It’s official, folks, meritocracy is dead.
Even if by some partisan miracle you’ve managed to turn a blind eye to the “cronyism” that has allegedly become a rampant hallmark of this Tory government, even if you’ve completely come to terms with a private space race between an impossibly small minority of middle-aged white billionaires with enough personal wealth to eradicate world hunger in one fell swoop, even if you’ve somehow made peace with the fact that Paddy McGuinness is replacing Sue Barker on A Question of Sport, the truth can no longer be ignored – hard work gets you nowhere, gang.
The cards are stacked against you and you might as well just give up now because it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
The straw set to leave the proverbial camel in need of a chiropractor here may not be a bombshell that will rock Westminster to its very core or turn the human race into Martian immigrants, but in some respects it is just as scandalous – ITV will not be having Clive Tyldesley and Ally McCoist commentating on their coverage of Sunday’s Euro 2020 final. Let me just give you a second to go back and read that again in case it didn’t sink in first time around.
Instead, the broadcaster will be treating us to the dulcet tones (emphasis on the dull) of Sam Matterface and Lee Dixon, a double act with about as much pizzazz and charisma as Trigger from Only Fools and Horses and his broom. In fact, no, let’s not be harsh on the broom here, at least it knew how to reinvent its shtick itself every once in a while.
Wilfully opting to bench Tyldesley and McCoist in favour of this magnolia duo is like having a Karcher in the garage and instead deciding to pressure wash your driveway with a water pistol filled with mouse saliva. You can just imagine the BBC clapping their hands with glee when they heard the news.
See, this is why we can’t have nice things. It’s almost as if there’s this pig-headed misconception that this once in a lifetime occasion, this joyous national celebration that could, for a fleeting moment, unite (some of) our fractured island, isn’t allowed to be fun. God forbid that we were subjected to any remotely amusing observation, any lovingly researched trivial tidbit or, you know, any semblance of genuine, warm, well-humoured conversation over the course of England’s biggest match since 1966.
No, this must be commentary-by-numbers – predictable and tedious with the occasional premeditated quip shoehorned in with all the spontaneity of a six-monthly dental check-up. At least your dentist has an excuse for ramming things down your throat.
But why does it have to be like this? The simple answer is because it was decided long ago that it would be. Some bigwig or other made the call to relegate Tyldesley from England duty in favour of Matterface and that was that, set in stone, no backsies. As such, no amount of sublimity on the gantry or adoration on social media was ever going to be enough to swing the powers that be into changing their mind. Poor McCoist is merely collateral damage.
Of course, some people will argue that this is an England match, and therefore there should be an Englishman on co-commentary alongside the anointed Matterface.
There are a few counterpoints to be made here, though.
Firstly, Lee Dixon only played for the Three Lions 22 times. Granted, that’s 22 times more than I ever will, but it hardly makes him St. George himself. To contextualise, Stewart Downing has 35 England caps – no offence, Stew. To rub salt in the wound, the former Arsenal man never even appeared in a major tournament.
Secondly, you couldn’t ask for a more unbiased wingman than McCoist. Sure, as a Scot he would probably rather not see Gareth Southgate’s men triumph on Sunday night, but his overwhelming infatuation for the beautiful game means that he never really has time to contemplate anything close to an agenda. He’s like a labrador playing fetch – he doesn’t care who's throwing the ball, as long as he gets to chase it.
The former Rangers striker might be the most affable, infectiously chirpy man in football, unequivocally and universally loved by viewers just about everywhere. As far as embittered, English-baiting Scots go, he’s hardly Braveheart. He’s barely even Jimmy Krankie.
Finally, if we must have a representative from the host nation in the gantry, why, oh why can’t we just move Emma Hayes up there from her scheduled pitchside duties to form some kind of omnipotent commentating Cerberus? Since arriving on the scene, the Chelsea Women’s manager has made a mockery of the cliche-ridden tropes of modern punditry with her extensive preparation and superlative tactical acumen. Hayes must take down so many notes prior to entering a studio that she makes War and Peace look like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. On the basis of what we’ve already seen this tournament, there isn’t a pundit out there who can go toe-to-toe with her.
In some respects, ITV are pulling out all the stops for Sunday's final. Back in the studio, Ian Wright will be joined by Roy Keane and Gary Neville – a triumvirate of blockbuster names if ever there was one. But let’s not kid ourselves here, nobody really cares who's on the punditry panel.
Before the match we’re all going to be too anxious to absorb even a fraction of their spiel, and come that final whistle we’re either going to be too deflated to keep watching, or we’re going to be doing laps of the garden swinging our shirts round our heads.
In fact, the only time that the entire nation is going to be transfixed on the screen, listening intently and ravenous for that one iconic soundbite that will echo down through generations, is during the match itself.
Let’s be honest here, Matterface is a solid commentator, but he doesn't have a ‘They think it’s all over’ in him. Likewise, Dixon seems like a pleasant enough chap, but he’s too straight-laced to produce the kind of mad, guttural yelp that made Neville an internet sensation as Fernando Torres streaked through Barcelona’s defence at the Nou Camp in 2012.
I’ll tell you who does possess the capacity, the wit, and the dexterity to reel out such moments of broadcasting splendour, though: Clive Tyldesley and Ally McCoist.
ITV haven’t just scored an own goal with this one – they’ve put it in at the wrong end, pulled out a revolver, and shot themselves in the foot.