When Michael Owen ran through on goal to score the winner in the 2001 FA Cup Final most Arsenal fans couldn’t believe that after 90 minutes of absolute domination they had been sucker punched twice in eight minutes and lost a game that always looked theirs.
Arsene Wenger held his head in his hands, the Arsenal end went silent save for a few angry expletives, and somewhere across the Atlantic Ocean Kevin Costner threw his bottle of Bud at his 50-inch TV screen while screaming “you little Scouse son of a bitch”.
In fact, when Sami Hyppia lifted the trophy, Costner was almost certainly out the back of his ranch shooting a racoon as some form of rage therapy.
Of course he was.
Why only a few hours prior to kick off Sky Sports had an interview with him where he professed to being “a real Gunner” and The Postman wouldn’t lie to us, would he? Sky wouldn’t just dole a celebrity in front of the cameras to pad out six hours of FA Cup final coverage would they?
Alright, in reality Costner was most likely making a three-hour epic at moment Patrick Berger’s long range pass found Owen at the Millennium Stadium, or perhaps he was trying to charm a masseuse the old fashioned way.
Obviously, Costner’s appearance that day is symptomatic of the kind of rubbish which often gets served up to football fans and masquerades as entertainment these days. A light relief from the serious business of punditry with Jamie Redknapp. In reality, it’s actually an excuse for a Sky, BBC or ITV reporter to meet someone famous and ask searching questions like “do you believe (insert team name) can do it today”.
So, with this in mind and with the FA Cup final today and World Cup on the horizon, I thought I’d lay down a marker for TV coverage over the coming six weeks; a handy default setting for all to stick by.
If, at any stage, you see Ray Winstone just turn off the TV and wait for kick off. Yes, he has a box at West Ham, yes he looks a little like Terry Venables and yes, he’s not the worst human being on the planet but why on earth do TV channels still believe that we want to hear the opinions of the sixth male lead from The Departed on relegation worries and England’s World Cup chances?
Over the past five years, Winstone has turned up on ITV and Sky on numerous occasions to spout the same lines about West Ham or his country (though the BBC have fallen into this trap as well at times) and the viewer gets treated to nuggets like “West ‘Am fans are best in the league” or about how “England fans are the best in the world int they”. Same shit, different movie to promote.
On each occasion we’re treated to a bravado filled interview which, to be fair, is usually the result of a star struck reporter trying to be matey with Winstone. Soccer AM is nowhere near as bad a show as some people make it out to be but the interview style there is a perfect example of such fawning nonsense. It’s a style which sees everyone involved desperate to prove that they’re as down to earth as a Hovis advert and not asking anything in particular, instead just throwing a series of statements at the subject in question (“you got to love Scotty Parker eh”) and waiting for agreement on the subject.
A more general note to interviewers meeting up with the often US-based Winstone would be that in 2010 everyone in the developed world realises there are different time zones across the planet. I’m pretty sure I was aware that New York is five hours behind GMT at seven years of age.
With this in mind, the revelation that (insert celebrity name here) gets up at “the crack of dawn to watch their beloved (insert team name here) in a local sports-bar while it’s the afternoon back home” is not a revelation to the TV audience watching anymore. It hasn’t been for decades.
Yet, once you get that camera back to the Football Focus couch they can’t believe the commitment of this enormously rich celebrity who chooses to go to the pub at half eight in the morning.
The rolling out of famous names to pad out coverage is, obviously, just an offshoot of BBC, ITV and Sky having zero faith in their pundits or the game they’re serving up for the audience. So expect plenty of it in the coming weeks then. I await Jude Law’s thoughts on England’s final 23-man squad with interest.