Euro 2012: When punditry becomes just plain guesswork
Goodness, what a shocking schoolboy error, early doors, from semi-respected BBC pundits Alan Hansen and Lee Dixon.
It was half-time in BBC1’s very first Euro 2012 match, the Poles against the Greeks, and already the chaps were crossing that thin line between punditry and just plain guesswork. The Hansen-Dixon line, as it were.
“You’d expect the Poles to go on and win comfortably,” Hansen decided, while Dixon insisted that set pieces were now the trailing Greeks’ only hope. “You can’t see them scoring any other way,” he told us, a full five minutes before we saw them equalise from open play.
It wasn’t so much that these were stupid guesses; at this stage, most of us would probably have been guessing the same thing. After all, the Greeks were a goal behind, a man down and displaying a level of strategic awareness you’d traditionally associate with a flock of anxious geese. (Or is it gaggle?)
It was just that, as I say, most of us would have guessed the same thing.
At this level, shouldn’t experienced pundits be coming out with something jolly clever? Something that positively oozes wisdom and insight? Something that the rest of us – who, after all, should be comparative dullards when it comes to football analysis – couldn’t think for ourselves, or wouldn’t have spotted?
Hansen for example, could have drawn our attention to the unprecedented enormity of the technical areas marked out in front of the dugouts at this tournament, each of them the size of a Heathrow Airport drop-off zone.
Dixon, whom I’ve always considered the greater intellect, could have wryly observed that Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, had actually supplied the kit for Greece’s opponents, leaving her own dear nation to settle for dreary old Adidas.
See what I mean? Stuff we hadn’t noticed (except, OK, I’d personally noticed those two details, or else I wouldn’t have just mentioned them, aren’t I oh-so-clever etc..?).
But the other problem when punditry becomes just plain guesswork is that there’s a pretty good chance you’ll guess wrong – and then where does that leave you, eh? Within a short time, millions of viewers, who’ve carefully noted your earlier remarks, will simply be thinking: useless ninny.
Hansen, of course, has form in this respect. As I’m sure he’s sick to the back teeth of being reminded, so let’s do it anyway, he was the chap who, following Manchester United’s defeat to Aston Villa at the start of the 1995-96 campaign, said of Fergie’s new-look side, who were destined that season to collect both the Premier League title and the FA Cup, “You can’t win anything with kids…”
Even at the time, of course, his remark was blatant nonsense. What about Junior Masterchef, for example, or Mike Reid’s Runaround? Think, Hansen, think.
Earlier, we’d had the tournament’s traditional opening ceremony, which I don’t think anyone really wanted. Certainly Simon Brotherton, providing BBC1’s commentary, didn’t seem keen. Uttering a line that the Thames Pageant commentators would have killed to have been able to deliver, he told us, “Don’t worry, it’s not going to be a long, drawn-out affair.”
And he was right, it wasn’t. I made it 20 minutes. But it still managed to tick most of the traditional opening ceremony boxes, other than fire and doves.
You had to feel a bit sorry for the 1,000-plus people involved. All that preparation, all those rehearsals (250 hours, I’m told), all those colourful costumes, possibly the biggest moment of some of their lives – and for what? To put on an event which, over the years, has served only to allow lazy TV critics to think, “Hey, great, an opening ceremony – that’s 500 words of my next smartypants column instantly taken care of.”
If you ignore the fact that nobody really cared about this ceremony, other than those taking part, then there was actually a fair bit to admire. There was the Busby Berkley-style choreography, for one thing – go on, YOU try arranging that – and those huge, extraordinary hats with the dangling ribbons circling the rim, and those clever reversible costumes, and the . . . oh, OK, I give in, it was crap.
It was smart of them, mind you, to include that football-shirted Hungarian pianist, Ádám György – not just because he was playing a piece by Frederic Chopin (“who was Polish,” explained Brotherton, briefly rousing from his pre-match power nap) but because, once György had finished his tinkling, he stood up and started showing us his skills with a football. The point being that he didn’t really have any – and, come on, be fair, why should he?
“Look, folks,” his performance was effectively saying. “I try to juggle – hopeless. I try to do that thing where I balance the ball on the back of my neck for no obvious reason – again, hopeless.
“But no matter – because, that’s not my job, you see? But luckily for us, ladies and gentlemen, we’re about to watch some people who are really, really talented with a football. Although first I’m afraid we’re going to have to watch Poland versus Greece…”
It did, of course, turn out to be an interesting 90 minutes on several levels. Co-commentator Mark Bright, for example, displayed quite remarkable gaps in his understanding of how football works, most notably during the first half, when assessing the performance of Poland’s soon-to-be-dismissed goalkeeper Wojciech “Sir Chesney” Szczęsny.
“Szczęsny hasn’t had a shot to make,” he observed…
Oh, and, guess what – come the final whistle, both Hansen and Dixon held their hands up and confessed, “We both got it wrong, folks! What fools we are. We are donating our fees to charity.”
No, all right, I’m kidding, of course they didn’t.
Hansen just said, “Massive credit to the Greeks for coming back into the game…. You just can’t believe what happened in the second half.” And Dixon, seemingly feeling the need to go one step further, decided that, “In the end they probably deserved to win it.”
Perched between them all the while, Dutch veteran Clarence Seedorf preferred merely to sit back and consider what this afternoon had meant for the tournament as a whole. “I’m hoping it will be every time better in the coming matches,” he declared.
Over on ITV1, after a nice bit of Emmerdale, Adrian Chiles introduced Russia v the Czech Republic with the briefest of opening ceremony highlights, focusing mostly on the talented Hungarian pianist’s lack of ball skills.
Whether Chiles will be rattling off Chopin’s Étude in A minor (Op.25 Nr.11) at a later date remains unclear.Tagged in: Ádám György, Adrian Chiles, Alan Hansen, Chopin, Clarence Seedorf, euro 2012, Lee Dixon, Mark Bright, opening ceremony, Poland v Greece, Russia v Czech Republic, Simon Brotherton, Wojciech Szczęsny.
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