IT’S England-Scotland at Wembley and unless you’re there on the day, serenading statues in Trafalgar Square, you don’t really want hysteria and hyperbole, do you?
You’re looking for a bit of cold analysis because this, despite all the history, is an early-season friendly international and it would invite ridicule to take it too seriously, especially if you don’t have the drink or the atmosphere to fall back on by way of an excuse. Well, there aren’t too many people who can do cold better than Paul Lambert. Legend has it that Lambo had a personality that, when it radiated in the dressing-rooms of Borussia Dortmund and Celtic, added to the reserves of respect that he had built up by being a fantastically reliable player. But he always seemed to hate the camera and microphone treatment, refusing utterly to betray any evidence of an ego.
It was all about the team, and perhaps that’s why he accepted STV’s invitation last night – because he thought in some vicarious way he had a duty not to let down his team. Sadly, ex-footballers without ego are pundits without stardust, and the Aston Villa manager’s dispassionate utterances served little purpose other than to chew up air time (STV had a half-hour build-up to fill).
If the man’s drone didn’t persuade you to check the state of your skirting board or extract one or two nasal hairs, he did of course have some interesting things to say about the nature of this contest. If only he wouldn’t introduce his insight with lines like: “Being Scottish you want the national team to do well.”
Gordon Strachan has always made plain a desire to see the national team do well, and he spoke with just the right pitch in a pre-match interview. “I’m not a fan of friendlies – as a manager my body language would have usually said ‘he doesn’t want to be here’ – but this is different.”
Roy Hodgson, who is too smart to suffer the parodies inflicted on predecessors as England manager, was saying the right things to his audience, who would not have wanted him to be getting too excited about a match against third-world opposition. “In all honesty, both Gordon and myself would both admit that we’ve got more important challenges ahead in September and October,” said Roy.
It was all a bit dry though, wasn’t it? STV don’t get too many opportunities like this but when in Rome, surely you at least put on a toga and go to an orgy.
Thank heavens for Bully.
When Raman Bhardwaj directed us to Derek Rae and his summariser down beside the pitch, we thought STV had transmuted us to an archive, outdoor episode of Bullseye because a hefty creature in a shirt of red and white vertical stripes filled our screens.
We had, admittedly, been looking for a bit more animation than that provided in the studio but animated bulls was not exactly what we had in mind on the occasion of the first meeting of Auld Enemies in 14 years.
“Come on boys, let’s give them a scare,” roared Bully with a guttural cough. Whereupon it became clear that this was not a cartoon bull but a former footballer from Simshill in Glasgow. Scotland were blessed to have Brazil – Alan Brazil – on their side last night.
Unless you tune in to Talksport, Alan Brazil’s voice wouldn’t be one you would regularly hear during a football match so this was a refreshing change – especially because he brings a fair bit of insight to the party.
He is passionate, too, the warm antithesis to Lambert and those disapproving Trafalgar Square statues.
Brazil knows his football and he knows his English football, which was a useful asset last night. Take, for example, when Rickie Lambert came on with the match nicely poised at 2-2.
“He used to work in a beetroot factory,” Rae told us, which is useful enough, but what was really useful to know was that the striker would immediately give Scotland, through his aerial threat, a fresh enemy to guard against. And it was the prescient Alan Brazil who said that.
“His goal record is sensational at every level – that is a power header as well by the way. That is a dream start by Lambert. That is a cracker,” he was soon purring.
The match had already been a commentator’s dream – blows, counter-blows, more relevance than most friendlies – and STV’s mic men were really in their element during the second half.
“This is Fred Astaire, this fella. You want to see the footwork,” Brazil said upon the arrival of Wilfried Zaha. “Best I’ve seen apart from Ronaldo.”
Before long, he was putting sense on another glorious defeat/encouraging performance. Alan Brazil was super last night. Super smashing great.