Adrian Chiles: Improv Workshop Gobshite

Ignore, if you can, everything to do with the actual event of the England/Poland football match, and what remains is hours of washed out ITV coverage. It seems that nothing good came from watching Adrian Chiles fill Tuesday night’s suddenly evacuated broadcast. The much-maligned anchorman is now unmoveable in his prescribed role of overpaid totem standing in stout monument to the lowest common denominator.

Memorably described by the comedian Stewart Lee as “a speaking toby jug filled to the brim with hot piss”, the truth is any given Twitter search for his name will throw up barbs of similar derision. Last night offered some explanation as to why – his floundering when removed from his comfort zone, his desperately avuncular reliance on comical prompts, his easily cracked veneer of professionalism when presented with a challenge.

Intermittent complaints about how the rain delay was affecting even those in the studio (Lee Dixon had only bought one suit! Had anyone thought to book hotel rooms for an extra night?!) were bought to a merciful end when the game was finally postponed. Chiles closed by paying tribute to his pundits for guiding him safely through the plane crash, thanking the tri-headed Wilson to his Chuck Noland – Dixon, Gareth Southgate and Roy Keane.

The lads

Dixon has perhaps been unfairly tainted with the smear of the same brush that coats Alan Shearer with a kind of manky vanilla. The former Arsenal full-back (famous, of course, for once letting Gaby Roslin cut his hair live on The Big Breakfast) defected from the BBC, one suspects, after the emergence of this footage, in which Dixon seemed to deplore either the interruption of Shearer, or the questioning of Gary Lineker.

Meanwhile, Southgate’s presence is a stabilising one, with a style loosely based on the notion of basic admin. He’s the man that pulls together the strands of debate in a manner suited to his intelligent and assured oratory abilities. He’s capable of looking at the broader picture too, showing a certain awareness as when he lamented the dearth of information relayed to the increasingly bored spectators stranded in the stadium.

But Roy Keane was the star of this non-show, bringing his inimitable brand of scabrous perception and scarcely concealed self-loathing. Though Ronan Keating once sang of his wife and/or dead mother that ‘you say it best when you say nothing at all’, he could just as well direct the same lachrymose balladeering to Keane. It makes for truly compelling television as he inwardly wrestles with his wavering self-respect, pretending to tolerate the frantic joking spread like caulk into last night’s ever-widening gaps.

This orangey paint effect diminishes not the incandescence of the fury in mine eyes.

He doesn’t want to be there, not really, and it’s written all over his face, clogged as it is already with the twin implications of rage and impatience. At one point everyone laughed at the Irishman’s joke about Gary Neville’s proclivity for whingeing. Keane, naturally, afforded himself no such privilege, burying the momentarily lapse in gravitas beneath further condemnation of the Polish FA’s slack roof-opening policy. He is not there for fun but to take things very seriously indeed, which is obviously what makes him so much fun.

Keane has admitted that he sees no future in television work, and views it as a stop-gap while he awaits the next opportunity in a curiously stalled management career. Perhaps this sense of transience is what makes him comfortable in doling out criticism, as with last night’s comments on Joe Hart. Rather than toeing the party line and following the VT-led pre-match narrative of ‘Hart – England’s new Shilton’, Keane raised the point that the young ‘keeper’s sense of bravado could perhaps border on arrogance, which in turn could be the reason behind recent mistakes. He likened him to Peter Schmeichel, who Keane admitted was “not very good technically”, and accused the Dane of similar spells of complacency throughout his career because he “thought he was the bees knees”.

He would qualify his comments on Hart by insisting that he didn’t “want to be seen as being too harsh on the boy”, stating that he was clearly a great player who simply needed to react positively to negative spells. But by offering such contrary opinion, and by freely mentioning specific details of his former team-mates, he was doing something just a little bit different. In punditry terms, perhaps this is a case of Keane also being “not very good technically”, by offering something a little more corrosive than the usual brand of bland antiseptic propagated by someone such as Shearer.

Keane could do worse than consider where he offers greater merit now – as a manager or as a television personality. As much as such introspection might gall a man of such fierce pride, Keane is a formidable and compelling presence on television, just as he was as a player, and that is a rare gift. Something that his befuddled anchorman sadly lacks.

Alan Partridge – Lessons in Football Broadcasting

Alan Partridge is not real, despite the desperate protestations of a special kind of idiot who can still be heard shouting “DAN! DAAAN!!” in plaintively wretched grief. He is a fictional light entertainer sub-par excellence, who cut his teeth on spoof radio show On the Hour, before appearing on television for the first time in its screen adaptation, The Day Today. The latter has widely been credited with presciently signposting the grim future of news coverage, which now poses before us today with its mixture of self-importance (“You know the saying ‘no news is good news’? It’s BALLS!”), ostentatious graphics and over-emotional delivery.

Partridge appeared on these shows in his formative years, in the role of a sports presenter. What, if anything, has the man taught us about the nature of football broadcasting? Could it be that he was screaming unheard warnings into the abyss? Could he have prevented such abominations as Richard Keys idly threatening to basically ‘smash’ anything and everything with a backbone? ITV’s turn-of-the-millennium Premier League coverage? Mark Lawrenson’s genuinely harrowing collection of bloke shirts? Dr. Fact is knocking at the door. Someone, please – let the man in!

