Saturday, July 08, 2006

Anyone who saw 8 Out Of 10 Cats last night...

...might have been wondering about this.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Samsung LCD HDTV

Oh yes. I couldn't possibly let the Adwatch series end without mentioning this gem.

I've still not quite managed to transcribe it all, but (paraphrased slightly perhaps) it begins: "Imagine you've scored tickets to the world football finals. Your friends wonder who you'll take. Even your boss is looking for an invite. But then you see his Samsung LCD HDTV. It's stunning. The design is brilliant...".

Of course, the upshot of it all is that "you" give away your tickets and instead invest in one of the aforementioned TVs on which "you" and "your friends" can watch the "world football finals". For this, "you" are hailed as a "genius".

There are so many things wrong with this advert, not least the fact that were you or I to do this we wouldn't be hailed as a "genius" so much as beaten to death with our own shoes. The use of the word "genius" and the unique selling points of the TV - "It's stunning. The design is brilliant" - make the script read as though it's dripping with sarcasm. But, somewhat incredibly, it's not.

So, how's about I out the dynamic creative geniuses behind the advert? Take a bow Leo Burnett, one of the largest worldwide agencies, who proudly proclaim themselves to be "ideas-centric". (Incidentally, they're also responsible for / guilty of the "I'm lovin' it" ads for McDonalds.) I'm guessing the office in the Samsung ad is based on their own - populated by impossibly young, savvy, dashing and expensively dressed "creatives" with a money-to-sense ratio of 50:1 who've never been to a football game in their lives and if they did would complain about the quality of the prawn sandwiches. Funny how Samsung sponsor Chelsea, isn't it?

Quote of the day

"I fucked you! I fucked you!"

What French coach Raymond Domenech - he of the "impressive earhole plumage" - apparently jigged about shouting following his side's victory over Portugal on Wednesday night. As a result, he's been reported to FIFA. What's the world coming to? After the Portuguese antics in that game, and the sour taste Ronaldo's behaviour left in English mouths following the quarter-final, the man should be knighted.

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?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

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?

Germany v Italy, ITV1

This would have been up much earlier but for the electricity having almost literally having just come back on having gone off early this morning around here. The bullet point version of the report seemed to work last time, so:

- "Destination Dortmund!" They haven't cut into the opening titles before with a Champions League-style build-up insert, have they? Steve Rider's obsession, if we can label it as such, is how the Germans somehow deserve this - "they've got the organisation right, they've got the atmosphere, and now for these fans the ultimate dream - can they get the football right?" At this "stronghold" Steve Rider sounds like he's in a small reflective box as he talks up the new favourite catch-all, "atmosphere". "This is serious home advantage" Steve puts it to Terry Venables, who gives the assertion that this is where they should be playing the game before a "major, monster final". Andy Townsend restricts himself to likening the stadium to Anfield.

- Ned reports on Jurgen, speaking to start as if in a museum. Tel reckons "he looks like he should still be playing".

- "German football describes this stadium as the living room, it's so comfortable." What? Gabriel sonorously tells of Italian connections to 1982, mostly just as a way to run through the current scandals together.

- "Anyone who scores early is going to have a huge boost" Venables states, ominously. Rider's still going on about the closeness of the stadium "Everyone for Germany?" Steve checks, as he appears to be rousing the German team for them. He then suggests we "enjoy it with David Pleat and Clive Tyldesley". That'll require some work on our part.

- Apparently everyone's singing "fussball's coming home" as "German soil (is) shaking with anticipation". What does all this mean? And while we're about it, has every part started with a reference to being in Dortmund? Are we meant to be impressed by this alone?

- Clive only thinks to put personal Germany/Italy animosities into it as the game starts, while Pleat calls Jurgen "a bright man, a lovely, easy man" who "made the ground rules early and stuck to his guns". Yes.

- Oddly, Clive chooses to publicly doubt Cannavaro's stated height. It's lively stuff, Pleat seeing it as a "lovely ebb and flow". They're particularly pleased by Lukas Podolski, Clive marvelling "it's almost as if he's been given a script of the match", whatever that means. David points out he's recovered well having been "booed off a little bit" in an earlier game. How could he tell it had only been a little booing? "There weren't too many flags being flown from German white vans when we arrived" Clive puts it.

