Wednesday 12th August
Sweden v Scotland 19.00 ESPN
England v Hungary 19.30 ITV1
Republic of Ireland v Argentina 19.30 Sky Sports 1
Wales v Luxembourg 19.30 Sky Sports 2
Have you ever tried to watch more than one football match on tele at once? Of course you have. I have on untold occasions which generally has the same outcome that I don’t end up seeing very much of any of them. With this in mind I decided to try and 'watch' not one but all of the four ‘home’ nations friendlies available to me last Wednesday. If we have any sensitive readers from Northern Ireland please be assured that had I been able to access Setanta Ireland then your game in Montenegro would also have been featured.
In textbook ESPN fashion the first of the nights featured programmes opened with the players already lining up on the pitch ahead of the national anthems and commentators Derek Rae and Craig Burley introduced themselves. As Rae pointed out on no few occasions, the colours each team were wearing would’ve confused the less-skilled eye (which I know none of you are) as both teams wore their away kit which looked vaguely (in Sweden’s case) or frighteningly (in Scotland’s case) similar to the oppositions home kits. Anyway, immediately after kick off Scotl..sorry Sweden took control and returning superstar Zlatan Ibrahimivoic finished off an aesthetically pleasing but surprisingly easy move by side-footing past Scotland’s (similarly returning from international exile) goalkeeper Alan McGreggor.
The game continued like this for majority of the opening half-hour but the most noteworthy moment came when Scotland’s Kirk Broadfoot attempted what could only be described as a ‘De-Jong’ on Sweden Keeper Andreas Isaksson. After half a minute of lying on the ground Isaksson then remonstrated with the offending full-back which looked fair enough to this onlooker. However the impressive number of Scotland fans behind Isakson’s goal largely seemed to disagree with Isaksson, me and the referee and when Broadfoot was booked they booed vociferously and as a result of some advice they surely must give at TV Editors college, we saw a close up of a handful of fans handing out 18-certified abuse to the ref.
At this point we were approaching half-seven and decided I couldn’t let miss the opportunity to see the opening to England’s potential booing against Hungary so immediately switched to ITV1. After what felt-like a lengthy opening credits, Adrian Chiles set the scene and welcomed us to Wembley: ‘the player’s didn’t particularly want it, the clubs definitely didn’t…and the fans didn’t seem too interested.’ This was followed by a predictable montage of clips highlighting England's World Cup campaign.
Almost immediately we went to Gabriel Clarke at pitch-side to find out what kind of reaction the England players received when they came out for their warm ups (‘mixed’ apparently) and what struck me most at this point was that I don’t think I’d actually recognise Gabriel Clarke if for instance, I was stood next to him at a bar. As soon as he started waxing lyrically about having ‘caught up’ with Janet behind the bar to gauge the ‘mood in the camp amongst the girls’ I’m sure I’d have no problem, but on looks alone I’d fall short.
As we went back to the studio to get the thoughts of Gareth Southgate and Sir Les Ferdinand I thought I’d have a gander at the coverage of the Ireland v Argentina and Wales v Luxembourg games that were shortly to begin. I got to see a graphic of the Argentina line-up and veteran Welsh ‘supremo’ John Toshack being interviewed so took the sharp decision to go back to the only live action taking place at that point from the Rasunda Stadium. This then provided me with a disappointing moment no.2 in as many paragraphs. I’ve always believed I can tell the score of a football match on TV/radio by hearing the first few seconds of crowd noise upon turning it on. As the time/score display had disappeared I sat watching a couple of eventless minutes of this comfortable in the belief Sweden were still 1-0 up. Then to my disgust I saw a replay of a 2nd Sweden goal. First the realisation I don't know what Gabriel Clarke looks like then this! If I was to tell a blatant fib I'd say I had a good mind to give up this whole TV Sports watching gig as my head and heart are clearly not in it any more.
