Johnny Nic’s World Cup media diary – part one: BBC v ITV, radio v TV…

BBC analyst Alex Scott and ITV presenter Laura Woods at the World Cup. Credit: Alamy
BBC analyst Alex Scott and ITV presenter Laura Woods at the World Cup. Credit: Alamy

Johnny Nic diarises his World Cup viewing and listening habits. And what he’s had for breakfast. We think he rather enjoyed the first four days, flitting between the Beeb and ITV…



Qatar v Ecuador
Yay! It’s the first day of The Evil World Cup. Well, the devil has all the best tunes. I turn on and tune in to the BBC, glad to see they were ignoring the opening ceremony, as per usual.

Here’s Gary Lineker looking very serious indeed, as though he’s going to announce we’re at war.

His opening monologue was sure to enrage the tofu-hating anti-wokerati, and the presence of Alex Scott, if anything, even more so. She was especially magnificent laying it down hard in response to Johnny Infant’s ridiculous speech. I love her accent and habit of removing ‘g’ from words. It’s so distinctive and regional, and distinctive and regional are very good things. But I already know this will anger those who love to be angered. Micah and his waxed guns were there too.

Alan Shearer sat impassively, eyes narrowed like Lee Van Cleef in a spaghetti western shootout, intoning with a new gravitas. “Amnesty’s been asking FIFA for just over $400m for their compensation fund, and they haven’t agreed to that yet. Why?”

Interestingly, the social media shoutys didn’t seem to see either Shearer or Micah were singing from the same hymn sheet as their two hate figures. Proof their criticism is not for what they’re saying, but for who they are perceived to be.

Overall it was a great, sombre opening salvo which set the proper context of the competition from the get-go and at half-time is followed up with Ros Atkins five-minute explainer on the issues surrounding Qatar, which are many and varied.

There was some football played too. Steve Bower was the TV commentator, one of the corporation’s perfectly fine but totally anonymous mic men, with Dion Dublin riding shotgun. Dion is a good vibes man with old school tendencies, but if you’re looking for him to find the matrix operating beneath any game, you’ll be disappointed. If you enjoy phrases like “yes, he’s a player, decent player, good footballer” then you’re in luck. And like many, he is much better on the radio where his ability to fill dead air really comes into its own.

Talking of 5Live, Kelly Cates was on presentation duties. She has the best laugh, a sort of woody, unaffected rolling chuckle which makes the world a happier place. Vicky Sparks and Pat Nevin did the game, in a style utterly opposite to the TV, in that it was lively and detailed.

Qatar looked like a side you’d find in the West of Scotland Premier League. A painless first day draws to a close as I notice Dawn, my missus, is bringing planks of wood into the house. I ask what she’s doing. “Making an armoire,” she says. Of course.


England v Iran
With a 1pm kick off, I spend the morning baking. When a World Cup is on, you need plenty of finger food. By the time noon comes around I’ve got a tray of mini beef pies, cheese straws and some veggie pasties cooling. Postie arrives with a curtain pole and some records. Mostly picture discs.

The non-wearing of the armband news breaks to much harrumphing but I turn on 5Live to find Mark Chapman presenting with Rob Green and Matt Upson, who sound very similar to my damaged ears, alongside commentator John Murray. They put Matt behind one of the goals, something they did with Karen Carney during the Euros to great effect. She was so effusive and emotional but crucially conveyed much about how the England defence was working and who was talking to who. Matt didn’t offer anything like that and so it didn’t add much.

As I take up my position on the sofa, there is a fierce banging noise in the bedroom, which Dawn has gutted and is ‘redesigning.’ There are no screams so I assume all is well and she is just taking out the massive fitted wardrobe and mirror. The game is on BBC and Gary, Alan, Rio and Micah turn up for the gig. Alex Scott was on the pitch wearing the One Love armband, sticking it to Johnny Infant and his lackeys.

On the radio, Mark Chapman does an excellent interview with an Iranian football fan. She says some don’t want the team to win because they’re too close to the regime. He also talks to a fella from the World Service about the Iran situation. All very informative.

