Italy v Ghana, BBC1
The coverage begins with a look at Italy’s pedigree in the World Cup, the footage accompanied, needless to say, by misty-eyed operatics, italicised captions and Tardelli off on his slow-motion run for the 7,486th time. With Italy on board, there is no time for usual African clichés, as there’s plenty of match-fixing to talk about earnestly, Ivan Gaskill sent on the trail of the ‘turmoil’ in the Italian camp. “There’s been injuries,” he says, before looking back over his shoulder into the camera, eyebrow raised, “there’s been scandal, lots of scandal,” at which point they swiftly cut to Marcello Lippi slurring the very word like a quizzical Sean Connery. Lippi plays questions from our Ivan in the press conference with a brick-bat, suggesting he ask his Italian colleagues, as “we will only be talking about the World Cup.” So they stop talking to him.
To cover the Ghana angle, they introduce Marcel Desailly to the pundit shooting gallery, Gary reeling off his achievements to him, as though trying to work a frail pensioner through his photo-album. Despite choosing to turn out for France, Marcel (the artist formerly known as Odenke Abbey) is Ghanaian by birth, and it turns to him to present a charming VT about the country. It follows a formula for sure, beginning with a series of geo-political stats, each delivered from a different location, and camera angle. Then the beats kick-in as they show the kids kicking about on the dust tracks, where Desailly is captured showing off amongst.
It is not only the nippers he impresses, what with Hansen gushing after Marcel appraises Ghana’s chances “What a player! What a centre-back! What a pundit!” as both he and Martin O’Neill turn in toward the centrally positioned Desailly, exhibiting the tell-tale signs of a big-boy crush.
Lineker then wrestles into the group hug and probes Desailly about his time in Italy. “Was it always obvious?” he asks, as though Marcel is eager to reply ‘yes, I myself took many a bung, but oh my those were happy days.’ Instead Marcel, understandably, with one eye on his lawyers amassed behind the camera, pads that one away. Back to Ghana, who have “one or two star names” says Gary, i.e. “we’ve heard of Essien, so Hansen can take over from here”, and they can also show off with the BBC’s Premiership rights with clips of Chelsea’s midfield general in action. Before we head to the commentary box, Marcel chooses Ghana to win “from the heart”.
To accompany the wait for the teams to be allowed out of the tunnel, John ‘Aspergers’ Motson goes for an outrageously portentous metaphor that applies recent happenings in Italian football around terminology he has picked up from his ‘Teach Yourself Italian Art History’ library book. To follow his lead in describing this lengthy set-piece, it is, in commentary terms, less a delicate application of the brush and more a splashing about on a floor canvas in poster-paint smeared Wellingtons. On his crib-sheet, I imagine it probably looked quite poetic.
As we get into the game and are introduced to Ghana keeper Richard Kingston’s leap-crazy spirit, Mark Lawrenson suggests “that was his Superman impression” as though day-dreaming about his favourite 80’s films. Indeed, there may well have been a film quiz amongst the Beeb team to entertain themselves during the ITV shift, particularly as Motty suddenly says “Out of Africa,” apropos of nothing, as though suddenly remembering a troublesome, tip-of-the-tongue answer that had eluded him earlier, adding “World Cup newcomers” quickly as cover.
When Essien is caught by an Italian foot, there is consternation. “He caught his standing leg, that could have been really nasty” says an indignant Lawro. “That’s what FIFA want stamping out” continues Motty, causing his partner to remember his music hall shtick and add “What, his foot?” Arf. Later, Essien exacts some sort of revenge, catching Fabio Grosso with an elbow. “That’s a bit of an arm” says Motty, showing off his impressive grasp of basic anatomy.
Italy score in 39th minute, with a handsome 25 yard bullet from Pirlo. Motty’s clearly been expecting this: “A pearler… from Pirlo” he says with comedy pause rules observed. Everyone a winner. The director then cuts with caustic schadenfreude to a Ghanaian child bursting into tears. In slo-mo. Evil.
Back in the studio box at half-time, Desailly is not as ebullient as before, “when you look at my face you can tell I am completely disappointed”, his knees apparently telling a different story. He cheers himself up by artfully shoehorning in a reference to his goal in a Champions League final, which allows Gary to give us a glimpse of the behind the scenes banter, saying to the apparently cocksure Hansen “you know that bit after when you say ‘get your medals on the table’…” before pointing cheekily at Marcel who is clearly shaping up, despite being a rookie, to slap his credentials on the bar.
There is a brief, recorded chat with a time-delayed, and bored-looking, Frank Lampard, after which they dicuss Sven’s policy of letting his player’s off the leash. “Each to their own – they couldn’t have seen their wives for 20 minutes before that” says comedy legend and dressing room whip-cracker Martin O’Niell. They finish the break by showing a montage of Richard Kingston’s flappery, which provokes much giggling. Desailly is not so amused. “At least he’s trying” he says, as though defending a picked-last fat kid in a park kickabout.
As second half begins, Motty is back on the match-fixing before his mike fades out for a brief second. Obviously Juventus can afford influence even in the in the BBC OB production lorry. Or maybe it was my telly. Instead Motty turns his attention to the internal workings of the Hanover 96’s ground. “This stadium has the loudest PA system in the world, which is probably why Mark and I couldn’t hear each other properly earlier, but never mind” adding, in a dramatic moment of clarity “You’re probably better off not listening to me.” Lawrenson takes the advice and patches into the tannoy announcements. “What a waste of time. They’ve just informed everyone that it’s a sell out”. “There goes the World Cup” says Motty, bizarrely, suggesting some bad-ass, delinquent family has moved into the neighbourhood.
Motty then gets out his fact-book. “All 23 Italian players are home based, which other country can say that?” Lawro shrugs. “Saudi Arabia.”. “We’d have been here all night” says the summariser, presumably tapping at his watch and affecting a yawn. Then with the game winding down, after Italy’s second goal, Motty gets all excited. “Here comes Razak Pimpong…PIMPONG” he repeats joyfully, like a child bouncing a slinky toy in the palm of their hand, which distracts him somewhat, later responding to one Lawro rehteorical with “yeah...you what?”
After the final whistle, the humidity causes the studio to capture a bit of aggression. O’Neill and Hansen getting amongst a bit of increasing barbed verbal sumo, “I didn’t want to get into this argument” backtracks O’Niell, Hansen climbing on his prey “You’re in it now”, and professionally dropping the suffix '…prick.' As they simmer down, thanks to Desailly’s peace-making efforts, Hansen sounds positively happy as he says “every game so far has been great.” Yet while saying something so positive, his face remains screwed up like that of a wizened and bitter old miser. That’s quite a skill of facial manipulation really.
Pee-Wee’s Playhouse secret word? Has to be ‘Scandal’?
These things I believe, now: Totti fancies himself from 40 yard set pieces; Ghana's Richard Kingston has a moth/flame relationship with the match ball; ANC debacle is behind Ghana, but ability to self destruct still present; Fixing ‘scandal’? Makes it sound like it’s a brand new concept, has no-one else read ‘The Miracle of Castel di Sangro’? An Italian season without promotion and relegation issues not being surrounded by the overpowering smell of sea-bass would be more newsworthy.
The John Motson-chuckle-to-himself drinking game (based on 3 fingers per chuckle): Mildy tipsy; seal broken.
Referee (Carlos Eugenio Simon): George Graham, surely?