Brief, Incredible Thoughts on Joe Hart’s Vines

Professional Russ Abbott lookalike and advert man Joe Hart has been doing the rounds on Twitter this week, in the form of two Vines that have caused amusement and bemusement in equal measure.

Joe Hart

One shows Hart’s eyes widening in apparent excitement as he shakes hands with Andrea Pirlo after Italy had beaten England on Saturday. The camera captures the ‘keeper saying to him “Wow, free-kick!”, in reference to Pirlo’s stunning, corkscrewing effort that left the bar shaking, and Hart so far ensconced in No Man’s Land that you could hear him mutter to himself that it’s probably time he altered the address details on his car insurance policy.

The second shows Hart moments after that same shot, with England losing and time ticking away. He dashes behind his goal to retrieve the wayward ball, and demands a swift return from the ball-boy. After failing to oblige immediately, Hart kicks the advertising hoarding in a moment of Ketsbaian apoplexy, screaming to a God that simply does not care.

Do these moments tell us more than the fact he is a fawning, self-regarding tit? Perhaps they hint at a wider malaise, something typically English, typically mediocre. That Hart would be so gushingly deferential to Pirlo’s moment of magic is almost embarrassing, akin to complimenting the chiselled abs of the man boffing the girl you like. That is simply what Pirlo does, what any world-class player does. They find ways to surprise, they deliver at the top level. That an England player would be so pleasantly shocked by such a moment casts him as just another rube with vague pretensions of joining the Magic Circle himself one day.

As for the strop with the ball, there are deeper concerns that stretch beyond the basic civil rights of Brazil 2014’s Football Circulation Operatives. Hart sometimes gives the impression that a lot of what he projects is for show, never moreso than two years ago, when he unveiled his self-vaunted distraction techniques during the doomed penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy. He bounced on his line, tongue flailing and arms waving, choosing to interpret a unique bravery in his silliness, when all the world saw was just silliness.

 ‘…12, Head and Shoulders….13, Doritos….14, Gillette….’]

‘…12, Head and Shoulders….13, Doritos….14, Gillette….’]

The thought that Hart, The Man of 1,000 Product Endorsements, might be preoccupied with his image will prompt scant surprise. But it smacked of a desire to be seen trying, an overwrought attempt at chest-beating, heart-on-sleeve passion, a contrived attempt at pandering to the patriots. Butcher’s blood, Gascoigne’s tears, Hart’s aggression – the latest addition to the gaudy tableau of misplaced English emotions. In that moment, Hart wanted so badly to be perceived as a mainstay and a standard-bearer. He so wanted to be seen as an England Player, without realising that he achieved it all too easily.

There is something strangely poignant about his relationship with Pirlo. Two years ago the midfielder put Hart and his shenanigans in place with a Panenka, a visceral demonstration of who was boss. The next time they met, Hart, remembering his station, showed the respect that the old man had not so much earned, but just took.

You can almost imagine them meeting in another place, another time, perhaps a chance encounter on holiday, with Hart slow-clapping through gritted teeth across a poker table, as Pirlo ignores all bluffs to nonchalantly lay down a Royal Flush. Hart might even shake his hand once more and say “Wow, cards!”, as Pirlo returns the gesture with confusion, not really understanding what the Englishman means by it all. Because all he did was win.

England Euro 2012 Bingo – Italy

Introduction

England Euro 2012 Bingo – France

England Euro 2012 Bingo – Sweden

England Euro 2012 Bingo – Ukraine

England have left the party as they so often have in the past, arriving with favour-currying bottles of Grey Goose, only for revellers to gradually discover that they’ve merely decanted Glen’s Vodka into some brand-name empties before leaving, shamefaced and friendless. And so, too, draws to a close England Euro 2012 Bingo. What began as a flippant attempt at cataloguing clichés eventually incorporated a growing sense of subversion, as certain tropes were put to rest by a savvy manager who leaves with his reputation bolstered amongst fans, media and possibly even players who were slow to accept him. Some hardy perennials – the self-destruct button, the futile defiance against the odds, simply not being good enough – can always be relied on to thrive, but the sense of entitlement, of clinging to a fading past, means that the ubiquitous, smothering presence of 1966 and arrogant claims to the game’s heritage have been waylaid. Perhaps not forever, but for the time being at least, they promise hope of something less worthy of jaded cynicism in future times.

False hope was tantalisingly proffered by Riccardo Montolivo’s penalty miss, but it didn’t matter, because once again England were simply not good enough: There were plenty of examples of this, but none more damning than Ashley Cole’s penalty miss. No-one has ever, or will ever, say of a penalty: “He’s caught it well, but the run-up just wasn’t right.” His stuttering run-up was a dismal exercise in studied nonchalance, and it sapped his shot of power and accuracy. Trying to psyche out Gigi Buffon with a tricksy run-up to the ball was simply never, ever going to work given the goalkeeper’s experience. This is something Cole can match him for, and yet the arrogant preamble to his tame kick was something you might expect from someone much younger and greener than a man who, while much-maligned, has quite possibly been England’s most consistent top-level performer since Gary Lineker.

Futile defiance against the odds: Defeat in these circumstances was a lot easier to take than failures of yore given the simple fact that Italy deserved it. England fans and players have bemoaned the lottery of the shoot-out, and the fickle nature of fate, but these traits would never have been more apparent than if Italy had lost on this occasion. There are some positives to take from the tournament though, chiefly the fact that Roy Hodgson has taught his team how to defend again. This was the faint tactical promise that shone not so much like a beacon, but like the functional high-vis coat of a paramedic: serviceable, reliable, dependable, utilitarian. For all the talk of Andrea Pirlo running the show, he still couldn’t quite engineer a goal for his team, which speaks of something positive for England’s obduracy. The odds were already stacked against England before the tournament began, due to a litany of injuries, Wayne Rooney’s suspension, John Terry’s court case, the Rio Ferdinand fiasco, and the overarching fact that Roy Hodgson had to juggle them all in a matter of weeks. The fact that England took Italy as far as they could’ve in spite of the obstacles heralds a restoration of a fighting spirit that had been lamely submissive in South Africa two years ago.

Bad luck! – If it could be said that footballers are responsible for making their own luck, then Ashley Young paid a fair price for a poor tournament by hitting his penalty against the bar. The fact is, pre-tournament brouhaha’s aside, nothing had gone against England on the pitch. There can be no recriminations, no vengeful, skyward fists – England got what they deserved and can blame no-one or nothing for their elimination. Indeed, there is some slither of good fortune to be found in the fact that it was Young that missed a penalty, rather than someone who had acquitted themselves fairly well, such as Andy Carroll. The man whose headed goal against Sweden marks a subtle reinvention from joke-butt to burgeoning Crouch-like cult figure could well have been destroyed by such a high-profile failure. Young, whose four-game disappearance was a source of huge frustration, is more worthy of some guilty introspection, as he seeks to right wrongs in the future.

Grown men crying – Well, obviously. ’Twas ever thus. ‘Twas ever fat men smearing face paint with their own salty emotions. ‘Twas ever retired stalwarts choking back the tears of vicarious adrenaline. ‘Twas ever England, England, England…