World Cup TV: Opiate for the masses on a month-long drip
Telly coverage promises to be anything but lacklustre over a month of football fever
Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane will make it to the 2018 World Cup after all, alas for us they won’t be bringing their Republic of Ireland squad with them. Instead they’ll be on punditry duty with ITV in Russia, O’Neill likely to spend much of his time looking perplexed by Glenn Hoddle’s observations (eg “When a player gets to 30, so does his body”), while Roy will just have to find of way of controlling his emotions when Lee Dixon and Ian Wright’s patriotism registers 8.9 on the Richter scale.
It should, then, be lively on ITV where Roy will be re-United with Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, the kindest thing he could say about the latter in his autobiography (the first one), “he was a very mature lad - 19 going on 90”.
Neville, on a Sabbatical from Sky Sports, is quite a catch for ITV, although Liverpool fans may opt for the Beeb en masse in protest at his signing.
(His ode to the club’s Champions League final efforts?
“They thought they’d conquered Europe, celebrating six,
Thank You Gareth Bale, made them look like dicks,
The Twenty-Sixth-of-May, always in our heart,
United won the Treble, the Scousers fell apart.)
Joining Roy and Martin on ITV, just to add further international flavour to their panel, are Croatia’s Slaven Bilic, Sweden’s Henrik Larsson and French man Patrice Evra. Bilic, who should look well rested after his merciful release from West Ham management duty in November 2017, was a major hit for ITV during Euro 2016, not least because of that very excellent moment he lost his mind and climbed on the studio desk in celebration of then Hammer Dimitri Payet scoring against Albania.
Hoddle (“I never heard a minute’s silence like that”) and Ian Dowie (“It’s half of one, six of the other”) will be among ITV’s cast of co-commentators, which also includes Ally McCoist for no apparent reason.
ITV have also pushed the boat out by including a woman, England international Eniola Aluko, in their line-up of pundits, while the BBC have gone down the history-making route by selecting Vicki Sparks for their commentary team, which will make her the first female World Cup commentator on British television. This will guarantee a Twitter meltdown of seismic proportions from people who believe you need to possess a willy to understand the offside rule.
(David Moyes might also be emotional about this non-boy debut, him being the fella who was fined £30,000 by the FA for responding to tame enough questions from Sparks with “it was getting a wee bit naughty at the end there, so just watch yourself. You still might get a slap even though you’re a woman. Careful the next time you come in.” David is currently unemployed, Vicki’s going to the World Cup. There is a God.)
Gary Lineker, of course, will host the BBC’s coverage, with Gabby Logan and Dan Walker stepping in when he needs time to pursue a Twitter feud with Piers Morgan.
The Beeb’s line-up of pundits might not be quite as stellar as ITV’s, but they do have Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Alan Shearer and Phil Neville to reminisce about past cataclysmic England World Cup campaigns, lest such insight be required. And it probably will, it being 52 years of hurt and counting.
Pablo Zabaleta, Jurgen Klinsmann and Didier Drogba will add a decidedly non-English flavour to the BBC’s panel, although Jermaine Jenas, Martin Keown and Danny Murphy will restore the Bulldog equilibrium. While Kevin Kilbane and Mark Lawrenson, hopefully, raise the green, white and gold, us needing any representation we can muster in Russia. If either of them says “we” when England are playing, we’ll demand the return of their passports.
Glitches will be inevitable, like that time on the BBC when Spain’s “44 years without a major trophy” was subtitled in to “44 years without HIV”, but over 64 matches, they’ll be hard to avoid.
And that’s our World Cup menu, 64 games, there will be people in your life who will even watch Poland v Senegal and Uruguay v Saudi Arabia. And maybe France v Australia at 11am on Saturday, June 16th. 11am. When you’re watching a pre-afternoon World Cup games, that’s when you know you’re severely infected.
And if your telly preference is RTÉ then between June 14th and July 15th you won’t miss a World Cup trick, our national broadcaster having the rights to the whole shebang. Which means by the end of it, Darragh Maloney, Eamon Dunphy, Liam Brady, Richard Sadlier, Damien Duff and assorted guests will be unfamiliar with natural light.
Apres Match, though, will attempt to insert some sunshine in to their lives, this being the 20th anniversary of the trio’s debut during RTÉ’s World Cup coverage, their contributions over the years being anything but lacklustre, Barry Murphy’s exquisite description for an empty can of pears.
Let the games commence. And let’s just hope they’re anything but lacklustre.