While much of the past month has been about falling in love with an England team that represents the best of our modern country, Gary Lineker introduced England v Italy with a line straight from the 1950s. “Shouldn’t you be in church?” Lineker asked the audience. You could almost feel the befuddlement in the nation’s living rooms, alongside a quick check to make sure: it is Sundays when church happens, isn’t it?
“Shouldn’t you be at work?” was, of course, Des Lynam’s intro when England played Tunisia at lunchtime during the 1998 World Cup. It was this sense of a communal experience that Lineker was trying to tap into. Yet for all his expertise and personal charm, there’s always been a sense that the ghost of Lynam’s eloquence still haunts Gary’s dressing room, and it manifested itself on England’s big night.
BBC or ITV, ITV or BBC? It’s the question you’re supposed to deliberate over in the manner you would the removal of a portrait of the Queen from a university common room. But in the end, the truth is both channels offer insight and entertainment and have the ability to make tear-jerking montages. Just as England found in the decisive shootout, it’s the small details that matter now.
The Beeb had pulled their start forward 10 minutes to give Gary his Des moment and hand the national broadcaster an edge in a battle over what was anticipated to be the biggest live broadcast in British TV history.
ITV didn’t seem particularly bothered. They just stuck Mark Pougatch front and centre at 6.30pm and he Ronsealed 1966 right in there. “It’s a very, very long time since Bobby Moore and the boys won the World Cup,” ran his opener, before he dropped an entirely new formulation for the time since passed: “Twenty thousand days of hurt”.
From there ITV cut to a cutely edited montage, contrasting that the World Cup was closer to the Titanic sinking than we are to it now, with Harry and Raheem’s relatively serene passage to this year’s final. It was a spine-tingler, and had a lot more woosh about it than the BBC’s first effort, a recap of the Denmark semi with Raleigh Ritchie’s plodding self-actualisation anthem Stronger than Ever as the soundtrack.
Having dealt with the whole history thing straight off, ITV were free to go into the actual football, first discussing the breaking news of ticketless fans breaching the stadium, before Emma Hayes and Gary Neville chewed into the tactical details of the match ahead. The Beeb, meanwhile, just plodded around in nostalgia and recaps, the exception being a fascinating and frank encounter with the great managers who were chewed up by the Impossible Job. From Big Sam – “This country should be embarrassed about how it goes about trying to destroy people” – to Fabio Capello (who has not aged in a decade) and his “white tentacles” of 66, it was a revealing two minutes.
On commentary, we had Guy Mowbray and Jermaine Jenas for the BBC and Sam Matterface and Lee Dixon for ITV. Dixon still sounds like the old BBC man he is, a bit stiff around the collar. But Matterface, who pleaded with viewers to choose ITV midweek, has a populist twang that echoes the times. He met Luke Shaw’s opener with simply a scream of his name, and introduced the final period of extra time with a call for backbone and grit. Mowbray observed that Shaw’s strike was the earliest goal in the history of the Euro finals and gave the wry introduction to penalties: “It had to come to this, didn’t it?” And indeed, it did.