Flicking onto the Wales v Luxembourg game which had now started at the flamboyantly sounding Parc Y Llanelli I could hear the players shouting to each other which is always a barometer that is used to highlight what a low crowd is at a match and I can safely report that in this case it was a truly accurate barometer. A quick move to the Aviva stadium Dublin alerted me to how ridiculous one of the stands of this new, much celebrated ground looks. If you haven't seen it think three sides of the Emirates with one end about the size of the away section at Roots Hall but with the roof still at the height of the Emirates (stick with it) and you're on the right lines.
Another possibly arthritis inducing movement of the fingers took me back to Wembley for the most hyped sporting event in recent memory: the England players entrance onto the pitch for a overwhelmingly meaningless friendly game. You won't be surprised to hear (regardless of the fact many of you will have heard it yourself) Clive Tyldesley absolutely lapped this moment up. As we saw the players in the tunnel and edge towards the pitch Tyldesley paused before describing that 'the reception is.......forgiving, loyal and fairly warm.' He then proceeded in doing what comes most naturally and annoyed me with a standardly nonsensical comment with deliberate pause for emphasis 'it's a night I think for the players to sing...their national anthem.'
A further flick through the games saw me back in Llanelli and just as Joe Ledley shot wide with the game still goalless the perils of attempting to view multi-game were painfully brought home. A scores update appeared at the bottom of the screen and alerted me to the fact Sweden had further extended their lead. Naturally I turned to this game only to see play had re-started and a replay of the goal wouldn't be forthcoming for a while. During this time I then missed David Cotterill's opener against Luxembourg and Angel de Maria's goal for Argentina. As a veteran multi-viewer I should use my wealth of experience to tell you that this occasionally happens quite regularly.
My self-discipline in deciding I'd stick with one game for five minutes was rewarded when Luxembourg equalised in Llanelli. This prompted one of the more enthusiastic celebrations I've seen in what appeared such a low-key game as the jubilant Joel Kitenge and his team-mates sprinted towards the management and subs in the dug-out to share in the giddiness. As I'd now seen a goal I allowed myself to re-visit Wembley and see how the game had settled down now all the Brouhaha about people shouting 'boooooo' or not should have died down.
Not a lot happened for the ten minutes I persevered with this bar Joe Hart comfortably saving a Zolton Gera effort and maybe I'd managed to block out Tyldesley as I don't have any quotes from him during this period. The advertising boards around the uncharacteristically good Wembley surface did catch my eye as in bright lights I read 'REF ASSAULTS DOWN 13%' which I took to be in relation to the FA's respect campaign rather than some reduced rates being offered by hired goons.
I caught the final whistle of Scotland's dismal showing in Sweden and immediately turned back to England v Hungary and the only game that was at this point in-play. I imagine there was a stoppage at this time as the camera's were focussing on England's subs warming up. Tyldesley then mused that Fabio Capello would be asking Stuart Pearce 'which one's Frankie Fielding and which one's Scott Loach...he'll know he's the under-21s coach...not sure I would.' Now pretty much all that I write relating to the England v Hungary game could've been viewed if you follow all the great football bloggers I do on twitter. One (the identity of which I can't remember) asked at this point 'why is a lack of knowledge found so amusing at the ITV?'
I'm quite confident that for all his faults Tyldesley would be able to tell me which one was Frankie Fielding and which one was Scott Loach if they were stood together but chooses not to for the purposes of what he perceives as 'banter.' This is obviously absolute bollocks. For one it's not a bad thing to know the subject you're paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to talk about and secondly you won't lose any 'street-cred' if you tell us such information. I won’t carry on in this light as there have been plenty of writers out there who have highlighted these shortcomings better than I am now but strongly support the criticism of this seemingly intentional dumbing-down of football coverage.
While I was getting more annoyed watching the England game I missed Wales re-take the lead against Luxembourg but to their credit they added a third goal soon after which was nice of them. This was a simple Andy King header from Craig Bellamy’s corner with the keeper providing a near-perfect example of being at ‘sixes and sevens.’ Sticking with events in South Wales the commentator who I think was Allan Parry told us that Luxembourg ‘once went 11 years without winning an international friendly’ and just as he was doing so one of their midfielders ‘ballooned’ a long-range effort a long-range over the bar so he added ‘…and with shooting like that, you’d have to say they’re in for another long wait.’
