb, or Adrian Chiles, who know a thing or three about imitating a plank, in ITV’s hot seat?
Now I realise that seems judgemental. But, since Chiles’ ‘transfer’ from hosting Auntie’s The One Show to ITV’s Daybreak and That Sunday Night Show, it’s not gone unnoticed commercial telly has pulled both progs, apparently leaving Ade a £1M a year worse off.
However, good for him, I say, in hanging onto Channel 3’s soccer coverage, despite a dreary presention style – possibly a result of being a life-long West Brom fan – even if ITV’s World Cup didn’t exactly get off to a champagne start.
‘Welcome to Rio!’, Ade announced to viewers before the start of England’s pre-tournament warm-up game with Ecuador…the only flaw being the backdrop wasn’t Copacabana, but a strand of sand 4,000 miles north in Miami. But let’s pin that faux pas on jet lag.
Alas, similar leeway can’t be extended to pundit, Glenn Hoddle, in ITV’s pre-match pontification on Germany’s game ‘with Al Jezeera’.
You could practically see the ex-England manager’s tanned face blanch, as the producer was presumably shrieking into his earpiece, ‘It’s bloody Algeria – Al Jezeera’s an Arab TV news channel!’
Neither did ITV cover itself in glory by having Chiles and his World Cup brains trust sitting at a trestle table above a beach – this time it really was Rio – all clad in shorts, as if they were auditioning for a dads’ knobbly-knees contest at a Butlins’ holiday camp.
To add injury to insult, they then spent a small eternity discussing the pronounciation of Columbian striker, James Rodriguez’s name.
‘It’s Ya-mes,’said Chiles.
‘No it isn’t,’ insisted a bullish Ian Wright. ‘It’a Hah-mez.’
The dispute was finally arbitrated by match commentator, Clyde Tyldesley, who resorted to the anglocised ‘James’, which reflected the player’s parents’ preference, since they’d named him after Ian Fleming’s 007.
Over at the BBC, where much emphasis was placed on sartorial elegance – loved Clarence Seedorf’s shirts, by the way – the game plan didn’t always follow Match of the Day’s seemless format, either.
A hiccup, before a ball was kicked, almost sidelined Robbie Savage, who turned up at Heathrow for the Brazil flight with his wife’s passport.
Then there was L-driver analyst, Phil Neville, droning monotonously like a superannuated country parson. Even by his own admission, he was an antidote to insomnia, which was about as funny as Phil got (suggestion to the former Man United and Everton star: Give Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast a go).
Meanwhile, quipster Mark Lawrenson went clearly OTT with a sexist remark that Swiss striker, Josip Drmic, ‘should have been wearing a skirt’ after a glaring miss against Argentina.
It produced 172 complaints and a yellow card from his Broadcasting House referees.
Further brickbats, too, were aimed at the Beeb for their employment of barely comprehensible, foreign soccer luminaries.
The taciturn Thierry Henry’s verdict on most games was measured on the Gallic Shrug Scale – the higher the shoulder blades, the worse it was – while Fabio Cannavaro was so linguistically challenged, all he could sprout sounded pure gobblygook.
This was understandable since the former Italian international only learned English two years ago…in Dubai. But you have to question who picked him to play for the BBC.
Inevitably, it fell to veteran Alan Hansen, marking his swansong from telly punditry, to act as bulwark of Auntie’s defence with tellingly concise, if the occasional tetchy observation that has been his trademark.
So which channel won the World Cup battle of the sofas? On cock-ups, I’d say it was a draw.