The English Pedant – Choosing your words carefully

Please excuse me – I’ve just had a month of trying to enjoy a football tournament in which my team, England, performed poorly and got knocked out halfway through, so I have been seeking other sources of entertainment within the matches.

Sniggering at the haircuts, for instance. Admiring  the skill and knowledge of some of the commentators. And, as anyone interested in words will understand, picking up on attempts to speak English by people thrust into a position where their knowledge of the game is more important than their command of the language.

You know those situations where you find yourself talking to someone who’s on another intellectual planet, and fancy words keep leaping from your mouth in a subconscious attempt to make yourself sound intelligent? Imagine that happening to you as part of your second career.

When the former Manchester United and England player Phil Neville attempted to follow his brother Gary into broadcasting, he was given the task of co-commentating, which means assisting a professional broadcaster, who does the nuts and bolts, keeps it moving and so on. Commentators can be erudite people: erstwhile masters of the microphone, Brian Moore and Barry Davies, of ITV and the BBC respectively, were products of the same highly-regarded public school, while Martin Tyler, the current distinguished veteran on Sky Sports, also gives the impression that, while he knows a thing or two about football, that is not the extent of his knowledge or interests. With someone of that ilk at the controls, Phil Neville was expected simply to drop insiderly pearls of wisdom into the proceedings at regular intervals.

He was terrible, and he knew it. He sounded nervous, his comments sounded forced and it was an uncomfortable experience all round. If you’d been sitting with him at home or in the pub he would doubtless have had interesting things to say, and because it was Phil Neville, you would have given a certain weight to them automatically. But there he was on television, his every utterance relayed to millions of people he couldn’t see, and it got to him. He just couldn’t relax and be himself.

A goal of rare beauty, Phil.

Aeons ago the former England centre half Jack Charlton  used to do some co-commentating, and he was good at it. He wasn’t, though, a naturally gifted speaker. As a player, Jack was what is often described as “tough and uncompromising”, and you got the sense that he was like that off the pitch too. He wasn’t one for Oscar Wilde-style quips or poetic evocations of the action.

A top player at the time was the Dutchman, Johan Cruyff, whose last name  has an oi sound: croiff. Jack couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t, say that. The man was Cruff to him, and because he was from the north-east of England, it came out rhyming with a dog’s woof. Croof!

But never mind; we respected Jack Charlton and he was perceptive. Then one day he was attempting to describe something, but stumbled and fell momentarily silent. “I can’t think of the word,” he admitted, but carried on and it didn’t matter.

All of this leads us to a simple word that has a place in football commentary and came up several times in Euro 2016: purchase. Not in its primary meaning: to buy. Players are bought and sold all the time, but no one in the game refers to that as purchasing, any more than you and I go to the supermarket to purchase some sausages. It’s the sort of word that only police officers use.

Purchase has a secondary meaning, as a noun. To get purchase on something is to grip , lever or strike it sufficiently strongly. It is sometimes used  by builders or motor mechanics, who, armed with a spanner, are attempting to loosen a nut. It may be in an inaccessible spot, so they can’t get any purchase on it. “Force” would do the linguistic job – it’s that kind of thing. Thus in football, when the ball is in an awkward position for a player to kick it properly, the pundits will tell us “he didn’t get enough purchase on it”, which is fair enough, but when it is applied to a straightforward shot, just pull back your leg and swing it forward with no complications, then purchase has stepped out of its sphere of meaning. “He got plenty of purchase on that” just means he hit it well.

Does that mean purchase is about to enter the mainstream of the English language with an expanded portfolio? Could be. Some people pick words up without realising it and use them to make simple things sound more complicated. Like “in excess of” rather than “more than”.

As Jack Charlton might have said, had he written a manual on working in the media: “Keep it simple, pal. If you try to sound fancy, that’s when you make a… what’s the expression… a pig’s ear of it.”

Ref! On making decisions and being dissed

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads. Did I watch Leicester-West Ham? As it happens, yes, and I suppose you’re going to ask me about the refereeing, aren’t you? Did it make me regret retiring, Dave? Did it hell, mate. You don’t go into refereeing to be the centre of attention. The matches a ref enjoys are the ones everybody else enjoys. Good football, sportsmanship The kind of games where you’re only there to rubber-stamp what is obvious to everybody.

I won’t talk about specifics, Baz, no. It was the guy’s general performance that upset people. But to be fair, I don’t know if there has ever been a match where the neutrals were so partisan, if you get my drift. I mean everyone wanted Leicester to win, even some West Ham fans did. It’s the triumph of the little guy, isn’t it? David versus Goliath. Not West Ham as Goliath, no, but Leicester against the big boys. If they hadn’t been doing so well this season we’d have been rooting for the Hammers, because it’s good to see them up there too.