Transfers

When Partridge broke the news that Tottenham Hotspur striker Clive Allen had been signed by Chessington World of Adventures (On The Hour, series 2, episode 2), could he have foreseen the frenzied madness that would become the Transfer Window? The act of signing a new player is merely the glamorous end of the admin spectrum, and was once realised as such. Time was, a player would join a new team and then the coach would have to mould him into the side’s image, smoothing off rough edges to fit him into the puzzle. Nowadays, signing a player is an attempted shortcut to success, particularly in the January window, when a player is immediately thrust into a new team without the soothing acclimatisation of pre-season. The period of time during which a manager can fill out the necessary forms required to allow a man to wear the shirt of a different team for money has now become a television spectacle (as deconstructed by Barney Ronay), with all the misplaced zeal witnessed in the aforementioned Clive Allen sketch, as well as in the news of Gordon Strachan being signed by a retired schoolteacher from Solihull. Partridge saw it all coming. If you play the aforementioned Allen/Chessington sketch backwards, you clearly hear him say “Jim White is coming, his incongruous enthusiasm must be destroyed”. Did we heed his warning? No, we did not…

Commentary

It ain’t what it used to be. Even Alan knew that sometimes less is more (‘TWAT!’), and that the best lines will stick with you for years (‘That was liquid football!’). Clive Tyldesley is ridiculed for his satisfaction with that most affectionate love letter to himself, the infamous line “That night in Barcelona“, which he has been dining on for so long you worry he may contract e-coli. As Manchester United were stumbling out of the Champions League at Benfica earlier this season, Tyldesley twice referred to his own commentary from the 1999 final (“Can they score? Well, we know they always score”), desperately trying to invoke the spirit of The Manchester United Comeback. Jonathan Pearce has subtly abandoned his Shouty Man USP over the years, so he now seems more concerned with regulating his volume than contributing anything remotely memorable, like so many ill-advised garage bands. John Motson is a parody of himself, forever sustaining his fact-boffin mythos in a perpetual cyclic renewal of sheepskin and statistics, like the ancient Greek symbol Ourobourous, only wearing a rubbish coat (See Barney Ronay again, on Motson’s misplaced canonisation).

Knowledge

Alan’s earnest ineptitude was the very essence of the man. His lack of knowledge was a comic device used to provoke laughter (see his USA ’94 ‘Soccermetre’, and this interview with a jockey), because, obviously, a sports broadcaster would be expected to know what he’s talking about. That doesn’t seem to matter these days. On the Match of the Day sofa it is a source of broadcasting braggadocio if one is unfamiliar with an obscure foreign signing, for fear of looking – what exactly? Enthusiastic? Commited? Interested? Alas, these are three words that Alan Shearer has lost in the transition from the football pitch to the television studio, as he continually fails to apply a fraction of the quality he showed in his old vocation to his new one. Partridge didn’t know what he was talking about, so people laughed at him. Shearer doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he is paid handsomely for the privilege, without having the good decency to even consider a hair transplant.

Sexual equality

When Alan was shocked to see a female horse-rider undressing before him on The Day Today, he had the gentlemanly courtesy to look away. Would unreconstructed sex maniacs Andy Gray and Richard Keys have had the good grace to do likewise? Or would they have made lewd, crass remarks, before comporting themselves in priapic menace, hands like penises clumsily stapled to beef burgers? I think we all know the answer to that one. Whither Partridge, and his fumbling, embarrassed asexuality?

Understanding

Alan Partridge: Bob Mariner, you missed the penalty. Why?
Bob Mariner: Yeah, Alan, it was a bad one. It took the top of me boot, it was all over in an instant.
Alan: You looked really stupid.

In the realm of football broadcasting, tact is a tightrope that wibbles precariously between turrets of doubt, over a steaming sea of ignominy. Misjudge a situation, and you could make yourself look foolish. As fast money and trash values continue to corrupt the modern footballer, it is becoming ever more difficult to handle the emotions of these cosseted chancers that have never worked a day in their lives. The managers aren’t much better, and a few poorly chosen words could provoke such incidents as renowned wheeler-dealer Harry Redknapp angrily denying that he is a wheeler-dealer, an Alex Ferguson press conference walk-out,  or a Kenny Dalglish compound nervous breakdown.

Entertainment

In the eyes of many, Soccer Saturday is the best football programme on television. Football fans across the land sit agape on a Saturday afternoon as they watch the genial Jeff Stelling and his ever-excitable colleagues jabber and babble in vague coherence as they react to images on the television. This sporting simulacrum is compelling despite the notable handicap of being no more than a bunch of men boasting about having a better Sky package than you, the viewer. Watching people reacting to football in humourous ways is as popular now, with the likes of football’s foremost hapless boob Chris Kamara, as it was when Partridge was shouting “Thriker!”.

Partridge’s shambling efforts at sports broadcasting now appear in different forms, stripped of the veil of irony. Shearer, Tyldesley, Keys and Gray – all share the same lack of self-awareness that made Partridge so amusing. But if he has taught us anything, it is that “self defence is not just about punching someone repeatedly in the face until they’re unconscious.”

Rare Alan Shearer goals discovered in spinster’s loft

Football fans awoke today to the surprising news that some previously unscored goals by Alan Shearer have surfaced in an old woman’s home in Gateshead.

The cache of 28 missing strikes was found by retired schoolteacher Anne Grimley in the loft of her home, which was previously owned by a Newcastle United fan, several years ago, but told no-one, saying “I didn’t think they’d fetch sixpence.”

The goals occured between the years of 1998 and 2001, and take Shearer’s overall club career tally to 567, but despite the reinstatement of the goals, he still has no further trophies to his name. The poacher-turned-pundit responded to the news with typically dull candour, saying: “I’m surprised, obviously, at this surprise. It’s surprising. I just hit it and it’s went in.” The insufferable dullard vows to spend an hour running in his garden with his customary hand aloft in solitary celebration. The goals will be donated to Andy Carroll.