Monday, March 12, 2007

“So, Freddie…” - Zephirine

Did it start in tennis ? Or was it golf? Which TV sport coverage is responsible for making the instant post-match analysis an obligation for players?

Wimbledon must surely be the worst. A moment after the poor creatures have finished a gruelling contest against the world’s best, are they allowed off the court to have a pee/throw up/jump up and down/ bang their head against the wall? No, they have to stand there while Sue Barker shoves a mike under their nose and asks them how they feel.

It’s almost impossible for sportspeople to say anything in these situations which is of any value. For one thing, they’re knackered. But also, their sports psychologists teach them that they should (a) give themselves praise for playing well, and (b) walk away from a bad performance, (though later they will, of course, ‘learn from it’) - and putting this into words makes them sound (a) arrogant or (b) deluded.

Currently by far the best at post-match spin is Roger Federer, who has found fifty ways to indicate that he played outstandingly well without sounding conceited - something Tiger Woods has never quite managed. Recently, Roger has taken to saying that he’s really rather surprised himself by how good he is. This is an outright lie, of course, but he carries it off with that subtle effrontery he uses so well on court.

Cringe-making though they often are, post-match statements can be highly entertaining for the viewer who picks up on what scriptwriters call the subtext. So when Andrew Flintoff is wittering on about taking something positive from an Ashes defeat, we know that what he’s actually saying is: “We were crap, we know we were crap, and we’re totally pissed off about it, and right now I really, really want to stab Ricky Ponting. But failing that, I wouldn’t mind giving you a smack in the mouth, you annoying little interviewer person.” Similarly, it’s a pleasure to watch Arsene Wenger’s mask of headmasterly composure when you know that underneath lies a seething hunger for world domination.

The pre-match mission statement is even more of a minefield. Big yourself up too much and you’re tempting fate, praise the opponent too highly and you sound scared. Whatever you say will come back to haunt you. Again, Federer is clever at this, but most players opt for the safe and banal.

Nothing was safe or banal about the all-time master of the microphone, Mohammed Ali, who could unnerve an interviewer like no man before or since, and who quite possibly invented rap with his outrageous rhyming pre-fight prophecies. My own favourite, a couplet which for brevity and verve would make Alexander Pope spit with envy, is:

“This will shock and amaze ya -
But I am gonna beat Joe Frazier.”

(Say it out loud to yourself….) But no one else can do it. Imagine Andrew Murray shouting “I am the greatest!” One would just want him to be quietly led away.


bluedaddy said...

This is a really fine piece. I will try to come back to it to say more.

One thing. It's Muhammad Ali.

mimi said...

I've often had these thoughts and am sure you're spot on with what Flintoff was thinking about Punter during most of the Ashes tour. Really nice piece Zeph, especially the bit about Wenger.

andrewm said...

Very interesting Zeph. I don't have much time to comment but I like your point about the contrast between Federer and Woods, and I also wonder who popularised the phrase "mind games" in sport. I'm sure it wasn't talked about so much until Ferguson and Wenger started their foolishness.

Zeph said...

You're quite right, Bluedaddy, I didn't check the spelling. Apologies to the Man.

Zeph said...

Mimi, I love Wenger, but if he ever gave up football (impossible, I know) he could have a great second career as a Bond villain. "No, Sir Alex, I expect you to die..."

MotM said...

Very perceptive and beautifully written. Federer / Woods is very good, but a little harsh as I find Tiger gracious and honest - he's just not RF (but who is?)

I was waiting for the boxing to come up as it is entirely unfair to shove a microphone under their (oft broken) noses amidst the chaos of the decision / KO, but I like it. It strips the boxer down to his elemental being.

I found Eubank utterly compelling. Yes there was the confessions of love for Karen and his kids - but there was also lain before us a man who had left nothing behind in his attempt to win: and I admire him and others for it. I'll have to youtube this and see if I'm embarassing myself, but I suspect not.

I think it was in F1 where I first saw these awful instant interviews with three podium places logoed up and being questioned about tyre choice - dull, dull, dull. MotoGP does the same thing, but I could listen to Valentino reading the telephone directory, so I like those.

guy anthome said...

Zeph,thanks for your article, very clever.
Agassi also was intimidating on the court but almost never lost his composure in front of a microphone .
Always had something interesting to say, after he easily dispatched Reneberg with a 110mph service he went before the press and termed his perf:"blessing in disguise".
ps.I have no idea why my pseudo is gone.

Anonymous said...

Zeph: and can't you just see him with that white fluffy cat on his lap!

mimi said...

Done it again! Damn, the fluffy cat one was me.

bluedaddio said...

Guitou et al
Re identities on here. It depends on how you originally logged in. Look down from the comment box and see choose an identity. Depending on which button is 'lit' will determine how you ID will appear.

Peter Beardsley post match was always a laugh, near impenetrable without his falsees. But modern footie players are dull beyond belief. Coached to be bland you can swap Gerrard, Owen, Shearer, Lampard, Beckham etc and get exactly the same reply. It's why I actually like Jose's post match outbursts, however embarrassing it still beats the likes of Curbs, or Southgate, or Pardew's platitudes.

jonnyboy71 said...

Loved it, loved it, Zephirine

Zeph said...

Win or lose, Mourinho always talks as if he's just had a blazing row with somebody - it certainly adds a spark.
I was going to put that in somewhere but was aiming for the old 500 words...

guitougoal said...

Buedad, thanks I am me again.
About Ali, he brought the art of bragadocio into prefight interviews,with him it was a prefight hype designed to sell tickets. As far as Jose's cockiness or arrogance I don't think he controles it neither the side lines dances .Latin temperament.

mimi said...