But everybody wants Leicester to wrap it up as soon as possible. And even though the ref yesterday was neutral in that he doesn’t come from Leicester or support them, he’ll have a soft spot for them on the quiet.

He did make some strange decisions as regards penalties and you’re right, it did look like he felt he owed them one at the end when they were about to lose because of his dubious decisions earlier on. But did that affect his thinking? We will never know. You have a split second to call it, that’s all. It’s not like in cricket where some umpires give it a few seconds before deciding out or not out. If a football ref did that he’d be accused of weighing it up in more ways than one. I football it’s bang, this is my decision and it’s final.

Cheers, Gary, I don’t know what I want to drink, to be honest. Give me a moment. No, just joking, I’ll have a pint of good old honest-to-God lager, mate. Carlsberg.

Of course, when you think about it, there is something to be said for giving the injured party a break if you know you screwed up earlier and it’s going to cost them, but you can’t do it. You have to make every decision on its own merits. Penalty or no penalty, simple as that.

People were asking for it in that game, though. Huth and Morgan grabbing people in the box, impeding them. It’s the thing that brasses me off most in the whole game, as it happens. That and diving, and there was a bit of that going on too. I tell you what, there’s an ugly picture in the media of Jamie Vardy pointing his finger at the ref when he’s just been sent off and it’s the kind of thing that makes you think if you could send him off twice you’d do it. Never mind reporting it afterwards and letting the authorities deal with it. A ref’s only human, and nobody likes to be dissed in that way. Dissed, Dave. Disrespected. It’s an expression Jody uses, yes. She gets it from the kids she teaches at school.

Dissed. I like it. It makes you sound less like a victim and more like a righteous dude. Don’t diss me, man. But a ref doesn’t have that luxury. He’s just got to take it and know he’s in the right. Dissed off though he might be.

 

 

Ref! On England, Germany and the new dawn

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads. Yes, of course, only one subject for us tonight: the glory that is England. As you say, Baz, it’s always good to beat the bloody Germans, and I’m sure we mean that in a non-xenophobic way. It’s not because they’re German, it’s because their team is called Germany and they have this irritating habit of doing well at football. But now and again we get ‘em, don’t we?

Yes, it did all look very predictable in the first half and the start of the second until we got going, but look at their side and look at ours. They had established stars like Ozil and Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller. Your wife is quite right, Dave. Müller does have a face you want to slap and it is to an extent beside the point but at the same time he got it metaphorically slapped in the end.

So Hodgson picks a team that’s about right in my opinion, full of emerging talents. Funny how that makes last year’s emerging talents look like underachievers, though, isn’t it? Ross Barkley has now been upgraded to experienced international but he’s in danger of missing the boat. Dele Alli’s looking more like it. Yes, Dave, Adam Lallana is becoming the new James Milner because he’s Hodgson’s representative now, his trusted lieutenant. The old man likes him and knows he’ll give 100%, even if it’s not often going to light up the stadium.

We’ve spoken before about the Rooney conundrum, and it does seem unfair that we’re all slamming the door behind us and leaning on it so he can’t get back in when he’s fit again, but Hodgson will have him in the squad in the summer and unless the youngsters really perform, he’ll be getting picked for crucial games, won’t he?

Cheers, Gary, why don’t we all chip in for a bottle of that Spanish sparkling wine by way of celebration? Bobby’ll give you a discount I’m sure. It’s not really champagne, so we’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves, but we can toast the future.

In a way it’s a complication as much as a blessing that both Kane and Vardy are credible candidates for the central striker role, but for me, Kane’s in the driving seat and if Vardy can be happy coming off the bench to win games, so much the better. Trouble is, managers who can’t make up their minds have a habit of playing the second choice guy out of position just so he’s there on the off chance, so on Saturday you had Danny Welbeck hanging around looking for scraps. He’s another of Hodgson’s prefects, always smartly turned out and never lets the head teacher down.

Yes, at the back it was a bit dodgy and the sooner John Stones gets back to being the messiah the better, cos poor old Gary Cahill is going to be a nearly kind of guy. He just hasn’t got the presence, the authority, that a man with his experience needs. Very nice guy apparently, but strikers across Europe are not waking up in the middle of the night screaming “Nein! Nein! Bloody Gary Cahill!” or however you swear in German.

Butland, yes, learned a lesson the hard way. What would you have done in his position, Dave? Come off sobbing at the first tweak or tried to run it off like he did? It’s a man’s game, even the women’s version.

 

 

Ref! The referee’s fear of the penalty

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

No, that’s okay, Dave, just because I’ve retired doesn’t mean I can’t answer refereeing questions. What do you want to know?

The Benteke penalty at the end of the Palace-Liverpool game. Well I’m glad you asked me that, as it happens, because there are two points to talk about there. Three, really.

