To the untrained eye, Tuesday's farce at Warsaw's National Stadium was, among other things, a colossal waste of television. As the rain teemed down on a surface that bore more resemblance to the Florida Everglades than it did a football pitch, viewers tuning in to watch England's World Cup qualifier with Poland were left rather disappointed. Despite repeated assurances from important (and angry) looking people in sodden Marks and Spencer suits that play could well commence in 30 minutes or 45 minutes or after a nice cup of tea, the match was eventually called off.
If you turned off the minute the game was first delayed, however, you missed out on a clash far more interesting than any England game could ever be. For on ITV, we were treated to a special, extended episode of one of football's most bitter battles: that between Adrian Chiles and Roy Keane's Withering Stare™.
As anyone who has watched a football match on ITV during the last year will know, Roy Keane harbours a deep and holistic contempt for all existence outside of his own body. Watching him on punditry duty, being prompted by the human Toby Jug that is Chiles, feels like dirty voyeurism into the life of a man for whom a mere smile would represent an admission of defeat to the forces of evil.
Recently, however, even Keane has taken a back seat to the real attraction: Roy Keane's Withering Stare™ (RKWS). Physically part of Keane's face, but ontologically disembodied and unbridled, RKWS has a life of its own. It jags out from his cliff face of a... er... face, attacking passers by and knocking over crockery. On Tuesday, it hogged the screen for over an hour, hissing into life every time Chiles flopped out his dog-eared horseplay for the disturbingly equine Gareth Southgate to lap up.
RKWS makes for essential viewing because it says (albeit abstrusely) what we want to say to Chiles. We want to admonish him for egging on Gabriel Clarke when he directs his patriotic rage at a poor bilingual spokesperson for the Polish FA. We want to break something when he continually fails to find the humour in a referee kicking a ball about on a wet pitch (hint: there is no humour). Roy Keane's Withering Stare™, with its left-right combination of subtle glances and death ray power, represents the voice of reason amid this lowest common denominator tidal wave.
This, conversely, gives ITV's football coverage a big advantage over that of its terrestrial rival. Viewers of BBC's flagship some-football-highlights-and-loads-of-sitting-around-talking show, Match of the Day, have no such ringer. There's Alan Shearer, soporific to the point of coma, stumbling his way through clunking platitudes whilst demonstrating his deep lack of interest in the game beyond these shores (HATEM BEN ARFA WHO?!). There's Mark Lawrenson, his face melting in reaction to his own radioactive dullness, and there's Alan "I'm simply better than this" Hansen. I can only imagine the glorious spectacle of RKWS being thrown into that gravel pit.
The observant, though, will have noted that Keane actually did have to smother a giggle on one occasion on Tuesday. But the ice caps are not melting. Rather, Keane, like a snake in the grass, was merely lulling Chiles into a false sense of security, priming Captain Midlands before unleashing the fury of RKWS. This was all part of the puppet master's plan. And it made for fabulous television.
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