It was the night I turned into Mary Whitehouse. Or Disgusted of Edinburgh, Parker Pen poised over the Basildon Bond, the writing bureau’s spindly legs all a-quiver…
“Dear Points of View, I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms about the ‘comedy item’ at the start of the BBC’s coverage of England vs Tunisia. I mean, for a moment I thought I’d woken up in hell. Raheem Sterling’s face on £10 notes? Stonehenge renamed JohnStoneshenge? The White Cliffs of Dier? It was when that barber was asked for a ‘Cahill’ and he claimed this would be his eighth tribute trim of the day in honour of the cloggy yeoman centre-back that I realised it was a joke. That England hadn’t really won the World Cup.”
If you missed this, go and find it on iPlayer. See if you don’t seethe like Whitehouse was wont to do, every time she thought the state broadcaster had done something which threatened civilisation as she knew it, which was basically all the time. See if you don’t fire off a complaint to the on-air mailbox (is Points of View still hosted by Robert Robinson? Er, Barry Took?) or, as the tabloids like to say, jam the switchboards at Broadcasting House. See if you don’t come to the same despairful conclusion: “I wasn’t sure about an all-tartan Beeb channel but, please, can we have it right now?”
Just kidding. I saw the funny side of this send-up of Three Lions hopes and dreams. It was knowingly self-mocking about the quadrennial pottiness which envelops the “mountains green” and “pleasant pastures” of our southern neighbours, where cats which sit still for too long will be daubed with the Cross of St George like everything else… all of this despite suspect ball retention and a questionable ability to cope with knockout-phase pressure.
Still, it was only a joke up to a certain point. If the planet really does tilt on its axis and Kieran Trippier really does nutmeg Lionel Messi and England really do beat Germany on penalties to win the World Cup then quite a lot of the skit will come to pass. It’s perfectly possible that a TV reporter stationed outside a gated mansion with disco lights flashing in the windows will send the breathless despatch: “Jamie Vardy’s still having a party.” It’s far from inconceivable that a shopping channel won’t advertise the Hendo Hover Mower, named after Jordan Henderson, as being “guaranteed to cover every blade of grass” – a bargain at £69.99.
And you thought England, the country, was playing it cool and understated this time. “Expectations are low,” said Gary Lineker, just before this imagined explosion of euphoria and naming rights. “No one’s getting carried away, are they?”
Actually, Lineker has been getting carried away for a few days now. He was unable to conceal his glee when possible future opponents Germany cocked up against Mexico. He even reprised one of Barry Davies’ lines from an Olympic hockey triumph when replaying slovenly defending by the world champs: “Where oh where are the Germans? But, frankly, who cares?”
Think about this: Davies’ famous squawk at least came when Germans and Englishmen were on the same field, jousting. England weren’t involved this time but Lineker, as he recorded the shock defeat on the wallchart in his head, was already fantasising about a serene and Deutschland-free march to glory for the whiteshirts.
England weren’t involved in that game because they were watching documentaries, bonding over darts and doing all the other things in manager Gareth Southgate’s radical plan for readying a team for tournament football, a process which began with the players required to be perkily personable in a blizzard of interviews and feeling like they were speed-dating.
The open, relaxed, ego-free approach helped England beat Tunisia – just.
Naturally, we were shown footage of Lineker leaping out of his studio chair to celebrate the winning goal. You might argue that he instinctively knew which camera was “on”. But if you found Monday night a difficult watch, console yourself with this: if it had been an ITV production and Clive Tyldesley had been within hollering distance of a microphone, it would have been a whole lot worse.