- "Some whistles here, not sure if the Germans should have given that back" Good you're on top of things, Clive. Germany are posing most of the threat, Schneider missing the best chance despite Pleat wondering, curiously, "is he really sure he could have hit that rigging?" "They manage well enough from the penalty spot, though" Clive facetiously responds. Then David really lands himself in it, declaring of Germany's strikeforce "nice to see two strikers playing with each other" before praising "improvisation" to win crucial free kicks. No, not in that sense.

- Inevitably, Clive is determined to put Ashton under Lyme's Simone Perotta into context, ending up remarking "Geoff Hurst is from there as well, you know?" and naming his former school. Something odd seems to have come over the pair of them, in fact, as when Michael Ballack goes down easily he chances "he'll have to get that out of his system - they don't dive at Chelsea, do they?"

- "Nothing to choose between two teams who have gone for it from the outset" is Tyldesley's first half verdict. Steve, the network man, follows a trailer for some boxing by declaring "this would be even on most judges' cards" as Andy references "playing with each other" and worryingly adds "once you put Totti in there..." We get some shots of the famous fan parks, Steve calling them "a night at the movies, but who will be happiest when the credits roll?" Er...

- Clive's off again on the old favourite, speculating "It's a wonder Germany don't play all of their games here in Dortmund". There's a distinct quietness to how he starts this half, especially when he gets to loose speculation about Buffon possibly going to Arsenal, summed up as "mind games". Pleat is meanwhile praising Camaronesi and how "whenever a ball is played to this willing runner he applauds it". Er, yes.

- Grosso goes down after heftily catching himself on Klose's knee and is shown waggling his head about in pain. Clive reacts with a "my brain hurts" in a dumb voice. We never want to hear that again.

- "Perhaps the referee should stop the game for a minute and allow them a drinks break, they deserve it" is Pleat's charitable view, while Clive refers to "our blinkered views of other nations" in praising the Mexican ref.

- "They've crept a yard forward, the Germans complai..." "BALLACK!" It went over.

- Lehmann accidentally flatters Perrotta, and Clive notes with restrained glee that "they thought Lehmann was going to do a Schumacher".

- "One for the purists - one to keep and savour" Pleat reckons, while Clive responds to a touchline tussle for the ball "used to play a game like that at school, called it crab football. I was pretty good at it."

- The studio team get less than thirty seconds, although Terry does just about get to point out "Ballack coming deeper and deeper and deeper".

- Gilardino "hit the post!", as declared by Clive at top volume. He "couldn't provide that cute finish", apparently. Then Zambrotta hits bar, Tyldesley bemoaning that "the only luck they've had has been bad luck", using historical context just in case we're not convinced.

- "He'll have to get used to that, Ballack. Wait until he meets Robbie Savage."

- "Great reaction from Andy and Terry" Steve pointlessly tells us off camera as everyone swaps ends, Clive adding "there is a hero and there is a villain out there, we just don't know who they are."

- "Alessandro del Piero, there's no flag, Alessandro del Piero, saved by Lehmann!" Clive seems to say this in a very odd manner, as if struggling to keep up. Which is fair enough, as there's "almost two games going on here, one at one end of the field, another at the other."

- "Trying to dance his way into some space... IT'S IN! It's Grosso! It's Italy! The most wonderful football match has got the most wonderful finale - a goal from a full-back, that tells you everything!" No it doesn't, but there's more to come yet. "He's played in del Piero...fantastic! And whatever happens in the World Cup final, we will be talking about this game for years." The director cuts straight away to a German fan with head in hands.

- "The final whistle has gone, would you believe...this is where the German dream ends, it might well be the start for Italy. Magnifico!" Tel and Andy are in similar raptures amid best game so far hallelujahs. "We were all talking about it, we thought it'd be a long night" Andy accurately surmises, up to a point.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

"A disappointing dribble"

Turns out it wasn't just bona fide Englishmen who were dismayed by the nation's dismal World Cup exit. Here's the reaction of my Scottish mate Graham:

"I've now sampled the life of being an England fan for the past three weeks and I can safely say I won't be doing that again. I liken the whole World Cup experience to not having a wank for about two weeks, expecting something spectacular and only ending up with a disappointing dribble and a strange feeling of emptiness as you reach for the Kleenex".

Well, quite.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

England - the fans give their verdict

Adam did this screenshot, for the record



More specifically, the one advertising Dominos' Football Fanatic pizza. Available for a limited edition, which quite marvellously coincides with the World Cup.

