France v Portugal, BBC1
I once almost got my head kicked in for wanting France to win a game. Well, actually I once almost got my head kicked in for saying I didn’t mind who won in a game involving France. My fault really for deciding to watch the ’98 semi-final in one of Leigh Park’s less salubrious drinking houses. Leigh Park, for those of you not in the know, is Havant’s Beeston, its Huyton, its Moss Side. Being the South Coast, we have the country of France a little bit closer than most and, ergo, the casual dislike we Brits are supposed to have is magnified more than a little. You know the types, “Them French. Not comin’ over ‘ere, not stealin’ ‘ar wimmin, but they’re, err, nearby. Those c****.”
Overhearing me suggesting that I didn’t really mind who won their game with Croatia, one chap took issue with the notion that I was 50% receptive to a French victory. “But you’re English, you’ve got to hate the French” and a long discussion ensued where filled with the bravado that only a couple of Kronenberg’s can bring, I took issue with his hypothesis, and suggested that I was just eager to see a good game. It descended, during which time I was accused of “not knowing anything about football.” I naturally responded that his argument had nothing to do with knowing about football and was merely xenophobic. Sadly, this was a word with which he wasn’t familiar, which did nothing to assuage his rising ire and therefore my associates decided we had best leave, fearing that I might be exiting soon via the window anyhow.
In the run up to this game, I thought about my eight-years estranged friend from The Curlew. Today must be a real problem for him. He can’t support France, as we’ve discovered, but the only alternative is to root for Portugal, the team of that nasty Christiano Ronaldo. Boooo, and so on. Y’know, it really puts football in perspective at times like this, knowing that there is a young man on the South Coast whose head has not long burst. With that in mind, I’ll come out and say it. I’d like France to win this game. Not for vengeance reasons, merely because they looked so good against Brazil. If you want, we can do this outside…
It looks like I’ll have a few others on my side though as the BBC runs its flag up the French mast within seconds. “Who will join Italy in the final, those loveable Portuguese or a born again France” says Gary, not long after hammering home his allegiance once more, “as always on the BBC we’re completely impartial, so ‘allez les Blues’” he crows, the temporary Tricolor tattoo on his nape just out of shot. “Bono, sorry, Alan” is Gary’s expected, but happily brief reference to Shearer’s appearances across the web today, courtesy of his daughter’s ‘Sing-Along-A-U2’ documentary short, before the two Al’s dissect the two teams on show today. When asked to contribute, Martin O’Neill appears to sweat, saying “Well you’ve covered just about everything. Portugal. France. Is anyone else playing?” like the two kids who’ve copied his homework have been cute enough to put their hands up first.
In the stadium, Adrian Chiles is with Marcel Desailly and Leonardo. It is a ramshackle gathering that, on the three occasions we join them, never looks quite prepared for it, wandering about like they’re trying to assemble themselves into the correct queue at a foreign bus station. Adrian is there holding his ear-piece like he’s just been entertaining his colleagues with his impersonation of David Coleman’s Spitting Image puppet. Leonardo meanwhile appears to be lost in the music being pumped out by the stadium PA. Celina Hinchcliffe’s report on Portugal airs Ronaldo’s defence as well as Ricardo talking about his penalty saves with about as much false modesty as Simon Jordan on catching his reflection in a wing-mirror. Back in the studio the talk is of Deco, Martin appearing to break into a Noel Fielding stand-up deviation, suggesting that “I’m not sure he gets up quick enough after being hit by an invisible spider.” Imagine that.
We hear from the French press conference, Raymond Domenech sporting some impressive earhole plumage. After this Alan Hansen then picks up Terry Venables baton from the quarterfinal in waxing dribbly about Zinedine Zidane, while Shearer rubs his hands when asked if France will win. “I hope they do” he smiles likes he’s peering down a camera phone. Into the stadium and Motty is keen to talk about the Portuguese discipline, “and not just cos of the England game” he protests like a child with an aniseed ball melting in his fib-sweat drenched palm, on interrogation by an angry newsagent. As we move along the teams during the anthems, Zidane’s eyes flick like he can’t precisely remember if he locked his front door or not, while Motty notes the squad players who’ve not yet had their chance, like Pascal Chimbonda of Wigan. “He’ll be able to swap notes with Theo Walcott” is Lawro’s warm-up gag.
Each time Christiano Ronaldo gets the ball, boos ring out “that’s not just England supporters by the way” says Motty keen to stress the pantomime villain role Ronaldo will be playing, as a “’Rrrraaaaay” guffaws out as the ball is snatched away from him. “That’s something he’s rightly going to have to live with” says Lawro, closet vigilante. Ronaldo however seems to be gaining strength from the barracking, laying a cheeky backheel for Maniche to send a first team shot a mere foot over the bar.
It is clear that Portugal are keen to work the officials once again, going down with the fluidity and regularity of lubed-up Gentoo penguins. They show Domenech on the side-line suggesting a Ronaldo dive in possibly the most mincing gesture of this or any World Cup. In the 32nd minute, Henry follows the oppositions lead by making his drop look stylish, the difference being that Thierry actually appears to have been fouled. Zidane kick swerves into the side of the net just away from Ricardo’s reach.
