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Martin Kelner - The Man
Anyone will tell you this is no time to be tinkering, as a World Cup approaches. Trusted, well-seasoned selections will always be favoured, with important battles in the offing, which I suppose is why ITV is sticking with the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony as its theme music for England matches, despite the fact that I cannot be the only viewer heartily sick of it.
In fact, apart from the estate of the late infamous rock-leech (as Pete Townshend of the Who dubbed him) Allen Klein, it is difficult to think of anyone deriving much satisfaction from the constant repetition of what I believe is known as an earworm. Having watched all of ITV’s live coverage of the friendly match against Brazil, and the late-night highlights – for semi-professional purposes, you understand, I am not completely mad - it was yesterday lunchtime before I shook off this worm.
Were the royalties going to Richard Ashcroft of the now defunct indie band, I might take a more charitable view, but as the riff was sampled from a Rolling Stones orchestral treatment, Klein, holder of the copyright, put his hand up for the money, and cheapened the music just that little bit more by licensing it for commercials.
It just about works in ITV’s neat title sequence, behind images of modern England – sleek dockland skyscrapers, the Angel of the North, teenage girls being sick in the streets, that kind of thing – but as ITV devoted three-and-a-quarter hours to the match, with all the attendant ad breaks, one was very much Verved out by the end of it all.
The reason, I assume, for the unnaturally extended programme was to carry the football audience over into ITV’s Saturday night schedule, swelling the figures even more, which would explain Steve Rider’s sign-off, describing England’s performance as “more Harry Hill, than X-Factor.”
This made absolutely no sense to those of us who find Hill’s bright and breezy show an enjoyable, and occasionally inspired, romp. To us, England more closely resembled Simon Cowell’s talent show; over-hyped, undeniably well resourced and part of the national fabric, but often disappointingly predictable.
The need to use the football as some kind of run-up to X-Factor meant that the story of the match, which Andy Townsend, one of our more lucid pundits, had delineated more or less straight after the final whistle, had to be re-told several times in the last half-hour of the programme.
Townsend pointed to Brazil’s ability to raise their game very quickly, improvise, and catch a static England defence off-guard, and Marcel Desailly - also a perceptive if slightly too voluble analyst – agreed. Ian Wright, for whom the programme was presumably part of his escape tunnel from the teatime chat show on Five, just found it “very, very disappointing” (the football, that is, not the cha….oh, I don’t know, though).
Unlike ITV’s midweek Champions League coverage, which sometimes feels a little pinched, Saturday’s bonus airtime allowed for longer post-match interviews, not always to the programme’s advantage, as in this exchange between Fabio Capello and interviewer Gabriel Clarke. Capello: “It’s difficult to create chances, because they (Brazil) defend very very well.” Clarke: “Why couldn’t England create chances?”
He also asked Capello, “If you play Brazil in the World Cup with your first choice team, what chance do you have?” to which the England manager unaccountably failed to reply, “No chance, Gab old son. They’ll batter us. Have you seen them?”
Clarke is more at home with his determinedly quirky pre-match features, for which he adopts a style of narration more often heard in documentaries about the war, speaking in clipped self-consciously portentous phrases, with meaningful pauses. “Where they globetrot, frenzy follows,” he intones in a feature about Brazil, “The keepers of the beautiful game. But there’s trouble in paradise. More steel than silk. More Mourinho than Jairzhino…” and so on.
His off-the-wall style, though, occasionally encourages previously prosaic footballers to join in, notably and hilariously Jermaine Defoe, who claimed in his pre-match interview to have “monk’s strength.” I assume this was a reference to some quasi-yogic martial arts schtick, as the most cursory browsing of Defoe’s tabloid back catalogue would reveal any resemblance between the footballer and a member of a religious order is purely coincidental.
The revelation was left hanging, though, supplanted by another blast of the Verve and another break, mysteriously still including adverts for banks. I am no economist, but I have been reading in the newspapers that there is a bit of a recession on at present, so I am wondering if one bank’s “helpful banking” commercial, and another’s boast to “help your money achieve its potential” (Been going well that, has it?) can prompt anything more than hollow laughter. As Richard Ashcroft so presciently wrote in his 1997 hit: “…it's a bittersweet symphony this life. Trying to make ends meet, you're a slave to the money then you die.”
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