Off to Dublin again and Lionel Messi picked up the ball slightly in his own half to beat three or four Ireland players before having a pass intercepted by Richard Dunne. This prompted the big Irish, long-time hero of mine to try and replicate the skills just shown by arguably the greatest footballer in the world. He started well beating one of his Argentine opponents before a heavy touch saw him stumble in his desperation to keep the ball around the half-way line which was undeniably the footballing highlight of the evening thus far.
Back at Wembley the crowd noise (not to mention the display in the top left hand corner) told me it was still 0-0. As the very commendable crowd of over 72,000 began to show their frustration we were shown a group of fans (two grown men, two children) holding up a banner which read ‘WE STILL LOVE U’ which I’m sure was the kind of worthy ‘talking point’ Tyldesley, tabloid hacks and ‘the lads at Talk Sport’ were enjoying getting their teeth into.
My attentions were once again back at the Aviva stadium where I heard that Andy Keogh ‘has a point to prove’ saw Carlos Tevez eating a lolly and decided that Ireland Assistant Coach Marco Tardelli does still bare a decent resemblance to himself in that iconic picture from the 1982 World Cup Final.
Back at Wembley and I turned on just in time to see Wayne Rooney being substituted after Hungary had just taken the lead. I was fortunate in that I enjoy witnessing a footballing ‘state of crisis’ which is what this undoubtedly now was so stayed here and as a result, shortly got to see a couple of moments of brilliance in the form of Steven Gerrard’s two goals. I’m not a huge fan of Gerrard to be honest and if you’ve read this blog before you may know I’m even less of a fan of his nickname but for all the hype that surrounds him and the England team/players I believe these two goals were ‘World-class.’
More rubbish from Tyldesley followed and a stand-out included the bemoaning of Capello for not having stood up: ‘It wouldn’t hurt.’ It also wouldn’t make any difference to anything with the possible exception of the longevity of the seats in the Wembley dug-out Clive.
Back in the studio Chiles continued in a similar vein and made sure we were back focussing on the over-riding issue of the evening: ‘you’ve got to feel sorry for the boo-boys, they paid £20 and couldn’t do any such thing.’ Did they really? Did ‘the boo-boys’ pay £20 to ‘boo their heads off’ or did they go hoping that the team they support that represents them would win a game of football? I’m not unfamiliar with people who seem to get a level of enjoyment at criticising players they’re supposedly at a football match to support but what proportion of that ridiculously large crowd went there to do that? Personally I don’t think it was large.
To finish off we had interviews with Joe Hart (more articulate than I remember though still reminds me a bit of Jedward lookswise) and Fabio himself. The first question he was asked by Gabriel Clarke was if he enjoyed it as he sat down? Over a week after seeing this I’m now running out of ways to get annoyed that such minor irrelevant issues are made into issues worth quetioning. Capello was dignified in his responses saying he was surprised by the positive reaction from the crowd and thanked them for it. I didn’t really pay much attention to the remainder of the interview as it was about something as insignificant like how he felt his team had played or something.
With the climax of this final game of the evening and Wales having finished their game 5-1 against Luxembourg it falls on me to report that the games featured 13 goals in total of which I’d seen five hit the net ‘in real-time.’ This really isn’t good enough for a self styled ‘TV Sports Enthusiast’ and if any of you feel inclined to boo after giving up your time to read about this disappointing performance I won’t hold it against you. God knows, in your shoes I’d probably do so myself!
Happy Viewing Guys and Girls, Dave
Friday 3rd September
Armenia v Republic of Ireland – Sky Sports 1 16.30
Montenegro v Wales – Sky Sports 3 18.30
Slovenia v Northern Ireland - Sky Sports 1 19.00
Lithuania v Scotland BBC1 - Scotland 19.15
England v Bulgaria - ITV1 19.30