Eschewing the week’s slam dunk story of Sepp Blatter making Christiano Ronaldo out to be a soccer version of Curt Flood, the Guardian’s Harry Pearson instead turns his attention to the cliche’-crazed sphere of British football commentary, surmising “incredulity is the default setting of our nation’s experts.”
Right from the start of Euro 2008 John Motson (above) was astonished. “And Eric Abidal keeping Patrice Evra of Manchester United out of the team, and Arsenal’s GaÃ«l Clichy out of the squad!” He said that, before France met Romania, in the sort of chuckling, “don’t-you-just-love-this-crazy-world-we-live-in” tones of a CBS newscaster introducing an item about a break-dancing halibut.
Motty’s amazement should not have amazed anybody. British pundits and commentators spend their days in a land of wonders, rubbing their eyes and pinching themselves to make sure they are not dreaming. “Unbelievable,” growls Alan Hansen. “Unbelievable,” agrees Alan Shearer. “Believable. Not!” quips Mark Lawrenson, the only man on the planet yet to shake off the comic influence of Wayne’s World. (Does he yell “Schwing!” whenever Gabby Logan walks by? I like to think so.) You or I see a footballer striking the 3,758th best shot we have ever witnessed; Andy Townsend and Ally McCoist see the equivalent of a yeti spontaneously combusting while riding a unicorn through El Dorado.
To them everything from rain to a Ronaldo step-over is beyond the bounds of the rational. The only time this changes is during the men’s singles at Wimbledon. The minute they hear the opening music and smell the grass, even normally sensible people like Clare Balding start to exude such unshakable belief in the unlikely that they make Agent Fox Mulder sound like Richard Dawkins.