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.
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.
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.