TV reviews: Euro 2012 Qualifier Live & Britain's Got Talent

If this is our best in sport and entertainment, mourns Gary Day, it doesn't engender national pride

June 9, 2011

Credit: Miles Cole

ITV followed its live coverage of the England versus Switzerland football match (Euro 2012 Qualifier Live, Saturday 4 June, 4.15pm) with the final of Britain's Got Talent (7pm). Watching the first was good preparation for the second, as both demonstrated that the nation has about as much ability on the pitch as it has on the stage. But at least the commentary was entertaining. Setting the standard was Andy Townsend. "Fantastic play," he shouted as James Milner headed wide from point-blank range. What rhetorical heights might he not have scaled if the ball had gone in?

Andy was much preoccupied with Ashley Cole. He is "not moving properly", he said. His co-commentator, Peter Drury, who showed a cruel indifference to Ashley's lack of mobility, was more interested in the "bit of news" coming through his headphones. "We've just heard that there's a problem with the turnstiles," he said. The viewers, grateful for any diversion from what was not happening on the field, pricked up their ears.

Apparently 10,000 people were trying to get into the stadium to see this important qualifying match, but their tickets could not be scanned because they had arrived late. Peter thought this might have been because they were enjoying the sunshine. Andy was too worried about Ashley Cole to care about the crowd who, if they didn't take their seats soon, would miss the sight of England's left back limping heroically.

Andy, you might have gathered, did not have Peter's panoramic view of existence, although this didn't mean he wasn't prone to the odd gnomic utterance - the best example of which was: "The six-yard box. That's where Darren Bent has got to find himself." Darren must have been in mystic communion with Andy because he instantly set out to search for himself there. He may have found himself, but he didn't find the net.

Twice he was faced with an open goal, and twice he missed. "Fantastic play," screamed Andy. Perhaps the thrill of tapping a ball over a line cannot be compared to the joy of self-discovery, or perhaps because Darren hadn't yet stumbled on himself, he wasn't actually there to kick the ball anyway, or perhaps Darren needs to be paid more money and then he would be more motivated to bring that rare word "goal" to the lips of commentators.

Andy returned from his Buddhist musings to again contemplate the plight of Ashley Cole, who was "still not moving right". You could sense Andy was beginning to fret. What would he talk about if Cole were substituted? Leighton Baines came on for Cole, and for a moment Andy was left in the darkling. This was Peter's chance to steal the show. He could have joked that Cole's former wife, the ubiquitous Cheryl, had also been substituted on the appropriately named (e)X Factor. By Tulisa Contostavlos, if you really want to keep up with what's happening in the wider world.

But Pete, like Darren, missed his opportunity. Andy was back on the ball, pointing out that a free kick on the edge of the England penalty area was a "cause for concern". When Switzerland's Tranquillo Barnetta curled the ball into the top left-hand corner a moment later, concern had turned to shock. "England trail at Wembley!" screamed Peter as if a law of nature had just been overturned. And when Barnetta repeated the trick almost immediately afterwards, shock turned to horror.

Andy blamed Milner. He had deserted his place in the wall because he was "attracted by Gokhan Inler's run". Clearly no mobility problems there. Fabio Capello was equally fluid of limb as he leaped from his seat to give a display of grief that made Andy's despairing "England have a mountain to climb" seem like a shriek of delight.

In the studio, Gareth Southgate and Peter Reid didn't just have to struggle with the possibility that England might not qualify for Euro 2012, they also had to battle with the eternally lugubrious Adrian Chiles. There was much tutting about the defence. But no one mentioned the obvious - John Terry, the England captain, who was on the pitch but not really playing. His mind seemed to be more on the possibility of another liaison than on marking Admir Mehmedi, who very nearly clinched victory for Switzerland at the death.

In the end, it was a draw. But if the match had been fought on which side had the more outré hairdos, Switzerland would have won. Johan Djourou's was particularly menacing, causing the English players to lose the ball whenever it appeared. It was Djourou who was adjudged to have given away a penalty when he fouled the only decent English player on the night, Jack Wilshere, but the replay showed he got the ball first.

Can England still do it? "Of course," said everyone, proving that no one, least of all footballers, ever learn from experience.

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