Saturday evening, on one of Britain’s unusual back channels. TV these days is so prevailing that it often feels like there are more people on it than watching. GBTV, I think this channel is called. Or GBNews? Something like that. It’s about Brexit and sovereignty and making things how they used to be. They’ve delighted in the fallout from the BBC over the Gary Lineker tweet. They’ve taken it upon themselves to do their own football show. Without any video or footage. They think it’ll be easy to sit and talk about football, even though none of them are experts in that field. There is no experience to rely on, no insight, no knowledge. One of them looks as though he might know about football. But he doesn’t. You’d find that out over a pint and a few direct questions about Man Utd, the team he ‘supports’. But let’s not get bogged down on details. Let’s just put him on TV.
It was excruciating to watch. Graphics were PowerPoint basic and often glitchy. It felt like a half-hearted representation of an idea someone had once had in a pub; the production and energy were oddly misplaced. Some presenters seemed superimposed, others seemed whatever the opposite of super is: one felt it best to shout; another thought song was the right choice of medium (trust me, that happened) and all of them seemed obliged to disparage the men they were replacing and were so obviously lesser than. Lineker, Wright et al were described as woke, soft, and pathetic. Nothing like men should be. Real men can speak freely and stand up for their cause; real men take a stand against those trying to shut them up. The irony was as thick as those sitting in the studio.
You’ll guess by now that I’m not keen on talking about the other excruciating TV I endured on Saturday night. That’s why I’m focusing on something equally as bad: equally devoid of expertise, know-how or effort. This ‘whataboutism’ is a technique I’ve learned about recently. Highlighting some other terrible situation so you don’t have to address your own stinking pile of manure. Perhaps I could be accused of slapping ‘a dead cat’ on the table. This is where you highlight a completely fatuous and separate issue to distract others from thinking about the genuine problem at hand. Governments have been accused of using this technique, apparently. It works quite well.
But what of Twickenham? It is too difficult to say. Detectives are still sifting through the ‘sacré bleu’ murder scene. There are reports of dignity being spattered all over the place. This was men against boys, soldiers against civilians, the wheat against the chaff: France were as good as they’ve ever been; England were as bad. Well, actually, perhaps they were as bad as they have been for a while but compared so starkly with such brilliance, maybe they just looked a lot worse. Like when you compare ‘Match of the Day’ with anything a tiny, pitiful right-wing news channel can muster.
France’s ball was quicker, their attitude more professional, and their desire more obvious. They seemed stung by that defeat in Ireland a few weeks ago. Within two minutes, that pain seared through their attack to set Thomas Ramos free; the tone was set. They kicked well, scrummaged well, rucked like expertly built machines, and ran with an intensity of which England could only dream. Ollivon crashed over on halftime to rack up a handsome lead and people were readying gifs: ‘Stop, stop, he’s already dead’, Springfield’s school children chorused. England twitched early in the second half, but Malin’s disallowed score and Steward’s try were nothing more. Like a death rattle: the final desperate breath escaping from the deceased. A representation of what used to be; nothing more.
But like GB News, we know the root cause of this situation. We know why we have found ourselves here: undercooked and underprepared for the perils of test match rugby. The same reason we have inexplicably lost two top-flight rugby clubs this season, with another strongly rumoured to follow. Why we held onto the last head coach of the national team for far too long, didn’t have the strength of mind to replace him when we should have, and had to pay him a princely sum to leave with just months before a World Cup; this is why we don’t have centrally contracted players who look energised and committed when they turn up at HQ. This is why we have players leaving the Premiership to play in other countries; why we prevent promotion to the top tier; why our second tier has been abandoned in all but name. This is why our grassroots game is in desperate need of funding and care, and cannot just rely on the goodwill of everyone who takes part.
We have a chief executive of the RFU who is paid three times as much as any one of the clubs in the Championship. Those second-tier clubs have aeons of history, pages of legacy, and a roster of former players that continue to add to England Rugby. Just to clarify: one man is being paid in excess of three times more per year than one club. A whole club, with a squad of players, coaches, medics and a whole off-the-field operation. That is why we’re here.
We are here because people have served their own agendas. They have poured everything into the top of the game and ignored the bottom. Gorged themselves royally, unaware of where the food is coming from. This has been coming for a while. And only when you have witnessed something so awful, so incompetent, so plainly short of what you know you are due, do you start to realise where the problem lies. I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: you get what you deserve. And whether that’s getting annihilated at home by the French in the Six Nations or watching right-wing idiots bungling Premier League football coverage, we all know where the real problem lies: governance. We need a change. Let’s hope it comes soon.