Did I think it was a penalty? Irrelevant, mate. The guy in charge thought it was, gave it and that’s that. I know it’s the only way Christian Benteke is going to get a goal at the moment because he’s having a tough time, but I don’t think that will have entered his thoughts at that moment. Not enough time, for one thing.

And no amount of TV replays would have cleared that one up, because the guy did touch him, and you’ve got questions like who was off-balance and all that. You just don’t know, Baz. Just like I don’t know what goes on in that big, bearded mind of yours when I see you clattering some poor sod on a Sunday morning.

Whether a striker has a predisposition, if you like, to going down in the box, we will never know. I don’t think even they know, and of course they’re all different. There are those who say you should stay on your feet if you possibly can, but they’re only human and if they’ve been kicked and held and jostled for 90 minutes there might be some little spark in their brain when the defender comes in again that says, “Right, I’ve had enough of this, you touched me and I’m going down.”

And talking of 90 minutes, that one did happen late on and Alan Pardew [Crystal Palace manager] said he doubted whether Palace would have got a penalty if it had been the other way round. Now that is offensive towards officials. You try your best to be impartial, of course you do. Plus, Palace were at home, after all, so there wasn’t even that much pressure from the crowd. Yes, it can be intimidating when you know 50,000 supporters are looking at you with malice in their hearts, but that wasn’t the case, was it? It was at Selhurst Park, so what pressure there was was from Palace fans wanting him to not give a penalty.

Cheers, Gary. I’ll have a brown and mild, mate. Yeah, bit of a throwback. My Dad used to drink it, and he was a Palace fan.

It was a young defender, was it? Yes, I know, now you mention it. But I don’t think age is a factor. Any defender would have had a go in that situation because if you don’t, you’re not doing your job. Right, Baz? Right, have a go and hope for the best. You don’t chop him down like a lumberjack, you go for the ball and if you get a touch of leg or boot or something, it’s like a surgeon accidentally nicking the gall bladder when he’s got his scalpel in that area while he’s doing something else.

Not that centre backs are like surgeons, I agree, Dave. More like butchers – no offence, Baz – with the exception of the skilled ones, your Des Walkers and Colin Todds and maybe John Stoneses. Marcel Desailly, yes. You, Baz, you’re in the classic mould. You’re Jack Charlton, Big Dave Watson, Tony Adams, or Robert Huth in the modern game. You’re a colossus, a giant, lumbering colossus – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Cheers, Gary, thank God you’re back. Give him his Guinness, for gawd’s sake.

 

 

 

 

Ref! On centre backs and non-league

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Yes, so, lads, a couple of months ago we spoke about Jamie Vardy and why Roy Hodgson was picking him for England, and of course it’s turned out very different from how we expected. Okay, Dave, how I expected. I know I tend to be the spokesman around here, but that’s because I’m involved in the game in a professional capacity.

No, I didn’t have much of a playing career after junior school because everybody else shot up and suddenly I was the shortarse, and kids can be cruel.

Baz, on the other hand, bestrode the schools league like a colossus, didn’t you, mate? The Jack Charlton of his generation, unmoved by the subtlety entering centre half play when they started being called centre backs instead. Your role model was Big Dave Watson, was it? Yes, I suppose Jack had been eclipsed by then.

Anyway, you were one of the breed known as “Big” somebody, and there can be no higher accolade for a central defender. And now you’re a respected veteran in the Sunday league, pulverizing the pointy-haired prats who think they’re good on a Saturday night.

So when was the last time you came across a Vardy type who could easily step up into the Football League and maybe even the Premier League?

Yes, I know they all think it now and it gives them delusions of grandeur, so how do you deal with it?

You know I was a big Brian Clough fan and he is quoted in Peter Taylor’s book as saying his only instruction to his team was to put the opposing centre forward in the Trent early on. This was in Nottingham, mate, and the Trent is the river that runs through it. In other words, let him know you’re there. Shake him out of his reverie where he’s a goal machine and remind him that he’d better watch his step.

Yes, you’re right, it does go against the grain for me as a referee to say that, and I have my own standards that they’d better not cross, but it’s a man’s game. I’d rather see someone flattening Wayne Rooney than… yes, than almost anything. But I was going to say all the holding and pulling and impeding that goes on at corners.

Cheers Gary, Pernod and lemonade if they’ve got it. I know it’s a bit 70s, but we’re getting nostalgic here and it’s just what I fancy.

Do I think Vardy is ‘the real deal’, as you so Americanly put it, Dave?

We’ll see next season, mate. Look at how mighty Diego Costa was in his first few months, but this season he’s just the elbowing pillock he always was underneath. If Vardy can keep it up next time – even after Christmas – then you’ve just got to ask where he’s been hiding it all this time, haven’t you? Or was it really Hodgson’s vote of confidence that did it?

Gawd. Roy Hodgson with a magic wand, eh? Maybe Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy are real after all.