Guy Mowbray is the BBC TV comms man with the pleasing flat Yorkshire vowels and he has Jermaine Jenas beside him. JJ is another who is far better on the radio and needs to be more upbeat on TV. I mute the TV and go back to the radio.

John Murray is one of the best commentators in the business and his work on the match is full of typical bits of wit and eloquence, as well as explosive yelling at crucial moments, which I’m sure he subconsciously delivers in the exact correct length to be clipped up and used in later programmes. His description of Jude Bellingham as ‘tall, stately, graceful’ strikes me as very correct. Rob Green is on hand to say what it’s like to be clouted in the nose as a goalie. It hurts. Who knew?

England being good and scoring six is an unusual pleasure but letting in two goals will give the moaners something to hang onto.

Netherland v Senegal
ITV come out to play for the second game, their opening cartoon graphics are a bit confused and looks like it was produced by a committee with a dozen people saying “we need a bit of this in it.”

Laura Woods presents in front of what looks like large Terry’s Chocolate Orange segments. I like Laura, she exudes a different vibe to anyone else, relaxed, calm and soft, there’s no over the top emotion or grandstanding and it makes things more upmarket somehow. I batter some haddock and shallow fry it and serve it with a tin of mushy peas. We eat it while watching the telly.

Nigel De Jong is on hand, looking like an illusionist who sells himself as ‘The Man of Mystery’. Dawn says he looks like a Mexican drug lord. I tell her I can’t write that. Wrighty is there too as is Gary Neville in a stiff, will-this-do dad jacket. They’ve gone for one of their greatest hits for commentary; Jon Champion and Ally McCoist. Ally’s great asset is his enthusiasm and an accent that sounds so west of Scotland that close your eyes and it could be an auld gadgee in an East Kilbride flat roof pub doing co-comm with a pint of Tennants and a tab on the go.

Over on 5Live we’ve got Ali-Bruce Ball and Chris Sutton, another hit duo from Russia, who conduct proceedings like a footballing Waldorf and Statler. I disobey Larry Sanders and start flipping between TV and radio, settling on Coisty and finding myself enjoying it greatly.

USA v Wales
It’s seven o’clock so I take The Quireboys’ advice; it’s time for a party. I pour Dawn a large vodka and oat milk, which she takes into the bath after a hard day’s armoire-ing. I favour gin, water and lemon juice, grab a bowl of my cheese straws and get back to the sofa.

Thankfully, ITV have let Clive Tyldesley off the leash for this one and paired him with John Hartson. I like big John and there’s no doubting his passion, at one point in the second half, emotion rising in his throat like an old time preacher from the Valleys, declaring that Keifer Moore was ‘putting the fear of God into them”. That said, I’m not sure he can communicate any deeper knowledge of the game and isn’t asked to.

Clive on the other hand is still the big voice for the big occasion, always meticulously well prepared and always balances eloquence of expression with emotional response. At one point saying about Ethan Ampadu ‘Where does he get his heart from?” in that very Clive-ish way and before Bale’s penalty “hold your breath everyone”. All very enjoyable.

When the viewing figures were announced, an average UK audience of 7.4 million watched England play Iran on BBC One, and 9.4 million watched Wales play the USA on ITV. Those seem a bit lower than I’d expect. Boycotting?

Alex Scott holds a One Love armband before wearing it on BBC's coverage of the World Cup. Credit: Alamy
Alex Scott holds a One Love armband before wearing it on BBC's coverage of the World Cup. Credit: Alamy


Argentina v Saudi Arabia
The contrast between Iran not singing their anthem and England being scared into not wearing the armband is still getting a lot of mileage. Not least the following day on LBC where one particularly fulminating man, who, you had to think needed his meds tweaking, called the puce orb of talking cholesterol that is Nick Ferrari to say that these lily-livered Englishmen were nothing compared to the 54,000 men who died at the Battle of Ypres in WWI. ‘They were real lions,” he panted. Ferrari didn’t even take the pish, perhaps fearing the man was insane. They love a blood boiler, of course.

