Blissed-out Gary Lineker an equal match for Rio Ferdinand’s reality check

Scott Murray on 24 June 2018

Complain about the licence fee if you must but the bottom line is the BBC’s comprehensive World Cup coverage offers something for everyone. Toddlers across the land, for example, have been cavorting joyously to the simple pleasure of the Kicky Kicky Kick Kick song from the Hey Duggee cartoon. Meanwhile on Radio 5 Live there is the Robbie Savage breakfast show, for those who have not yet graduated to CBeebies.

It is a broad church. But the actual match coverage must please everyone at once, no mean feat. England’s support can be roughly split into two categories – the blindly optimistic and the morbidly fatalistic – and before the game Gary Lineker did his best to cater for both sets in one breath. “You can never guarantee anything, certainly with England. I remember two years ago! But Panama are one of the weakest teams in the tournament, so surely ...” As he trailed off, the panel of Alan Shearer, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand filled dead air with nervous laughter.

There were more uneasy smiles to follow. Back in the innocent 1980s exotic broadcasting yuks were guaranteed simply by airing recordings of South American commentators performing elongated celebratory ululations. Gooooal! And to think at the time we thought it would never get old. The modern equivalent is footage of studio-based buffoonery, as presenters worldwide channel their inner toolkit.

The other day several Argentinians held a minute’s silence on TV for the risible state of the Albiceleste; now a couple of Panamanian presenters hollered, sobbed and ostentatiously hugged during their national anthem. Goodness knows what mania was reached once the match started.

Those guys! Cut back to Lineker and a starch-stiff Shearer, up off their chairs in an awkward satirical embrace. The caper, which proved that physical comedy is not half as easy as the Iranian throw-in expert Milad Mohammadi makes it look, generated one single uncertain guffaw, coughed up by Lampard out of politeness and embarrassment. Best leave the hugs to Duggee.

The grinning was less forced at half-time, a natural response to England breaking 68 years’ worth of scoring records in 45 psychedelic minutes. “Blimey,” was Lineker’s one-word, blissed-out reaction, a masterclass in British understatement. Shearer could not disguise his glee, which was fair enough given the circumstances. Ferdinand was a tad more circumspect, pointing out that Panama were “not even non-league”, the sort of no-nonsense, keep-it-real, we’ve-won-nothing-yet analysis one would expect from a man who during his career had regularly to meet professional standards set by a certain ITV pundit. Should we get excited, Rio? “We should be pleased.” Roy will be proud.

Still, six goals at a World Cup! Whatever happens from here, Gareth has earned his football badge.

Latest football headlines