Following the "logic" (such as it is) of the ad, you can prove yourself to be a football fanatic by buying and consuming a Football Fanatic pizza.

Two questions:

1. Given that the Football Fanatic pizza is topped with meatballs, sausage and pepperoni, does this mean that only carnivores can be genuine football fanatics? Seems a little unfair.

2. What if you fancy a pizza topped with meatballs, sausage and pepperoni, but actually despise football? Do they perform rigorous security checks to ensure that Football Fanatic pizzas don't fall into the wrong hands?

Of course, the only remotely interesting bit of the advert is the fact that the non-Football-Fanatic-pizza-eating bloke proves he's even more of a football fanatic than the Football-Fanatic-pizza-eating bloke by having Michael Owen shut up in a cupboard. Proves he's a kidnapping psychopath, more like.

Actually, come to think of it, I bet Glenn Roeder and Freddie Shepherd wish they'd had Owen locked in a cupboard for the duration of the World Cup. Me too.

Monday, July 03, 2006

We're famous!

It's buggered up the referrer stats, mind.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Brazil v France, ITV1

When I drew this game, I was quite pleased to get the last quarter final, for time management reasons. However sitting down to appraise this game a mere 45 minutes after Christiano Ronaldo’s kick from the penalty mark seems like a pretty steep hill to climb. English sport has taken quite a battering today. For those of us that follow the summer game as well, the cricket team’s humiliation in the final game of a 5-0 one-day series whitewash is equally as troubling as yet another shoot-out failure.

ITV does not appear the place to escape the gloom, “The hurt goes on” being Steve Rider’s first words swiftly followed by “they just weren’t good enough”. Perhaps it would have been better for me to hide in a cupboard until kick off. “It was agony in Gelsenkirchen, but what will it be for France and Brazil” says Steve, demonstrating admirable newsreader training in dead-celebrity-to-intrepid-kitten style segue. Points for effort to the man, doing his best to console the audience and yet convince them another football match is the best way to hair-of-the-dog their way to a relatively decent evening. We go to a break, allowing us a little cry, which is kind of them.

“England are out of the World Cup” Steve reminds the goldfish in the audience as we return, while Terry is continuing to perfect his slightly-trousered pensioner routine, getting a little lost trying to decide which team it was this afternoon that went down to ten men. Mind you I think I may be going off a little myself as during Ruud’s appraisal, it sounds as though he refers to England as ‘we’. Probably just my hearing. Steve asks Terry about the rumours that he will join McLaren’s England set up which gives Ruud the chance to sweep Terry’s chimney. He asks, grandly, to be heard, then proceeds to gush about what El Tel could bring to the role, like a man who has spent the afternoon apologising profusely for criticising a colleague’s singing voice.

As we return from this, I dunno, 15th? is it?, break of the broadcast, we are met with a shot of a dramatically moustachioed Brazilian in the crowd massaging a market stall replica of the Cup, a disturbingly leery grin peeking from beneath his draft-excluding bristles. “They feel they own it, lets hope they haven’t pinched it” says Steve. Good a point as any to move onto talk of the prior performances of tonights sides. “When Zidane had to do it, he did it” says Ruud, Terry suggesting “He got an alarm call didn’t he” before suggesting what that might have sounded like, “wake up, wake up, wake up” he squawks like a toddler wishing to report local tooth-fairy activity at 5am on a Sunday morning.

The teams begin to enter the stadium and Clive Tyldsley can’t enthuse enough about the star players in either side and the fact we have the last two world champions on show, “Most of these players are part of the furniture of the penthouse suite of modern football” he says, with a puffed chest. In the 5th minute, Juan tries to back-heel the ball in when it’s three feet off the ground, although he is ruled offside. Attacking intent, but the early showboating suggests they are none to worried about the opposition.

The first quarter hour is pretty open and flowing with Brazil causing the most scares but the tempo soon decreases, the game bottling itself into midfield, where France, particularly Zidane, decide to put on a show of their own. “France are playing like Brazil” suggests Pleat. After Ronaldo blocks the ball with his hand while part of a defensive wall and protests to the referee about the ensuing yellow card, Clive attempts to lip-read. “‘I’m protecting my beautiful looks’, he’s saying” is his catty guess.

