Friday, July 07, 2006

France v Portugal, TalkSport

“Coming up next, Portugal v France on your official World Cup station.” Ah, commercial radio and your never-ending quest for officialdom, how I’ve missed you. My dad’s always been a bit surprised that I don’t listen to TalkSport (or talkSPORT, as the scrolling message thing on the DAB tells me, or Talksport, as we’re going to refer to it for the rest of the report, cheers), but I’ve always been rather suspicious of it. I think it’s wariness brought on by listening to other people’s idiot wrong opinions on 6-0-6 in any of its post-Baker eras that put me off the notion of sport-related radio for life. (The Talksport schedule currently features former BBC London right reactionary old scumbag Jon Gaunt; I dread to think what his opinions on sport might be, and I have no desire to find out.)

Our commentary team are Jim Proudfoot and Alvin Martin. Jim does a decent enough job, a spell watching the match while listening to his commentary suggesting that he keeps up with play pretty well, and doesn’t overburden the listener with his opinions (unlike, say, Green) or a lot of useless drivel delivered at high speed making the game impossible to follow (a fear that anyone who ever heard Jonathan Pearce in his Capital Gold days will carry with them forever). He’s not so good when it comes to sketching in local colour, though, and when he does it leaves something to be desired – I’m somewhat coloublind, and even I can spot that while Ricardo’s shirt is similar in design to that of Wycombe Wanderers, it’s far too turquoise-y for anyone to mistake the two. Alvin, meanwhile, starts the game by getting very excited about Portugal’s defensive record, as you might expect.

Truth be told there’s not an awful lot to report in the early stages of the match, or at least not until a certain winger gets the ball. "The boos will tell you who's on the ball, the French have been watching our game" says Jim, not really thinking it through. Later, after proving that it's not just ITV commentators who marvel at English flags at non-England games, Jim devises a different theory: "I wonder if it's the French or it's Englishmen who are catcalling Ronaldo?" Who indeed.

Ten minutes in, and the reason why the oft-mentioned uninterrupted commentary is available becomes apparent. “You’re listening to the World Cup on Talksport, in association with Budget Van Insurance”, announces Jim, before telling us at some length about the great deals we can get at Budget Van Insurance, and even finding time for the phone number. This is the first of several sponsor messages to pop up during the match, but for incongruity the only one to come close is for Sure, “sports protection which lets you go wild at make or break decisions”. Is going wild at make or break decisions really that advisable? And will Sure be on hand to pick up the pieces if it all ends in tears?

With the game failing to compel our commentators an alternative theme for the evening soon unravels itself, albeit in a manner that Jim hadn’t quite expected, as Ribery takes a tumble: "it's not nice to report the first piece of gamesmanship, but it's come from France rather than Portugal". Yes, because no other team in the history of football has ever attempted to cheat in any way, that's it. Fortunately, Portugal soon revert to type and Jim can start getting really upset. “It’s the most lamentable part of our game” he complains as Carvalho waves an imaginary card. (To be fair, Jim probably won’t have seen the ITV break bumpers so it’s understandable that he might make this error.) When the penalty is awarded Alvin suggests that Henry has made the most of Carvalho’s challenge, but “if you live by the sword you die by the sword”. This doesn’t make an awful lot of sense, but then “if you get booted in the testicles and then foul someone in the penalty area in the next match, you give away a penalty”, while accurate, isn’t nearly so catchy. Alvin claims that you can hear the sound of Ricardo getting his hand to the resulting penalty from the commentary box, which seems somehow unlikely.

Half time: Rodney Marsh is on hand to let us know that he “thought an Italy-France final was destiny, but you don’t play football with a ouija board”. There are a million jokes about Glenn Hoddle to be made at this point, but try as I might I can’t think of any of them.

Adverts: “Hi, I’m Tony Cottee”. Tony’s here to tell us how to watch those all-important knock-out stages without missing work. “Access your PC from anywhere” says Tony. Of all the West Ham team of the late 80s, Tony really isn’t the one you would have expected to turn to a career in IT.

Back to Jim and Alvin for the second half. Jim asks Alvin to compare France’s performance to England’s a few days previously. “Not much in it” suggests Alvin. I’ve only seen a few minutes of the match, but from Jim’s astute commentary alone I can tell that this is horseshit. The absence of any football-related excitement means that Jim can really hit his chosen theme for the evening hard; “increasingly one-way traffic in the gamesmanship and cheating in this game” he says in the sort of tone more commonly reserved for announcing the death of the Pope. Alvin is convinced that there’s going to be a twist in the game at any moment, even after Scolari repeats his excellently ineffective Simao-for-Pauleta substitution from Saturday: “it’s a big decision, but he usually gets them right”. Yeah, that holding on for a draw against a poor team with 10 men was inspiring stuff.

Then - finally! at last! - excitement, as Barthez makes a fluff and Figo heads narrowly over with the goal gaping. Alvin describes this as “one of the worst displays of goalkeeping I’ve ever seen in my life”, and he played in front of Alan McKnight and therefore knows about that sort of thing. Jim refers to Barthez as “the balding 36 year old”. Balding? Jim gets to raise his voice again as Ricardo charges forward for a corner, but nothing much results and the highlight of the closing stages is Alvin chuckling at Figo apparently nearly losing his shorts. Perhaps fortunately, the circumstances are never expanded upon.

Jim greets the final whistle with a jolly “Vive la France!” Rodney’s on hand to dish out the Carlsberg man of the match award to Thuram, and the Budget Van Insurance save of the match to Ricardo; it’s not made clear what benefits this bestows on the players in question, although it would be nice to think that the next time Ricardo needs a van that he’ll be able to get it insured at a decent rate. Does Rodney think the final will be a classic? “Yes, I do.” Phew, that was close.

What we’ve learned: Portugal - they bad men; if you’re likely to find yourself in a make or break situation, probably best to not base any decision you might make on your deodorant; Rodney Marsh’s instincts are much better than Ian Wright’s.

What we’re still unsure of: Is it cheap insurance for vans, or insurance for budget vans only?

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