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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Outside the Box – Football on TV: Chelsea win, but there were plenty of losers in the final day of football


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There are some days that it simply doesn’t pay to be a non-football fan. We have a tendency in this country to lurch en masse into things and render them inescapable to the more indifferent among us. We latch on to an event, a past time, even a television talent show and let it consume us until we end up prattling on to Geoff in the canteen about Simon Cowell’s latest hair style when he really couldn’t give a toss. Perhaps it because our days are largely dreary, overcast affairs with very little of interest going on; perhaps it’s because we are governed by a squidgy buffoon; perhaps it’s just the lingering traits of a once-great empire in which we marauded around the world for the common good and were principally unpleasant to everybody. Whatever the reason for it is, the British are great at forgetting our woes and fixating on a communal interest while ostracising anybody who fails to join in.

Football is possibly the definitive shared pursuit we have, and days like last Saturday demonstrate clearly our collective obsession in it’s most brazenly manic form. Up and down the land, millions with absolutely no vested stake in Chelsea, West Ham or Blackpool coldly monopolised the TV remote, cancelled the kids’ day at the park and informed the wife she’d have to watch The Voice on the portable upstairs. Seven, eight, perhaps even nine hours of solid football were laid out in front of us; a mammoth chunk of TV football that would provide a stern test for even the healthiest of relationships. I only hope yours survived.

There was probably already divorce paperwork being drawn up in some households by the time the Live UEFA Champions League Final came around on Saturday evening. Luckily things were just about temperate in my lounge as kick off approached, in fact the only pressing matter at hand for me to mull over was whether it would be ITV or Sky. After much (and by much, I mean very little) deliberation I inevitably plumped for the sheened Stelling-fronted Sky coverage. This long, arduous campaign has seen me have my fill of the stale ITV team; although I did find out afterwards that the pixie-like Gianfranco Zola had been shipped in to brighten things up a tad. However, that surely brought with it danger. The unflinching and beaming smile that Zola wears coming into contact with the most sour-faced grouch on the planet may have caused one of those space-time thingies, causing the universe to implode in on itself.

No, I instead put my trust in the seasoned pros at Sky. And Jamie Redknapp. Ah, good ol’ Jamie was on form too. A sort of football/model hybrid, in many ways Redknapp was the precursor to David Beckham; only with less intelligence and fewer trophies. He was like the prototype Becks that wasn’t quite ready and consequently spent his career injured and talking drivel. Anyway, Redknapp and his wealth of football experience (a handful of England caps and an early spell at Bournemouth) felt the need to spend the evening schooling two-time European Cup winner Ruud Gullit in the ways of football. Redknapp’s transition from passive eye candy to snarling analyst has been remarkable. It’s almost as if he’s realised his peerless looks are on the turn and he’s starting to resemble his old man, therefore requiring a new niche in the Sky team. Patronising Gullit’s thoughts are not the way forward though Jamie.

Redknapp needs to look no further than his star Sky colleague Gary Neville. He’s never had the looks but he’s not all bitter and twisted is he? Apart from maybe a few minutes at the Etihad last week. While we’re talking about Gaz; even though I don’t subscribe to this overwhelming consensus that Red Nev is some sort of footballing Jedi that possesses boundless knowledge and wisdom and commands weak-minded drones (his brother Phil) at his leisure, I can appreciate that he has been a success in his maiden season at Sky. However, I would offer the former United defender one piece of advice: if you are going to indulge in the Martin Tyler-esque shrieks of wonder during dramatic moments, at least wait until your voice breaks. There were times during Saturday night when only dogs could hear him.

Neville’s colourful use of sound was about the most exciting thing on offer as it turned out. I’m sorry, but I’m unable to jump on the ‘isn’t it great that Chelsea bored their way to Champions League glory’ bandwagon. I’m not particularly anti-Chelsea and I want to see English teams succeed in Europe. Nevertheless I find Chelsea’s route to the final a little unedifying; it doesn’t really shower the brightest light on the English game does it? Three consecutive CL games now in which Di Matteo’s men stifled the game, played aggressively, flirted with the edges of gamesmanship and banked on a hefty slice of good fortune and uncharacteristic deficiencies in the opposition. Is that really the style we want ascribed to our torch-bearing heroes in the eyes of the football world? Chelsea’s hazy attitude to ethics was revealed no more so than in the shameless trumpeting of John Terry. Unable to feature in the game because of a completely pointless and callous act of violence in the semi-final, Terry paraded around, sticking his face into any camera in sight while his battle-weary team mates celebrated; he even changed into his strip – shin pads and all, apparently. Another player not involved in the game, who did deserve to revel in the celebrations, was Ramires, a fine player who was unquestionably more instrumental in Chelsea’s passage to the final. Yet he was not diluting his colleague’s achievements by whoring the limelight. In 1999, it is said Roy Keane refused to even wear the medal he was given after being suspended for the final. Different strokes for different folks I suppose.

Still, congratulations to Chelsea, and indeed to West Ham for their victory too. Football took over on Saturday, and for a while there was no escape. We can forget all that now, the season is over and control of the television can safely be handed over to other members of the household… well until England’s friendly next week. Oh, and then there’s the Euros isn’t there… and the Olympic football; and then it’ll be just about time for the new season to begin. Oh well, c’est la vie.

 

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