BBC plays it cool as Gary Lineker gets in touch with his inner Des Lynam | Michael Butler

“Still working from home then? Thanks for joining us for England versus Germany. Cue the montage.”

Gary Lineker is no Des Lynam, but he’s still the best football anchor the British public have got. There is no cocked eyebrow or bristling moustache but Lineker’s introduction at Wembley on Tuesday was a nice nod to our peculiar working situations during the pandemic and Lynam’s famous opening quip before England’s mid‑afternoon kick-off at the 1998 World Cup: “Shouldn’t you be at work?”

Of course, many of you should have been at work for the BBC’s build-up, but probably weren’t. Some of you were stuck in traffic jams, or poorly timed Zoom calls, trying frantically to get ready for the kick-off at 5pm BST.

Others sat triumphantly in the front room or local pub, socially distanced of course, taking in the opening montage, which was functional rather than tear-jerking. Images of 1966, 1996 and 2010 flashed across the screen to the soundtrack of Lubomyr Melnyk’s Pockets of Light, a classical piece that moved over the footage of a crying Bobby Charlton, a proud Andreas Möller and a bereft Frank Lampard like a gentle wave.

“That was like a therapy session for us,” Lineker said to Alan Shearer and Rio Ferdinand as the cameras returned to the BBC’s plinth in the Wembley stands. Rather than hyperbole, more excitement, maybe that’s what we needed; a quiet moment to take the edge off.

Officially the BBC’s on-day coverage started at 4pm, but in reality it started from the moment the nation woke. BBC Breakfast viewers were treated to the official England Band on some forlorn artificial pitch at 7am, belting out a lonely rendition of The Great Escape theme tune. “Play us out, get us excited!” a delusional reporter instructed. There is nothing quite like a group of middle-aged men playing a second world war-tainted song on the trumpet to get you pumped for a game of football in 2021.

Emma Hayes has been the breakout star of Euro 2020 as a pundit and co-commentator on ITV.
Emma Hayes has been the breakout star of Euro 2020 as a pundit and co-commentator on ITV. Photograph: Lukas Schulze/Uefa/Getty Images

That said, the BBC has generally got the tone right in this tournament, even if it is probably behind ITV in the battle of the broadcasters. The remarkable Euro action of Monday, with 14 goals from two breathless games, wasn’t just superior because of the match action. It’s tough to listen to the BBC’s commentary duo of Guy Mowbray and Jermaine Jenas – who has the rare gift of saying a lot without saying anything – describe 75 drab minutes at Wembley when you’ve just spent 120 minutes revelling in the chemistry between ITV’s Clive Tyldesley and Ally McCoist. Listening to those two describe France v Switzerland was like eavesdropping on two mates having the time of their lives. “This is where some of you may be leaving us for Love Island,” Tyldesley quipped. “Please don’t swipe right on Ally McCoist.”

ITV’s Emma Hayes has been the breakout pundit of the tournament, seamlessly swapping a seat in the Chelsea dugout for one in punditry and co-commentary. With her tactical knowledge and insight, of double pivots and xA, she delighted viewers of Croatia v Spain with a deeper picture of what they were watching. Hayes is elite.

In contrast, the BBC’s half-time analysis at Wembley was very much say what you see. There was widespread praise for Saka. Tempered condemnation of Kane. The best Jürgen Klinsmann could offer in terms of an improvement for Germany was “maybe something from set pieces”. To be fair to Klinsmann, he was very humble in defeat at full-time, even if he seemed almost a little too happy for England. Home fans might have swapped his grace for a bit more angst – a moment to revel in Klinsmann’s schadenfreude – but the German deserved credit for his reaction. “This is England’s moment,” he said with a smile.

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The stars of the show at Wembley, though, were the fans. There were 40,000 in the stands, and time and again the BBC cameras found a face – ecstatic or crushed – that encapsulated the moment. Whether this is England’s moment – and whether they return to a home crowd for the semi-final at Wembley – depends on their performance on Saturday. “It’s coming Rome,” Lineker said with a wink to close the show.


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