Sky’s the limit as England exile continues
I gave up watching England many years ago. Mostly due to other work commitments on the same day/night. I would be elsewhere, somewhere around the globe, wherever my bosses dictated, plying my dubious trade as the Three Lions roared to a sensational victory or failed to bare their teeth at all in an abject defeat or a dull draw.
Though an utter patriot – certainly as a kid, who eagerly anticipated England’s every match – I no longer hold such a passion. Why bother to put myself through the mill, each game, desperately willing them to do well and being let down time and again? Like at Euro 2012, when, I admit, I did sneak a look or two, until the all-too-inevitable occurred.
No, I’m sorry, I’ve had enough. And have had for a long time. Which is why I did not bother to tune in to the 1-1 draw with Ukraine at Wembley last night. Much better to get the all-round view of Sky Sports’ “Gillette Soccer Special” as the goals rained in around Europe, the incidents unfolded and the channel’s observers went semi-ballistic.
OK, it was not perfect. It never is. Iain Dowie, watching Northern Ireland (he won 59 caps for them) v Luxembourg, continues to mangle his words when the action is at it’s most frenetic. He is a former player and manager and yet still to ease smoothly into the role as a TV pundit. However, he was naturally gutted by the 1-1 Irish draw with the mega-minnows.
David Phillips took charge of Wales (62 caps) in Serbia and I found the essentially English accent of the German-born Welshman unnerving. I wanted a bit of “boyo” from him – yes, I know, stereotypical tosh – but his understated analysis of Serbia’s 6-1 demolition of the land of his fathers, or perhaps grandfathers, held refreshing clarity. Little partisan bluster from him.
Graeme Sharp, no mistaking the north-of-the-border roots of the Glasgow-born former Everton striker, told it pretty much as it was, too, as Scotland (12 caps) struggled to a 1-1 draw against Macedonia at Hampden Park. The boos in the background, when he cut to some of his reports, said most of it for him, really.
And still not sure about Paul Walsh, on duty for England (five caps) against Ukraine. The Sarf London twang of the Plumstead-born former Tottenham Hotspur striker just grates with me. Describing the Ukraine goal in teeth-grindingly fashion as “worldy”, to borrow a phrase from his fellow satellite pundit Paul Merson, does him no favours, either.
Yet at least I did not have to witness England’s futile attempts to defeat Ukraine. Now that would have been grim. Julian “Jules” Warren kept his desk-bound and monitor-focused troops in check throughout and, he may not be Jeff Stelling, the doyen of “Gillette Soccer Saturday,” but the less well-known facts do not escape him – “Wales’ biggest defeat in 16 years” – and his hysteria levels remain within acceptable decibels.
And before you say it, this is not a thinly disguised plug for Sky. I have no link to it, never have done, and even pay the somewhat substantial subscription myself since my employers pulled the, er, plug. I am essentially just an interested and fascinated punter, like many millions, and either marvel at its all-embracing football coverage or squirm at the cliche-ridden “incredible” and “remarkable” torrent.
GSS in midweek or GSS at the weekend offers you an as-it-happens goalfest, red-cardfest or major statsfest, brought straight into your living room via observers who tell it as it is, comprehensively and coherently, or can’t tell their Hartlepool from their Blackpool. Love it or loathe it, it is compelling, Mr Stelling.
And if it means not having to watch England mauling Moldova 5-0 and drawing with Ukraine, from which my journo colleagues will no doubt have opined that either we are going to win the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil or will be struggling to qualify, then so be it. Am I really bovvered? By the way, how did England play?