The reverence with which football, and football broadcasting, handled remembrance of the life and death of Queen Elizabeth II threw last week’s peculiar decision to cancel all fixtures throughout the pyramid into even sharper relief.
The BBC Match of the Day treatment of the ceremonies appended to Saturday’s Premier League matches was superb. Still after all this time and all those impassioned agenda-setting rants from Gary Neville and Roy Keane, Auntie’s Saturday night highlights package remains the football program that draws the nation together and it was entirely appropriate that it began with a one-minute, silent tour of the grounds as fans at Molineux, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and St James’ Park paid their respects.
Although there were only three fixtures on Saturday, this viewer at least felt a sense of the country, via its national sport, coming together with supporters in the North East, the Midlands and north London all observing the same rituals at the same moment. Gary Lineker, in black tie, set just the right tone of respect with a gag-free intro, and then it was on with the show. A reassuringly terrible pun about Son Heung-min closed it, a familiar comfort in unfamiliar times. Chapeau also for a nice tribute to Eddie Butler, whose lyrical rugby commentating and poetic voiceovers were so much part of terrestrial TV sport for many years.
Just 65, far too young.
Football has achieved such cultural pre-eminence in the national discourse that its language peppers everything from politics to family life to matters of state.
Some football tributes at the weekend caught the eye, for instance Brendan Rodgers observing: “It’s clearly very, very sad and it is fitting how the country has commemorated the Queen’s death. She has done a remarkable job. She’s given up her adult life virtually to do her role de ella and carried it out with distinction. Enjoyable to hear of the late monarch carrying out a role, not in this case the Makélélé one, with distinction. Football’s linguistic influence is everywhere, all the time.
Dave Jones, on Sky’s Sunday coverage, explained about the applause that would take place on 70 minutes: “One minute for every remarkable year of a truly outstanding seven decades of service by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.” Remarkable, Brian.
‘A mournful pall hanging over the home fans’
Jamie Redknapp, calling on every ounce of willpower, resisted the temptation to refer to the late Queen as a “top, top head of state” and instead, rather sweetly, said that “she was a lovely lady.” Bill Leslie, the commentator for the Brentford v Arsenal game, diagnosed the crowd’s quietness in the first half as being attributable to a mournful pall hanging over the home fans. Who knows?
All the pundits and presenters from Kelly Cates on Friday night through to Jones on Sunday hit all the right notes. Wes Morgan, who has the manner of a kindly, introverted undertaker at the best of times, did a particularly good job on the Leicester dissection. There was an excellent Sky package about the Queen’s encounters with football, including her presenting the 1949 FA Cup to Billy Wright.
Aside from her reign’s other qualities, the longevity still astounds.
If there are any Republicans or dissenting voices in football TV, you would not have known it at the weekend. The relentless scrutiny on sports broadcasters and the lack of clemency shown to them if they do make any on-air slip-up will have made this a stressful block of fixtures for all involved. Just look at how a Sky commentator had to apologize for the behavior of Celtic supporters on Sunday: hardly Ian Crocker’s fault if some fans north of the border are being beastly, is it?
A defensive retreat into orthodoxy and blandishments is inevitable, but, as the nation mourns and remembers, football TV did its bit. Albeit that it got its chance a weekend too late.