TV View: Can miraculous Southgate turn wine into water?
Never mind football, he himself might be afraid to come home such is the devotion he inspires
Gareth Southgate: Miracle man? Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
And then there were four. Although perhaps only 3½, Croatia looking like a side more ready for a health farm than a World Cup semi-final by the time they were done with Russia. “Gareth Southgate will be sitting back with a cigar and a pint watching this,” said Mark Pougatch as the game went to extra time and penalties at Sochi’s Fisht Stadium.
A stadium, incidentally, that made quite an impression on Brian Kerr. “It’s a gas-looking venue from the outside, isn’t it, Adrian? It’s like a big grapefruit that somebody robbed the middle segment from and took away.”
“I’m not sure that’s how the architects would describe it, Brian,” said Eames.
In the end Croatia robbed the middle segment of the hosts’ hearts, after yet another epic, by emerging triumphant from the shoot-out ordeal, so now we know the identity of the next team that will lose to England.
A family in a Russian car pulled up beside them and started blasting God Save the Queen out the window
And you could only be chuffed for Rob that he got to talk to any England player at all, because for most of this World Cup he has been standing on the road outside the team hotel with the studio regularly checking in with him in the hope that he had some news. And invariably he hasn’t, although occasionally there’s been a BREAKING whooooosh, followed by Rob telling us was that “the team coach has just left!” Or “the team coach has just returned!”
So, it’s been a little like transfer deadline day for Rob who, until Sunday morning, probably wondered why he’d bothered bringing a microphone to Russia at all. But, at last, he spotted Dele coming back from the shop with what looked like a bag of sweets, which should make even an Arsenal fan love the fella.
Much has been made of England’s media charm offensive these past few weeks, but no one has shown more empathy or humanity than Dele did that moment when he agreed to stop and talk to Rob.
And while they were chatting, a family in a Russian car pulled up beside them and started blasting God Save the Queen out the window. Dele smiled, in a slightly “WTF?” kind of way, and then they drove on. When the chat was over, Rob beamed like David Frost might have done when he secured that Richard Nixon interview.
But that wasn’t even the highlight of Sky Sports News’s afternoon. That came at the Kent County Show where reporter Mark McAdam found a one-man band by the name of Vic Ellis who had no fewer than 20 instruments attached to his body. Mark asked him to play a tune, and so, while almost knocking over a woman with his protruding bugle, Vic began singing Football’s Coming Home to the tune of My Old Man’s a Dustman, finishing up with a prolonged jiggle of his tambourine. Mark was simply lost for words.
“It was our third home birth – my wife is a machine!” said Fabian Delph to Gabby Logan
All of this euphoria is, of course, Southgate’s fault, although listening to the veneration for him over at the weekend, particularly at the Kent County Show, you’d be thinking that whatever about football, he himself might be afraid to come home. He’ll hardly be off the plane when they’ll be asking him to lay his healing hands on them, or at the very least turn water in to a Chateau Lafite 1787. Although if this drought keeps up, they’ll be asking him to turn a Chateau Lafite 1787 in to water.
Croatia, though, wouldn’t mind winning the World Cup either, as an emotionally drained Slaven Bilic reassured Gary Neville and Lee Dixon on Saturday night. Not the best of displays, though? “This is not Bolshoi theatre – it’s about the result,” he said.
That it is, Gary and Lee conceded, their mood not unlike that of the BBC panel earlier in the day: surprisingly restrained, like it has now dawned on them all that England might actually win this thing, leaving them close enough to being unable to breathe.
The star of the weekend, incidentally, had to be Fabian Delph, despite only playing 13 minutes against Sweden. He wasn’t long back in Russia having flown home for the birth of his third child. “Ah, it’s just been an amazing week,” he said to Gabby Logan, “the baby is fantastic. It was our third home birth – my wife is a machine!” For that alone, he should be rewarded with a start against Croatia.
Back on Sky Sports News, meanwhile, they were replaying Rob’s chat with Dele on a loop, while also advertising their World Cup Verdict programme “with former England international Stephen Warnock”. In his entire career, Stephen actually only played for England 11 minutes more than Fabian did on Saturday, but with every other retired English footballer on punditry duty in Russia, Sky can’t be choosy.
Although you’d imagine Vic Ellis is available, as well as for birthdays, weddings and bar mitzvahs. Unless Football’s Coming Home to My Old Dustman makes it to No 1, in which case he’ll be playing Wembley.