Magazine article The Spectator

Trophy Tales

Magazine article The Spectator

Trophy Tales

Article excerpt

The World Cup, and once again people who don't watch football from one quadrennium to the next manifest an interest in all those surreal pairings: Ecuador v. Poland, Iran v. Mexico, Togo v.

Switzerland. I (and many others) have been disobliging about John Motson in the past, but he is perfect for these events, assuming no prior knowledge in his listeners, making you half-imagine that every match is the first he has ever attended.

'Nice move!'; 'Oh, Lampard there';

'England finding themselves on the back foot now . . .'

Real football aficionados hate all this wide-eyed simplicity; they get cross, just as trainspotters would at Crewe if crowds of housewives elbowed them off the platform.

The true fan, the man who can see past the vanity of mere results, is Alan Hansen, a commentator who makes Eeyore sound like Mr Cheeryble. When England beat Paraguay he told viewers: 'It was bitty. It was disjointed. Today we got it completely wrong again.' If England were to lift the trophy next month after defeating Brazil 5-0 in the final, Hansen would be heard muttering: 'Dreadful weaknesses at the back there . . .'

The Jules Rimet trophy was the centrepiece, the MacGuffin, of Viva Blackpool (BBC1, Saturday). This follow-up to the wonderful Blackpool of a year ago was as light as dandelion seed, but amid the froth and the frou-frou was an observation that gave the play shape: the way we live our lives through necessary self-delusion. As T. S. Eliot pointed out, we can't bear very much reality. Just as the stolen trophy is a fake (doubly so, because we know the 'real' one is a fake anyway) so Blackpool is a fake Las Vegas, Ripley Holden is a fake vicar, the 'theme weddings' he conducts in his Chapel of Love don't even have the right costumes, his girlfriend, 'Kitty DeLuxe', is a fake American with a fake name, and the movie-star trailer he calls home sits on a Blackpool parking lot where it is lashed by the rain from the Irish Sea.

To Ripley, played superbly by David Morrissey, a gullible innocent pretending to be a hard man, the truth is what it needs to be. Someone asks him 'Is your mother still alive, then?' and you can see his brain whirring as he tries to decide which answer would be most advantageous. 'No - she never really recovered from Elvis's death, to be honest, ' he finally replies, the 'to be honest' tag signalling a lie as surely as a flashing neon sign saying 'LIE!' But he doesn't mind lying to himself - hopelessly in love with the appalling Kitty, he takes her back even after she has double-crossed him, because a larcenous, cheating bottleblonde is better than any alternative. …

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