Ross McCafferty: BBC coverage makes it impossible to back England

Well, at least there was no Mark Lawrenson.

Harry Kane celebrates scoring England's winning goal on Monday night against Tunisia. Picture: PA
Harry Kane celebrates scoring England's winning goal on Monday night against Tunisia. Picture: PA

Last night’s BBC coverage of England’s World Cup opener was a veritable smorgasbord of all the things that neutral fans have come to despise about the media’s attitude to the Three Lions and their opponents.

By comparison, the build-up to the tournament itself had been relatively low-key, with Gareth Southgate’s men unfancied ahead of other footballing luminaries like Spain, Germany, Argentina and Brazil.

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Whether it was a result of old habits dying hard, or the failure of the aforementioned teams to win their opening games, by the time the day of their match against Tunisia arrived, all perspective had gone out of the window for the BBC crew.

For many wringing their hands over whether to stick to the controversial Scottish tradition of backing England’s opponents, having to endure broadcasters and commentators discuss the opening game will have only hardened their resolve to rediscover some hitherto undiscovered Belgian, Panamanian, or Tunisian ancestry.

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It wasn’t always the case, I had been an avowed member of the ‘Anyone But England’ squad, but something about the World Cup of 2018 gave me pause.

This seemed like a different team of England players, who had a few big egos and a bit of questionable banter (and cringeworthy ‘dabbing’ celebrations) but certainly devoid of anyone who is demonstrably unlike-able in the mould of John Terry.

It was hard, too, not to feel a pang of sympathy for Raheem Sterling, who seems to have been pre-ordained as the English tabloid press’ official national scapegoat, with everything from his selfies to his tattoos apparently fair game for criticism.

As the World Cup approached, I found myself more agnostic towards the fortunes of the England team, something I couldn’t have said at any previous tournament.

As the matches got underway in earnest, the early signs of the usual habits of commentators started to creep in.

Mentions of England increased exponentially no matter who was playing, while players with even a passing relationship to domestic football in England were exalted.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, a stand out in Serbia’s win over Costa Rica, was only discussed in the BBC studio through the prism of how he might fare in Man United’s line-up.

Perhaps I was naïve to expect that some degree of humility might creep in to the BBC’s coverage of England’s opener against Tunisia.

Last night’s, however, was as bad as ever.

Not necessarily for the malapropisms and overall misery we’ve come to expect from co-commentators like Martin Keown (who kept referring to ‘compartments’ on the pitch) and Mark Lawrenson (mercifully absent last night, having presumably tired himself out through his apparent hatred of football).

No, it was the sheer arrogance and outright denial of facts that rankled, just as they have rankled every tournament since 1966.

A Tunisia penalty shouldn’t have been given because in the words of Alan Shearer, the striker ‘ran into Kyle Walker’s elbow.

2010 World Champions Spain took 84 minutes to breakdown Tunisia, mused Guy Mowbray, but England had unlocked their defence in just over 10.

He left unspoken the implication that Gareth Southgate’s men must be better than Iniesta and co as a result.

There was also the matter of the Chesire-cat grins on the faces of the BBC team when discussing the defeat of Germany by Mexico.

Such was their obvious joy at the misfortune of the Germans, I only wish there was a word to describe it.

Every two years, after they have qualified with an almost contemptuous inevitability, Scots often feel under pressure to back our nearest neighbours.

The row is often political, as Scottish MPs and MSPs have found out in recent weeks after declaring an interest in backing a non-English team in Russia.

For me, however, this has been at its core a footballing rivalry. Would we expect Hibs fans to back Hearts in Europe?

Even so, no matter how you feels about an individual group of England players, the relentless overstating of their chances of victory from commentators only serves to grind you down.

Last night’s game was a particularly egregious example, and only served to highlight that, as the old joke goes, there are only two teams worth supporting: Scotland, and whoever England are playing.