Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lawro you cheat!

SO, what did we learn from England's 3 - 0 stroll through a hardly-there Israel XI? That you should never play Scrabble with Mark Lawrenson, that's what.

The former Liverpool and Republic of Ireland centre-half couldn't help himself: "Good name for Scrabble," he joked of hapless Israeli left-back Ziv, who had been jinked and steamrollered by Sean Wright-Phillips and Micah Richards (who at times played like a rugby union wing) all afternoon.

So, be warned. If he's prepared to ditch the no proper nouns rule for those 15 points, whose to say he'd limit himself to just seven tiles? Expect Lawro to hammer you into the ground with his comprehensive knowledge of Basque footballers: Bixente Lizarazu and Joseba Etxeberria are big points in the world's top word game.

Lawro and John 'Motty' Motson are the established first-choice for the BBC's Sky-eviscerated live football coverage and make a pretty decent commentator/expert teaming - although Lawro's no Big "Oh, dear, I'm a racist" Ron.

Motty loves his facts and figures and has the added bonus that he lives in a world that almost perpetually surprises him, always guaranteeing lively broadcasts.

With the death of football's favourite opera star still fresh in the mind John was able to produce the stats for anthem belter Martin Toal - sung four, won four - now that's research.

Board game rule-bender Lawro would need more than cheating to best his partner at Trivial Pursuit: "Nobody sleeps," Motson snaps back like a Cole to Cole one two when asked the meaning of Nessun Dorma by his fellow gantry hanger.

Sadly, choosing an elfin and positively frail female singer for the Israeli anthem failed to stop the ritual booing.

Terry Venables once pleaded with fans not to do this; not on the basis of fair-play, hospitality, politeness or any of those other apparently British virtues, but because it fires up the opposition with righteous anger.

Nothing seems to work though - perhaps a small terminally-ill child in a wheelchair with a three-legged puppy could be asked to chirp out the visitor's anthem. Not even using the same tune as stealthy San Marino do.

There was little chance for Lawro and Motty to display their sparkling wit in a relatively controversy free game - the size of the Israeli physio providing the best chance of a laugh, and even that was hamstrung when the cameras picked out a decidedly svelte colleague of the man in question by mistake.

I really think the BBC should consider not using Ian Wright any more, at least while Sean Wright Phillips is playing.

What's not to like about Wrighty? Nothing really, he's enthusiastic, has the requisite top-level experience and occasionally says something incisive through his chatter; including a breathless summation of his joy: "...and you're punditing and your son's just scored!"

But the fact that his son is playing makes the half-time analysis one long joke about Sean's goal and dad's celebrations - I know this isn't politics, Wright shouldn't have to declare an interest or the like, but it's just getting dull.

It was left to Alan Shearer to malaprop up at the far post to call Heskey a "power of strength", but at least that was more interesting than his usual straight batted cliches. Let yourself go Al, please.

Points for effort to Gary Linacre though for his, "more profligate than prolific" assessment of Heskey's England career to date - one from the writers I reckon.

We at least seem to be over the Hansen of the Opera phase.

Do you really believe Alan burned his face sniffing a scented candle? Fair play if you do, I like to imagine something altogether more rock and roll going on - possibly a Scrabble fight with Lawro.

Four minutes into the second half and John and Mark are still discussing what can now be called Emptyseatgate.

Motty's been to the very top, he reports, getting from FA supremo Brian Barwick an assurance that everything is being tried to lever these ingrates from their bloated prawn sandwich trough to pitch-side.

"They've been turning the tellies off, ringing bells and giving five minute warnings," John mourns before concluding sadly: "They've not solved this."

At what point poison gas, psychological warfare-style loud music or the start of a Trevor Brooking lecture on academies will be employed is unclear, but I think Motty would favour a baton charge at the very least.

"And they all missed it, still in the bar!" he crows as the camera shows the empty posh seats which should be packed with fans celebrating Michael Owen's best England goal since 1998. You know what he really wanted to shout was "Justice!"

The FA must be cursing Motson's purist mutterings.

I'm sure they'd love TV to show a packed, happy stadium, but Wembley was (very, very) expensive and these people in their top dollar centre-line seats are paying for it, however marginal their interest in football. Being pilloried is not a good selling point.

With the game enough of a stroll for even Steve McClaren to consider a few days out of the media stocks himself, there's only the booing of David Bentley to consider.

"Bentley's really getting the bird," says Motson with relish, while Lawro is able to follow higher laws in this game at least, "You don't need to forget but you can always forgive," he sagely remarks.

They miss the best joke of the game when England keeper Robinson beats Israeli Golan for height and with only the clock to run down Motty's reduced to a zesty cry of "Spunghen!" quite out of proportion to the danger posed by the visiting full back's daring raid five yards inside the England half to lift things.

We all now love England again, until next time.