Sam Matterface was once the commentator on ITV reality show Dancing On Ice, a programme in which celebrities lined up to fall flat on their face. Some habits, it seems, are hard to shake.
Matterface’s toe-curling summation of the final minutes of England’s semi-final victory over Denmark was the broadcasting equivalent of plucking one’s fingernails out with a pair of pliers before scraping them down a blackboard.
Indeed, such was the level of dismay felt by Matterface’s return to the commentary box for the final against Italy that apparently thousands of disgruntled viewers attempted to storm Wembley in the hours before kick-off in order to cut the cable to his live feed.
Mark Pougatch and the rest of the ITV team skilfully tiptoed past the chaos enveloping the gangways and flyovers outside by, well, just ignoring the fact that hundreds of supporters were attempting to breach the stadium walls without tickets.
It was the kind of scenario that reminds us that there is a reason why not everyone fawns over England and their merry band of fans – and it’s not just some irrational antipathy brought on by centuries of colonialism. Instead, we got to hear Ian Wright and Gary Neville signing along to Sweet Caroline.
The angry outpouring on social media following the announcement that Matterface and Lee Dixon would take the final rather than the significantly more popular Clyde Tyldesley and Ally McCoist made it possible to imagine that the pair might simply be chanting into the ether.
“Now on radio, silence is absolutely sinful but on television silence is golden,” said the doyen of English football commentators, Kenneth Wolstenholme, in an interview detailing his iconic role in the 1966 World Cup final.
Wolstenholme wasn’t talking about Matterface, of course. He died in 2002 before he could be subjected to his worst excesses but he just might have been.
Too often modern football commentary feels as if the man (it is invariably a man) with the microphone is attempting to crowbar as many of his pre-prepared lines into the dialogue, and that’s where Matterface cannot help himself.
“For, most of us, this is a first.Let that magic soak your spine,” he intoned, possibly recalling that time he commentated on the unsheathing of the epidural needle during the birth of his first child.
When the mini-car that delivered the match ball on to the centre circle, he pondered: “I wonder who is on the remote control?” Yes, indeed.
Luke Shaw scored after two minutes. Matterface responded with a “Luke Ssssssshhhhhhaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwww!!!! If you come with the nickname Shawberto Carlos, you might as well try to live up to it,” he giddily announced in reference to the Brazilian full-back who scored 11 goals for his country. In contrast, this was Shaw’s first ever goal for England.
Contesting refereeing decisions was to become a recurring theme of the first half. “It’s not the first time,” noted Matterface lacking any sense of objectivity when Lorenzo Insigne fell easily under a challenge having neatly ignored any and every occasion Harry Kane did likewise under the minimum amount of pressure.
“How bad does that injury look to you?” asked a semi-gleeful Matterface when Jorginho, the Italy playmaker, went down in the first half with no one around him. “It’s very hard to say,” admitted Dixon, not unsurprisingly since he was up in a television gantry and doesn’t have X-ray vision.
Endless wittering and a babble of statistics aside, it was an okay first half for Matterface – if you like that sort of thing.
At half-time, Pougatch finally addressed the disgraceful pre-match scenes by pointing out that there were supporters standing in gangways and that others had been shunted out of paid-for seats while low-paid stewards had been abused by fans, who clearly had no business being there.
Mercifully, the second half began without the need for Churchillian speeches. Matterface had clearly been detailed to keep the incessant waffle to a minimum. But he couldn’t help himself at times.
“[England] trying to make memories that will last a lifetime. That is the legacy that is on offer to these players. Such a long way to go,” he added portentously, with half an hour left.
“You do get the sense of impending danger,” was the next offering. Give him this, he’s prescient because 10 seconds later the ball was in the back of England’s net, Leonardo Bonucci bundling the ball over the line and stamping all over the party balloons in the process.
Suddenly, the intonation was funereal, Dixon and Matterface huffing like glum children grounded for not eating their greens.
“You need to keep hold of the ball not send it into touch,” he advised Harry Maguire, after the England centre-half launched an aimless punt upfield, the despair of the football fan never far from his voice. When Chiesa injured himself in a fall, there was again that pleading hope in his voice that the Italy wide man would not be able to continue.
He was saving the worst for last, of course. When it came it was like a machine gun of verbal diarrhea.
“Make it pay, stand up, be counted, be a hero, write your name on every back page in the country whatever it takes, do it now. Wouldn’t be back page, it would be front page, 2, 3, 4, 5,” he chuntered.
In Gianluigi Donnarumma he got his wish.