“Zidane is just a delight tonight” says Terry at half-time like he’s fallen in love for the first time, which also appears to be Ruud’s motivation for, once again, canvassing for Terry’s return to the England set up. “Thank you boys, thank you Steve” says Clive, keen to make the distinction as he receives the baton at the start of the second half, a mere forty seconds into which France squander a great chance. Zidane floats in a ball form the right and William Gallas heads just wide. The only comments Brazil are getting at this stage appear to be concerning attire, “he’s taken his headband off” says Pleat of Ronaldinho. It is a sartorial decision worthy of comment though, as the Brazilian bottle-opener’s greasy appearance in the first half will surely have ensured said garments clog up the queue-adjacent bargain bins of JJB outlet stores everywhere for some time to come. Steve Foster! Eric Young! Sales of your associated headgear have taken one hell of beating.

As France maintain their dominance, Clive decides he’ll try out some new inflections. “Shall we go for a run boys” he says with a high degree of mince as Henry scampers past two defenders on the left flank while later, as Roberto Carlos writhes around clencing a rear cheek, he pronounces “but-tock” like a Chinaman with a spastic diaphragm, for reasons best known to his doctor.

In the 56th minute, Zidane swings a free-kick in from the left missing everyone save for Henry who swoops in on an air-pocket at the backpost to direct the ball home with a slanted cushion sidefoot. Goals rarely come much more graceful. Five minutes later, Ribery gets to the by-line and slides a ball across, Juan’s attempted clearance slipping across the goal and just past the post. Brazil up their effort, bringing on Adriano and going all out for the equaliser. “Brazil have started to play…it’s a little late” says Pleat. France then hit on the break, a timed ball from Henry leaving Ribery free with Dida, but the keeper comes out sharply and Ribery’s necessarily first time shot thuds into his stomach. With their confidence back up, France take to stroking it around like they wish to better Argentina’s softly-softly goal against Serbia and Montenegro. “Please don’t give up the game, please please don’t stop yet” beseeches a forlorn Clive to the resurgent Zidane, “Terry Venables called him the magician and he’s been that…its behind his back; its up his sleeve” he adds as, at a Magic Circle AGM somewhere, a black ball is tossed into a ceremonial hat.

Two minutes from time, and Ronaldinho is in last chance saloon as he takes a free-kick on the edge of the box, but he sends it flying over the bar. “It’s been the old master’s night, not the young pretender” says David Pleat formulating ideas for a West End musical. As the game enters injury time, Ronaldo tests the flapping Barthez, while Cicinho sends a cross buzzing into the area which Ze Roberto can’t direct sufficiently. Attempting to get his team to keep their heads, Domenech gives it his best Corporal Jones on the touchline. They hold on, sending Brazil out and guaranteeing a European winner.

“This will have restored people’ faith in the beautiful game” says a surprisingly lyrical Pleat, and he’s got a point. After all my talk of not thinking I’d cope well with this after this afternoon, it was a pretty reasonable tonic. Terry Venables is still in awe of Zidane, “Every time he gets it you want to play music” he coos, “and when he gives it away, turn the music off again.”

Zidane has a great opportunity to win the World Cup again in the coming week, but what is now clear, is that his chances in the pass-the-parcel have never been lower.

Referee (Luis Medina Cantalejo, Spain): Signalling betrays an apparent fondness for buckling swash on the am-dram stage. Rather than running about endlessly when the play is stuck in one area of the field, he often appears to stop, arch slightly forward and peer intently like he is, at once, a swimming pool attendant, a Wimbledon line judge and a sumo. Anders ‘hair by Maurice’ Frisk was, arguably, the cult ref of Euro 2004. For 2006 though, I put forward Cantalejo as the new cult European ref of choice.

Pee Wee’s Playhouse secret word: Oh oh oh, it’s ‘magic’

These things I believe: Ronaldinho has clearly been taking hair arrangement tips from Harry ‘Peachfuzz’ Kewell. The blind leading the perfectly-sighted-but-apparently-unwilling-to-shower -- Zinedine Zidane is taking requests and will be here all week (or so he would hope) -- It is good to know that even after all these years Fabien Barthez still keeps goal like he’s repeatedly falling over a patio chair -- Where have this France team been hiding? –- All that said, I reckon the winner will come from the ‘other’ semi-final.

Product of a union between Leonard Cohen and the lining of John Motson’s sheepy: Raymond Domenech.

Back handed compliment of the day: “HE looks stiff and cumbersome…but he’s fantastic”, from the mouth of Pleat

England v Portugal, BBC1

So, where to start?