ITV is doing the early game with Laura as head teacher. As I devour a square sausage roll with chilli sauce on. Roy, who looks like an Old Testament preacher, keeps saying that the World Cup shouldn’t be here, gets into a bit of narky nark nark with Souey who says “you’ll learn a lot more if you don’t keep talking all the time”. He goes on to say there’s no way Saudi Arabia should own NUFC. It’s all hard hitting against the bloody Saudi regime. I’m relieved that these issues are front and centre.

There’s a superb package that was more Panorama than Planet Football, highlighting human rights abuses in Saudi including the torturing of women and a clip of Eddie Howe giving it some serious deer in headlights when asked about how he feels taking wages from a regime that had just put 81 people to death. Says he’s still upset about the weekend’s defeat so he’ll just stick to talking about that. It curdles your guts. I need black coffee.

Postie delivers some tins of blue paint and some records. Mostly picture discs. Dawn disappears into the bedroom with a roller and brush.

Angus Scott works in this part of the world these days and he tells us about the dispute between Qatar and Saudi over illegal broadcasting. Then it’s to the game with Sam Matterface working with Lee Dixon. Sam welcomes those at work listening on headphones, which strikes me as a weak echo of Des’s ‘shouldn’t you be at work?’

Sam makes a bit of a boo-boo when saying Saudi will ‘try every trick in the book’ when the player has been absolutely banjaxed to within an inch of his life. Dixon and Matterface are an uncomfortable listen. Something just doesn’t knit together about them. The best commentators and co-comms interlock. There is no sense of a relationship the way there is with Champion and McCoist who you can absolutely imagine going on the lash after the game. They’re perfectly serviceable, but that’s it.

On 5Live, Chapman is presenting and Mark Scott is on comms with Clinton Morrison. Scott is another from the fine but anonymous coterie of commentators, Clinton is a classic better-on-the-radio worker. The always excellent voice of authority, Tim Vickery, is around to talk Mexico and Argentina. Post game Chapman says Saudi ran 10km more than Argentina. This is the detail we’re here for. Great game.

Denmark v Tunisia
I make us some carrot and coriander soup and play Dokken’s ‘Back For The Attack’ album while doing so. You gotta love George Lynch. I ask Dawn how things are going in there. “Stressful” she says. That’s my cue not to ask anything more.

Mark Pougatch is driving TV’s charabanc to Football Town today, with NDJ, Hal Robson-Kanu and Danish-Afghan forward Nadia Nadim behind the Terry’s Chocolate Orange for this one. Born in Afghanistan, Nadim became a refugee after her father was killed by the Taliban: she was the first naturalised Dane to represent a Denmark senior national football team and in January 2022, she qualified as a doctor and speaks nine languages. Wow. Nigel seems to dominate proceedings. HRK doesn’t look like a footballer, more like a primary school teacher, but he seems nice enough. Pougers is an effortless professional but the vibe is less interesting than the earlier panel with Laura.

5Live has Vicky Sparks and Pat Nevin on duty. I like it when Vicky lets rip with a full-throated paint stripper and when Pat – who sounds more Scottish than usual, running words together in the traditional slide of vowels – makes some allusion to the Scottish colourists or the 4AD label. Sadly, he does neither. ITV have Hartson and Seb Hutchinson, who couldn’t be more different. Hutch is another from my efficient but anonymous file, as I can never recognise anything distinctive about his voice. Can you bring it to mind now? No you can’t.

Mexico v Poland
As four o’clock rolls around, Kelly Cates is our Neal Cassidy driving the Merry Pranksters bus for this game and now sounds properly into the swing of things, obviously enjoying herself. She’s such a great live broadcaster. It’s a hard thing to make something so tight but loose. Listen to how Evan Davis does it on PM. He’s poor. Mispronouncing words, stops and starts again, mumbling and tapering off sentences, stumbling over words and unable to think fast enough on his feet. Listen to Kelly and she is the exact opposite. It’s a real art.