Zeph: I've thought of a few things to write involving Jose, but once you get going, 500 words is insufficient in all ways to convey emotions about the Special One. And I don't even like Chelsea!

offside said...

offsideintahiti said...

Roland Garros, years ago-

Jimmy Connors has just spent five sets getting rid of some sticky young clay rat from Argentina, Spain or maybe Sweden.

French mike guy: "Jimmy, you had to run a lot today to achieve victory..."

Connors: "Of course I had to run a lot, this is tennis, why do you ask me that stupid question for?"

And... Exit stage left.

French TV guy stands there in the sunlight raking his brains for a wrap-up to the analysis.


offside said...


the pseud thing works! Amazing! Duh!

50KaWeekSub said...

Contrast the humility displayed by Federer in victory (he wins so often that he has to be) with the arrogance of the losing "Golden Generation" World Cup squad, say for example Lampard. I think it boils down to one thing - intelligence.

Good post - thought provoking stuff and another ideal blog, i.e. not 11-plus journalism coursework.

honolulu said...

This is a great choice of topic and you tied it up neatly in 500 words, that being "said" I was disappointed it was so short. I love the name-calling and psych-outs (kind of immature, I guess), that is why I read the sports pages and not just watch the sport.

I'm with you mimi, Jose is so rude, but he makes such great copy. I wondered at first if he was misunderstood in translation, but now I'm convinced he sculpts his image and loves being reviled.
Was he this much trouble in Portugal, too? I admire the way he cheeks his boss, too.

mimi said...

hono: I don't know if Jose is rude. I sometimes think that he uses the fact that no-one understands Portuguese simply to wind up the commentators and is quite likely shouting beautiful poetry! I wanted to do a 500 word piece for BB on why Jose's presence has reignited my passion for the Premiership, but a) time is too short and b) can't do it in 500 words.
The thought that he might well leave this summer is devasting. And I'm not, and never have been, a Chelsea fan. I just love that man!

marcela said...

some gems in here!

guitougoal said...

Zephirine, There is a double irony about your timing on Federer:
Yesterday his 41 matches winning streak ended as he lost agains Guillermo Canas in Indian Wells (almost my back yard).The record belong to another Guillermo.......Villas, familiar to our argentinian fellows bloggers.

mimi said...

guitou: oh, Villas - he was wonderful to watch. What happened to him. Couldn't believe it myself when I heard on sports news that Federer had lost and at the same time, bizarrely it appears that Henman and Murray have gone through playing doubles. Que pasa?

Zeph said...

RF had a bad foot apparently. But I'm sure his post-match comments were gracious in several languages. Bet he comes round again and breaks the record....

guitougoal said...

Zeph, he may the only guy who can beat himis still 5 years old....when Fef fired 100 aces during a tournement playing against him it's like arguing with King Kong.
mimi,you should direct your question to marcela or pipita he is their compadre.

mimi said...

I don't think Marcela is following this one. I expect her to be writing a book, directing a film, running a country. She is far too talented to hang out muchly in cyberspace. I, on the other hand, have only a very small empire to run so have plenty of time to post here and elsewhere!
Question Zeph: is it you running a team on Doc Shoot's fantasy league?
If so, would you like to trade tips for subs come the next round?

honolulu said...

mimi, you are a far better person than I am.
I think Jose is a beast and i cannot wait until we start giving him and his army of science experiments the whupping they so richly deserve.

Except Drogba, who I'm beginning to like.

mimi said...

I am not a good person at all (though of course I am nice to old people and give money to chariddee) but my feelings about Jose are very odd. I have been drawn back into following the Big Four mainly because of his mysterious utterings. Obviously I always follow My Team, but took little interest in any one else before The Special One appeared. He has something - I don't know what - but it's compelling.

greengrass said...

Zepherine -
a grand, irreverent piece!
Suggesting that the Louisville Lip invented rap might earn you a rap on the knuckles, but what the hell - stick your chin out and take a chance!
I wish all top sportsmen/women would follow Jimmy Connors' example: that would be real entertainment!

Zeph said...

Mimi, it is me on Doc Shoot, happy to swop tips re trades, but I warn you I'm no expert!

Mourinho: is it just me, or is his accent as much Russian as Portuguese now? I reckon he got inducted as an honorary Russian mafioso.

marcela said...

mimi said
I don't think Marcela is following this one. I expect her to be writing a book, directing a film, running a country. She is far too talented to hang out muchly in cyberspace

now, now. surely only the most talented amongst us appreciate the infinite possibilities of cyberspace. i am active in the pursuit of a blog/film and i am certain we will find it among our number. running a country? no thanks. but community building on the other hand - always, mimi, always.

i did post a clip earlier which was bang on topic. seems to have gone unnoticed. loved zeph's piece.

vilas? mmm. guitou tried to pass the buck there but he is in as good a position as any argentinian to fill you in. i stopped following media coverage of his moves sometime between jimmy connors thrashing him out of the tennis courts and caroline of monaco giving him the boot.

i think that was several decades back into last millenium.

he's around though, doing something or the other.

Zeph said...

Marcela, I meant to watch your clip later - have just done so, it's completely fab. Gordon Strachan, what a prince.

mimi said...

Marcela: keep us posted with details of your blog/film project. You know we'll all support however we can.
Zeph: my official advisor's advice for original picks has not proved fruitful on today's showing, so let's trade tips. I'm at and so far putting my email on ebren's site has not brought any problems, so happy for you to have it here.
Gordon Strachan is indeed a prince amongst men, though somewhat under seige right now, I'd venture to suggest.

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