All right, let's skip to the end: could someone explain why it's always described as "the lottery of penalties"? A lottery, according to my handy dictionary, is "something where the outcome is governed by luck". And yet when certain nations are involved - Holland, Italy, England - this alleged lottery ends up resembling a game of three card Monte run by a man who wears an eyepatch and has several teeth missing, which the victims inexplicably bound towards convinced that sooner or later they're going to pick the right card. It's clearly not a lottery, so please desist from saying it, will you? And how can people who spot themselves on the video screen during the penalty shoot-out cheerily wave and smile? Penalty shoot-outs are torture by any other name; how can they jig about in such an apparently carefree way? (Although, in this instance, most of them were Portuguese and presumably quite serene about what was about to happen.)

I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to the beginning, where Gary's on hand to provide us with lots of items to boost our confidence, except, er, the first one includes clips of the losses in 2002 and 2004 and all those games which England have been terrible in so far. Cheers, then. "The nation expects" proclaims Gary, tempting a punch, and he introduces the regular England match punditry line up. "They've got the players, they've got the support" suggests Hansen, scar oddly more prominent than usual; Shearer enthuses about England's "massive names" (you can insert your own Venegoor of Hesselink joke here, if you like); Wright is convinced that they've got "a lot more to offer than Portugal".

Yeah, I know. The problem with writing this up now is that everything is laced with deliciously bitter irony, not least Shearer's suggestion, backed up by Motson and Lawrenson, that Lampard "has to score eventually". Not that this is confined to the England analysis, with the inevitable discussion of Scolari's genius when it comes to substitutions being horribly undermined by him later bringing on Viana and Postiga, apparently on the basis that introducing players who were absolutely awful when they played in the Premier League worked the last time. Fortunately, for me anyway, nobody's developed a fatal strain of irony, as otherwise Shearer's assertion that English players would never try to get opponents sent off in the way Ronaldo did would have resulted in a dreadfully messy overdose. But we're getting ahead of ourselves again.

The hour of pre-match build up proves conclusively that nobody in their right mind needs an hour of pre-match build up. Ray Stubbs gets to interview Franz Beckenbauer, and manages to get through it without mentioning overworked helicopters. Then, oh Christ, it's Ricky Gervais, doing a hilarious skit about Peter Crouch or something. (If the price we have to pay for England going out is that we don't get to see Ricky Gervais' face for the rest of the tournament, then that's a price I'm almost willing to pay.) This is followed by what appears to be a feature on metatarsals and, just when it looks safe to turn the sound up again, another good omen from Gary. A clip from 1966. Oh good. Might forget what 1966 looks like if we're not careful. "The Portugese have captured the British public" announces David Coleman; I thought that was North Korea? How many teams captured the British public in 1966, exactly? And why have I never seen Gordon Banks' horrible, illusion-shattering flap for Portugal's consolation before? (Probably because I missed the relevant part of ITV's 1966 series, I suppose.) Ray interviews Alan Ball, who suggests that this is going to be "the biggest scrap of their lives", presumably having enjoyed Germany and Argentina's as much as the rest of us. Ian Wright suggests that Ball should take the half-time team talk, proof that he's not a fan of Manchester City/Portsmouth/insert your favourite Ball managerial disaster here.

In the tunnel we get to see the England team apparently being checked for jewellry by the fourth (or possibly fifth) official, before Beckham warmly greets Figo and, uh oh, Rooney and Ronaldo share a joke. Yeah, I know, irony-o-meter off the scale, not my fault, honest.

England start promisingly, a free kick in what Motson deems "Beckham territory", ie anywhere inside the opposition half, causing a brief moment of excitement, but then the game settles down into a terrifyingly dull pattern, Portugal passing the ball amongst themselves but not really looking as if they know how to get around the England defence, England unable to string more than three passes together. It takes six minutes for the first mention of the temperature (hot, you'll be surprised to learn): "I don't want to bore everyone about this" says Lawrenson, about 48 matches too late. "All a bit nervy" suggests Motson, before deciding to chide the referee for being "very pernickity on England tackles" over a replay of Owen Hargreaves kicking someone. "That's my word" adds Lawrenson, clearly unaware that all words belong to Susie Dent off of Countdown. Switzerland-Ukraine is slowly but surely put into a whole new light; this game must be at least as bad as that one, if not worse, and yet this one is horribly compelling. Maybe if you were Swiss or Ukrainian that game was actually the most enthralling two hours of the tournament and it was terribly unfair for anyone to suggest otherwise?