Guillem Balague turns up as I’m making lentil soup and ham sarnies, as does the host of a Mexican football podcast. He is excellent value and is properly excitable. I listen to John Murray and Matt Upson do the game. It was surprising to hear John quoting lines from “You’re The One That I Want”. Didn’t have him down as a Grease fan. He also tells us that “sound levels hit 90 decibels’ after the Mexican goalie (who Dawn tells me looks like Antony Sher in The History Man) saves a Lewa pen, That’s the sort of detail we like. It’s a febrile atmosphere in the second half and the boys get caught up in the excitement. I think I can hear producer and all round good egg, Juliette Ferrington laughing in the background. Everyone seems to be having a good time. This is where radio comms are so different from TV, which always sounds a little more sterile in comparison. There is a real camaraderie on 5LIve.

On the telly it’s Gabby Logan in the chair with Pablo Zabaletta, Rio and Micah with comms by Pien Meulensteen and Martin Keown. Martin is a candle that cannot be lit and, when I dip in to sample the fare on offer, although Pien does a good job, the whole thing lacks the zing of the radio broadcast.

Australia v France
I take a look into the bedroom. It is now two shades of blue and there is wood everywhere. I pour Dawn and vodka and cherry juice, which she takes into the bath.

The BBC put Jonathan Pearce and Danny Murphy on TV for this one. It’s not a good match, so I reach for the good vodka and get started. Danny sounds like an undertaker commentating on the funeral of his pet dog. Jonno is far better on the radio where his instinct to joke and make arcane references can find a fuller voice. On TV the lion cannot muster his usual roar often enough.

Gary Lineker along with Shearer, Didier Drogba and Vincent Kompany make up an excellent panel. Shearer has a nice lightweight beige long sleeve polo shirt in a fine soft cotton or possible cashmere. He suits lighter softer colours. Drogba doesn’t make any sharp movements, blinks slowly and seems semi-liquid. Vinnie looks like he’s hatching an egg.

Mark Schwarzer and Kelly Somers are the on-pitch observers. Schwarzer towers over her like a giant. These pitchside chats seem a bit surplus to requirements though.

There’s an interesting package presented by James Stewart, who has a touch of Blue Peter about him, looking at whether the tournament will be carbon neutral, as Jonny Infant boasts. No it won’t. It’s a bogus claim and will in fact be the highest carbon event apart from a war that humans have ever staged.

The CR7 news breaks, Vinnie is asked if he’d like him at Burnley. “We need players who can run,” he quips.This has been a good panel, plenty of wit and some wisdom.

Read more: Clive Tyldesley writes for F365 on a Disney World Cup that leaves him anaesthetised not hypnotised


Morocco v Croatia
Seema Jaswal presents for ITV while I’m still eating a breakfast of sardines on toast with salad leaves and a mug of green tea. Postie brings some more records, mostly picture discs and a large box which turns out to be a light shade and fitting. ‘Don’t come in, I’m rewiring’ Dawn says. I promise not to as electricity is voodoo to me.

Seema must be the first World Cup presenter to be pregnant, unless Ray Stubbs wasn’t telling us something. NDJ, HRK and Joe Cole are alongside, the latter two dressed like a Halifax Building society employee at an after-work drinks do. During the day, these presentations are done outdoors in what looks like a small drained shallow swimming pool. Seema keeps the smiley good vibes coming. There’s a nice montage of volleys including Cole’s brilliant one versus Sweden back when Joe was young and still had hope. There are insightful interviews with TAA and Rob Page. After the break there’s a lass doing ballet with ribbons in the desert. Of course there is.

Champion and Hartson are at the microphone coalface today. There seem to be long silences, I get bored so jump to 5Live where Conor McNamara and Stephen Warnock appear to be having a riotous party. There’s plenty of laughter and excitement. It’s as though they’re watching a different game. So much more enjoyable. They are wrapped up in the game, in a way TV isn’t. At half-time Mark Chapman’s voice sounds a bit like he’s just woken up after enjoying several cold drinks the previous evening. I know how he feels.

Germany v Japan
Germany made a protest over the armband ban by putting their hand over their mouths for the team photo. That will echo down the ages. German interior minister, Nancy Faeser, also wore an armband while sitting next to Johnny Infant. Yeah, in your face Johnny Too Bad. What did the English FA do? Nothing. What did the government do? Nothing. Typically absent. Don’t want to offend their bigoted base, I suppose.

