Spectator sport

Foden and Greenwood’s ingenious Icelandic rendezvous

12 September 2020

9:00 AM

12 September 2020

9:00 AM

You suspect that a bar of duty-free Toblerone, no matter how supersized, wouldn’t really do the trick when hapless England footballing star Phil Foden flew home from Iceland to his long-term girlfriend Rebecca, mother of their 18-month-old son. You can only wish him all the best. Foden, 20, and Mason Greenwood, 18, who are huge pals, despite playing for opposite sides of Manchester, found themselves in something of a scrape involving hotel rooms, beautiful girls and leaks to the press. Same old, same old…

Now I don’t know what you were like at 18, or how detailed your knowledge of the Icelandic dating scene, but hats off to these kids for their sheer ingenuity in managing to get two local lovelies into a hotel room at a time of massive paranoia and hyper-security, in the middle of a pandemic. If they can do all that, it makes threading the ball round the back of a packed five-man defence to land at the feet of Harry Kane look like child’s play. Bodes well for England’s future I think. And let’s not get too pursed-lipped about the whole episode: it matters a lot less than the other major rule-breakers of the last few days. Saracens and England’s Owen Farrell has a record of high tackles as long as the stiff left arm he smashed into the neck of 18-year-old Charlie Atkinson of Wasps. The red card has been too long in coming, and Farrell should lower his sights a bit.

Novak Djokovic, meanwhile, really must recalibrate his sights. When you know there’s a row of sitting ducks — sorry, line judges — lined up behind you, why not whack the ball into the ground or high into the air to let off steam? You’d get a warning, but not chucked out of the tournament, as he was at the US Open this week. Djoko is the highest profile male player to be disqualified from a major since John McEnroe told an official to ‘Just go fuck your mother’ at the Australian Open in 1990.

Amazon has the TV rights to the US Open, which is why I and countless others have given up trying to watch some of the greatest tennis players on the planet. Now Amazon is trying to patch up a deal to screen rugby’s autumn Eight-Nations tournament. Top dollar will always appeal to cash-strapped sports but a subscription service means smaller viewing figures, and a dwindling audience for what is still a minority sport. For the sake of rugby union’s long-term health, please keep it on terrestrial.

Even in these crowd-free times, the start of the Premier League should excite a tingle: we all think we’re going to win it. Though not Spurs. But this will be the season of tickets by lottery, with the ultimate prize two seats in Row Z. Will football ever be the same again? Don’t count on it. Covid has done huge damage to the game and interrupted the habit, passed down by generations, of going to games weekly. The collapse of the $700 million PL deal with China is a sign of which way the wind is blowing.

If at first you don’t succeed: part 94. Ned Boulting is one of ITV4’s lead commentators on the Tour de France. In his book How I Won the Yellow Jumper he described his first commentary in 2003: ‘I had never seen a bike race. I had only vaguely heard of Lance Armstrong. Yet I was broadcasting live on TV. I fumbled my way through a few platitudes before summing up with the words, “Dave Millar just missing out on the Yellow Jumper.” Yes, the Yellow Jumper.’ From this unpromising start Boulting has become one of the smartest commentators on television. The clarity and accuracy with which he describes tight finishes is remarkable. And there’s still more than a week to go. Watch out for him.

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