ITV sport: putting the Tic Tacs into tactics

We should praise that pesky advert for Tic Tacs: it saved the nation from the agony of the Everton-Liverpool game.

Rob Lyons

Topics Politics

He was, apparently, ‘furious’. ‘It shouldn’t have happened. I can’t understand how it happened.’

Michael Grade, boss of ITV, had to face the cameras on Thursday to explain how his network had managed to cut to a commercial break just as Everton’s teenage prodigy, Dan Gosling, was about to score the winning goal in Wednesday night’s FA Cup replay against local rivals Liverpool.

Sadly, Grade’s credibility was undermined by another comment he made: ‘As a football fan myself, I was glued to the match and was as disappointed as anyone to miss the goal.’ This could only be true literally. Perhaps Mrs Grade couldn’t resist the old ‘superglue on the TV’ trick, with her hubbie screaming blue murder at her to get some warm water and try to unstick him. After all, the last thing a network boss needs is a long wait in the emergency room with a 42-inch plasma screen stuck to his mitts. This is the only plausible explanation for Grade’s statement because nobody could have been metaphorically ‘glued to the match’; because it was, to use the French, un sac de merde.

On Wednesday night, I adjourned to spiked’s local with my estimable colleague, Tim Black; he’s an Everton fan, I support Liverpool. But rather than a rambunctious couple of hours, drinking beer and shouting at the telly in our very own ‘libertarian Marxist’ FanZone, we sat in misery as our two teams recreated what pundits like to call ‘the magic of the cup’. This seemed to involve some of the best players (apparently) in England punting the ball aimlessly around in midfield like they’d decided to see what it would be like to play in the Blue Square Premier League rather than the Barclays Premier League. Like a lot of people in recent weeks, the goalkeepers were unemployed. The biggest danger they faced was hypothermia from inactivity.

Things hadn’t been promising from the start. Everton only had one fit striker, Victor Anichebe. In 87 appearances for Everton, he’s scored just 11 goals. This season, he’s taken part in 20 games and scored once. But on the day of the game, he fell out with Everton manager David Moyes and was left out of the team. Perhaps Moyes had decided to stick him on performance-related pay, leaving Anichebe facing financial ruin. Things got worse when Stevie ‘GBH’ Gerrard, Liverpool’s talisman, limped off after 16 minutes – leaving the not-entirely fit Fernando Torres as Liverpool’s only hope of a goal.

In desperation, the cameras searched for something to keep the watching public entertained as another pass went pointlessly astray for a throw-in. The one modicum of fun was the sight of assorted Everton fans in the crowd wearing bushy black wigs in honour of Moroccan midfielder Marouane Fellaini. TV people love this kind of footie-fan eccentricity; it’s hilarious. Fellaini’s hair is a little bit like an afro, but he makes no effort to cut it neatly. He looks like an extra from a blaxploitation movie that got left out in the rain, and he certainly doesn’t look anything like what that horrible Carol Thatcher called that poor tennis player. Oh no.

Particle physicists might describe Fellaini’s hair as ‘a smear of tonsorial improbability’. Whatever, there was as much chance of finding the Higgs Boson in there as there was of Fellaini, or anyone else on the pitch, finding the net.

‘Knob jockey! You fucking knob jockey!’ Suddenly, there was some excitement! It wasn’t inspired by the dreary football but by the cricket showing on another screen. A mildly inebriated punter in the pub was screaming abuse at England batsman Kevin Pietersen getting himself out, three runs short of a century. Fair enough. ‘KP’ is the man who had a Private Eye cartoon in his honour this week, with the caption ‘Dumbslog Millionaire’.

But back to the football, and Everton – in a moment of unexpected excitement – suddenly hit the post. Then Liverpool midfielder Lucas – single-handedly giving the lie to the notion that all Brazilians are brilliantly gifted footballers – got himself pointlessly, stupidly sent off. And that really was curtains for the game as a spectacle. Now, 10 men were forced to defend heroically against a team that looked quite incapable of scoring. Everton passed it about in front of the Liverpool penalty area, but whenever they tried to break through the massed red ranks, a Liverpool player would hoof the ball unceremoniously upfield to no one in particular.

Which brings us the decisive moment of the evening. I don’t think ITV really screwed up at all. I think that in some darkened control room somewhere, a technician had been watching the game and had, in a desperate desire for any kind of sensory stimulation after 118 minutes of utter tripe, slammed his head into a big red button that said ‘Roll Tic-Tac advert’. So we watched a commercial for tiny, mint-flavoured sweets and a Matrix spoof advertising the new VW Golf, and then cut back to a bunch of Everton players rolling around the grass in celebration. Either he’d grabbed a late winner or young Gosling had decided that what the evening needed was some boisterous, multi-participant man sex. Turns out he’d ‘scored’ in the footballing sense.

Thank god. Now we had something to talk about. Having made the effort to drink six pints on a school night, there was a genuine moment of controversy to debate. Ah, that’s the magic of the cup.

Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked.

Duleep Allirajah is away.

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spiked-issue: Sport.

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Topics Politics


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