Half time. Hansen lays into the system, Shearer complains about lack of spark. Given goodness knows how many misplaced passes to choose from, the team naturally focus upon those of Owen Hargreaves. Alan Ball is called upon for his half time team talk; this seems to focus on the need for Gary Neville to shout at people. "They're there for the taking" says Ball, without suggesting how that might happen.

For seventeen minutes the only thing the second half has to recommend it over the first is that at least this one features Beckham blubbing away on the sideline and the occasional close-up of Aaron Lennon, allowing us to marvel at his bushy eyebrows, before... "look at Rooney battling for the ball... now, that's right under the nose of the referee, and there's a bit of angst here... the referee's gone to his pocket IT'S RED HE'S SENT ROONEY OFF". Lawro calls it as being for the stamp before we see the replay; "left foot between the legs" suggests Motson over the sort of shot that usually has commentators chuckling about the victim checking that everything's still there. "It's difficult to sum up the last few minutes. It's all gone horribly wrong on the surface" says Motson, as if to suggest that in fact the bit where the player who's scored or set up half the goals was injured and the one striker was sent off may be part of a deep-seated tactical masterplan that will become apparent at any minute.

And maybe it is, because even though the game returns to something closely resembling its previous turgid state, only with Portugal having more of the ball but still not looking dangerous, England actually look quite decent in patches, Crouch proving better at holding the ball than Rooney and Lennon being able to skip past defenders apparently at will. Motty tries to liven things up by tempting fate. "I don't want to send out bad signals" he says as Postiga replaces Figo as per 2004; surely it's a bit late for that at this stage?

Full time. Suddenly everyone is full of praise for Owen Hargreaves and his amazing engine. All of the talk seems to be of holding on for penalties, as if somehow the minor problem of England being absolutely useless at them has passed everyone by. The game restarts but things continue much as before. Postiga's goal is ruled out for offside: "Can you imagine the whole of Britain?" says Lawro, as if in private conversation (and forgetting the likely reaction in at least three countries). A brief moment of panic ensues when Robinson appears to flap at the ball; as he points out on the replay that actually it was quite well left, Motson suddenly sounds terribly tired. Jamie Carragher comes on to take a penalty. Jamie Carragher?

Ian Wright inexplicably suggests that "I think our time's come", which doesn't seem to be based on anything other than England having played quite well since the sending off. I can't actually read my notes on the penalties, and there's no way I'm watching the things again, but memory suggests that Lampard's miss was inevitable; Hargreaves just about disproved Hansen's theory, as related by Adrian Chiles the previous evening after Ayala's miss, that the best player never scores in the shoot-out; Gerrard looked as if he was about to burst into tears as he approached the ball, let alone afterwards, and with that any momentum from Viana and Petit's misses was lost; and after his curious taking of one while everyone was looking the other way, Carragher's miss seemed as likely as Lampard's. England lose on penalties; Ian Wright, among absolutely nobody else whatsoever, is surprised.

Once the bemoaning of penalties and nasty cheating foreigners getting players sent off, we'd never do that, oh no, is done with there's much wailing and gnashing of teeth about another England failure. Hansen tells us about all the great players the manager had at his disposal, and how he's at a loss to explain why they've performed so poorly. He bangs on and on about it all being down to the system, but in which way did the system stop all of these apparently great players managing simple passes to each other in the first 62 minutes of the game? Wouldn't really great players have adapted to the system, or shaped the system to suit their own games, or taken the initiative to change the system? Is there perhaps a more obvious answer lurking under our noses that nobody seems willing to acknowledge, that the reason these great players have been so relentlessly average is that actually they aren't nearly as great as they've been made out to be? Oh, so they all look good in the Premiership, but could it be that in the Premiership their non-English teammates are vastly better than the players that they play with for England and without them they're really rather ordinary? Just a theory.

Plusses. Aaron Lennon looks a terrific player. Only a fool would question why Owen Hargreaves should be in the squad. The rest of the tournament should be pleasingly free of angst, and you won't have to listen to the half-baked opinions of a lot of idiots once Monday morning is out of the way. And the next time England play, they'll be under the excitingly brand new, nothing like the old, regime of managerial bright young thing Steve McLa... oh, shit.

What we've learned: What, apart from not to trust Ian Wright's instincts? Well, probably best to come back and ask in two or four years' time, but my money's on "nothing much, to be honest".