“Abel Xavier lookalike there” says Motty as the camera spots, err, Abel Xavier in the crowd. Lawro quickly corrects him, “still looks like King Neptune doesn’t he” he says, keen to show off his love of Gods and folklore. Indeed, not long after he suggests “it’s like the boy who cried wolf” when Ronaldo is denied a penalty. The Portuguese bench goes mad, but replays show that the nation’s favourite appears to be trying to get the attention of WWE executives with a top-rope moonsault.
At half time the pundits are moody, suggesting the group stages were better than the knockouts have been, seeming to ignore last night’s semi-final which, in fairness, was a lot better than this. Discussing Ronaldo’s penalty appeal, Alan Shearer suggests that as part of his dive there was “even a little bit of head action” which I really hope was a sly reference to this currently popular item.
Moving on Gary suggests, bearing his teeth a little, “England are out of the World Cup. Not perhaps because of two lads from Portugal and Liverpool, but perhaps because of a middle-aged man from Sweden. 5 years he had” which leads into a savage package that sticks the boot into Sven the only way the BBC know how, via the medium of musical montage. Broadcast’s ‘Come On, Lets Go’ plays over shots, good and bad, from games, as well as film of Faria, Ulrika, the fake Sheikh and such. “What’s the point in wasting time on people that you’ll never know” is the lyric as they whip through shots of James Beattie, Michael Ricketts and the myriad forgotten men. Bitter stuff but Martin’s able to lighten the tension, “Ian Wright must have been in the editing room for the last 3 weeks” he says before attempting a fair appraisal of Sven’s achievements and his relationship with the media. Gary’s having none of it though “do you think people care about that, or do people care about performances” etc etc, leaping off the fence and showing a darkness that has me questioning my whole belief system, I can tell you. Remember Superman III? The real Gary, one assumes, is currently trying to avoid being turned into a cube by a Berlin car crusher. Hopefully he’ll regain his nice-guy strength, break out and deal with this shadowy imposter before the end of the show.
Back with the boys inside the stadium, Leonardo is adjusting his trousers, possibly in the hope of more dancing later. “So, well, no-one got anything else to say” says Evil Gary testily, as he struggles to fill the last few seconds before we go back to the commentary box. “There’s a chap just stood up in front of me, I’m about to have a row with him” says Mark, deciding against further grumpy revelations such as the poor quality of his half-time scotch-egg and how the seats in Japan were much more comfy.
After another easy Portuguese fall, we see Domenech now playing charades on the touchline. Then we see him trying to attract attention, sticking two pointed fingers in each side of the mouth to whistle like a sexually frustrated site labourer. Over the way, Scolari is seen urging his players up the field, motioning in the fashion of a meths-addled tramp offering unsolicited advice to a reversing bus-driver. The match continues in fairly uninspiring fashion until the 77th minute, when that man Ronaldo fires a free-kick from 30 yards over the wall. Barthez deals with it in his usual way, like he’s an eager but nervous trainee vet, the ball being a well-organised chicken trying to take advantage of the newbie’s first visit to escape the coop. To his and France’s relief, the follow-up header drops onto the roof of the net.
When Ricardo Carvalho gets a yellow card, meaning he would miss the final if they got there, John says “don’t wish to be spiteful, but he was the player involved in the Wayne Rooney incident,” struggling to contain the glee of retribution. He’s right though, it was harsh of Carvalho to thrust his cock and balls violently into Wayne’s studs like that. In extra time Ricardo joins the attack, and despite an over-head hooked pass which wins a corner it isn’t enough, Barthez doing his wobbly unicycle effort with aplomb. “Let me repeat” says John, suppressing a big laugh, “Ronaldo and Portugal will not be in the final”, the German director obliging the English viewing public by showing Christiano on the verge of tears
“Big Phil is in a big strop” says Gary as we see the Felipe stomping all over the pitch and haranguing the referee. “A good team, a decent team” adds Alan Shearer, pointedly, about France. Once again, the boys in the stadium are unprepared as Marcel appears to pass a watch to a flustered Adrian Chiles, suggesting either his close-up magic prowess is coming on leaps and bounds, or the BBC betting circle has gotten out of hand and left him a little light. He seems happy though, “now for sure they will win it” he beams, preparing to hand back Leonardo’s wallet.
Referee (Jorge Lariondda, Uruguay): Possibly the first referee this tournament to be criticised for not booking enough players. Alan Shearer suggests a red card for one of the Portuguese divers would “soon put a stop to it.” His case for tarring, feathering and the arming of 5th officials with snipers will be provided to FIFA in a dossier after the tournament.
Pee Wee’s Playhouse secret word: gamesmanship, or possibly “BOOOOOOOOOO”
These things I believe: I’d like to think the owner of the Scottish Saltire that was on display in the ground, stood up amongst the England fans and applauded every time Ronaldo got the ball. -- Scolari appears to have Tom Selleck amongst his backroom staff -- Is Scolari’s polo getting washed at the wrong temperature before each game or is it just that the external and internal heat is making him expand during them. -- Remember when Sven was England manager?