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.

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.