Daring to dream: It's coming home
Raymond Snoddy settles in for a big night of football by assessing the media responses to England reaching another semi-final of a major tournament
The big winners at Wembley in the England vs Denmark Euro 2020 semi-final will be - ITV.
God knows how high the short-term ad rates will have risen as, after years of deliberate deflation of expectations, national hopes are sky- high again.
Any consumer brand worth the name will want to be aboard such an occasion.
In fact for advertising and marketing folk, England vs Denmark is effectively the final. From then on in, it will be downhill whatever the outcome.
When ITV and the BBC simultaneously broadcast a major final as will happen on Sunday, for poorly understood historic reasons, the result is always the same, a big win for the BBC.
Not only will the Wembley semi-final help to replenish ITV’s depleted coffers, but even more important, it will once again demonstrate the power of live broadcast television in the face of its tormenters.
What other commercial media outlet could bring together perhaps as many as half the adult population of this country for shared, and possibly even unforgettable moments?
England’s emphatic victory over Ukraine was watched - on BBC One - by a peak 20.9 million audience, a total that rose to 26 million when figures from the iPlayer and BBC Sport website are added.
It is very likely that total viewing for the semi-final could reach 30 million – 25 million on the night plus the ad-ons. A 2021 viewing record will stand until at least Sunday depending on which teams are contesting the final.
Forecasting the outcome of football games, or indeed almost any sporting event, is however a tricky business.
Just after the start of the second half of the Ukraine game the pundits of BBC Radio 5 Live were waxing eloquent about how the Ukraine were increasingly getting into the game and how England had better watch out. Three minutes later England were 3-0 up and coasting.
But perhaps the greatest threat this talented England team faces now is not from Denmark but from ITV - or more precisely 'The Curse of ITV'.
It is an indisputable fact that when ITV is the exclusive broadcaster at major football tournaments, the England win rate is 19% while the BBC checks in with an extraordinary 73% result.
It has led some passionate football fans to argue that ITV should be stripped immediately of the right to broadcast England vs Denmark.
A rational scientist might claim that there can be no possible logical connection between who points the cameras and 22 men running around in a semi- organised way. Yes but you never know and how do you even begin to explain such a statistical disparity?
For a time it looked as if sports fans and the media were heading for a remarkable double, thanks to the exploits of Harry Kane and 18 year-year-old Emma Raducanu.
The pictures of the hero and the heroine side by side made for a dramatic Mail on Sunday front page complete with a Sajid Javid exclusive promising that “Opening Up Will Make Us Healthier.”
That was until the heroine with the £3 million sponsorship smile crashed to earth, at least for now, because of breathing problems, and albeit after fighting her way to the last 16 of the woman’s singles by beating Sorana Cirstea.
So now the football is all we've got.
Coverage has moved on from olden times. There has been very little of the Piers Morgan Achtung Surrender nonsense from the days when he was editor of the Daily Mirror.
Morgan has admitted that then he was within 20 minutes of ordering up a Spitfire to drop copies of the Mirror front page on the German training camp or even hiring a tank to move against the editorial offices of Das Bild zeitung.
The modern version involves politicians wrapping themselves in the flag of St George as it heads towards Wembley - ironic given that in the case of Prime Minister Johnson, he has had no known previous interest or involvement with football whatsoever.
The best The Sun can manage this time is a lightly cured front page using Danish bacon and a white slice to make out the flag of St George with the legend 'Bring Home the Bacon, Lads'.
Page 14 of the paper is more interesting. The Danish tabloid B.T. had taken out a full page ad featuring marauding Vikings with the storyline – It’s Not Coming Home …We’re Coming Home, a reference to their Euro final win in 1992.
Some Danes clearly have a greater historical perspective comparing the “disaster” that most Danes can’t come to Wembley because of Covid to the shelling of Copenhagen by the British fleet in 1807.
Meanwhile there is no shortage of those wanting to hitch their wagon to winners and add their own ideological baggage.
And so it is that newspapers, which have been longing for “Freedom Day,” even as the Covid infection rate soars toward 100,000 in the next few weeks, are linking the success of the England team with the ending of burdensome personal restrictions.
As former Minister of Fun David Mellor said of the wins against Germany and Ukraine in the Daily Mail: “It seemed to me that we hadn’t just won a football match, we were throwing off the shackles of more than a year of oppression, restrictions and fear. We hadn’t just beaten the Germans and the Ukrainians - we have beaten Covid.”
The Sun made the link even more explicitly with its Tuesday front page. It brought together Johnson, the flag, Harry Kane and Rajeem Sterling under the headline: Free Lions.
In an elegant construction the white sections of the flag were filled with messaging: Masks & distancing laws axed, Order to WFH (working from home) will be ditched, Drink at bar and full stadiums AND So now let’s Kane the Danes.
Despite all the noise, the next few days will be crucial to the public mood in difficult times.
Those who watched on a small black and white television England beat Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final will never forget the experience, in this case followed up by a long session in the Queen’s Head pub in Uxbridge.
So don’t even think of trying to get in touch on Sunday – an extraordinary day of televised sport when Djokovic will beat Federer again and England will beat Italy. Of course they will!