Pougers, Roy, Karen Carney and Wrighty are our upmarket selection box of pundits for the game. The rumbling about the armband ban is still ongoing. ‘No protest without risk’ says Wrighty, insightfully. Roy says it should’ve made the players more determined to do it, knowing they’d get a yellow card. That seems very Roy, always one to walk towards the fire.

Matterface is back with Coisty for protection. Because the Scotsman is so irrepressible, he totally dominates the broadcast. And he’s brilliant at it. He obviously loves being at, watching and talking about football, regardless of what it’s like. I bet he’s like this if he’s watching Kirkintilloch Rob Roy playing Darvel FC. There is joy in his work and you cannot fake that. He was bouncing at the end of the game, delighting in Germany’s defeat.

Similarly, on the radio, we got the first Ian Dennis throaty, uvula vibrating roar as Japan scored their winner, which I rewind and catch up with after the game. Spine tingling stuff. When he lets go it really rattles the window.

Afterwards, on 5Live, Kelly talks to the excellent Archie Rhind-Tutt to get insight into the German attitude after losing the game and to someone from the Japan Times to comment on the win. That’s what radio does so well, pulling in contributions from quality knowledgeable writers to react to what has gone down. It leaves TV looking very heavy legged.

Spain v Costa Rica
I make a tofu biryani for tea and let it cook while Clive rides the ITV thoroughbred stallion, this time with Lee Dixon. Lee is far better with Clive than with Sam. Far, far better. He seems to have more detailed observations and is more engaged and enthusiastic. Clive, being Clive, gives it the full Clive for Spain’s many goals. The pairing is very successful. Clive has been great with Ally McCoist in the past. If ITV has any sense they will pair them up again at some point across the next month. It would be a very popular move. We eat while watching

Souey, who is dressed in a vivid tartan coach driver jacket and is with Eni Aluko and Gary Nev.

Laura sits back as they chat about things, arms crossed. She’s so relaxed, brings each pundit in smoothly and conducts things with a very light touch. It’s quality work. Souey makes a heartfelt tribute to a fallen teammate David Johnson, he doesn’t shed tears but they’re not far away, though it may just have been the jacket making his eyes water.

On 5live we learn that Pat Nevin is rooming with fellow art fan Rob Green and both of them are Bridget Riley fans. Well who isn’t? Her work all looks like album sleeves for electronic music.

ITV are showing KFC ads with people running home from with a bag of food, worried they’re missing the game to a soundtrack of ‘Breaking The Law’ by Judas Priest. However, to me, it looks more like they’re suffering from digestive distress and need to get home to the toilet asap. That may just be the biryani talking.

Belgium v Canada
For the evening game, Dawn takes a large vodka and oat milk to the bath. I give the BBC coverage of this one a chance but quickly leave the Steve Wilson and JJ coverage, feeling it’s got a bit of trench foot and is overly negative, so I open a bag of peanuts, pour myself a gin and ginger cordial and flip to World Cup Extra to watch with the John Murray and Dion radio comms. It’s not a sharp picture and is like watching without your glasses on, but in terms of quality, it’s like comparing sour milk to rum. On the radio Dion seems to be able to contribute more and his geniality shines through compared to his TV work. He’s the one most likely to say “that’s naughty” with more relish than typical in polite society.

Before the game there was an amusing slip when Kelly says Canada are ‘married by John Herdman’, correcting herself immediately ‘managed, not married…not a mistake I wanna make here’. Politics is on every corner in this tournament.

On the TV, Gary presents and is wearing a sort of blue denim shirt that must fit someone. Alex, Rio and Vinny join him. Alex has played against Herdman’s  Canada women team and knows how he likes to set up. Vinny exudes the sort of unpretentious cool that if you could bottle and sell would cost a lot of money and would doubtless smell of old leather, all-spice and honey with a hint of cumin. I pour another drink and put on 5Live’S World Cup Daily to round things off on a good vibe.

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