SVN 0 ENG 1 and USA 1 ALG 0: We’re alive, baby!

I HAD a ZX81 computer as a kid. It was rubbish. Games took a good six or seven minutes to load (when they loaded, which they often didn’t). And yet I remember the machine fondly – largely because of ZX Iatrist.

Even by the standards of the ZX81, ZX Iatrist was an odd game. The computer played the role of psychiatrist, asking a series of questions, which you – the patient – were invited to respond to. The computer psychiatrist would then respond with one of about 20 pre-programmed answers, which appeared as text on the screen.

The ZX81 didn’t have a very large memory, so it wasn’t a very sophisticated game. Indeed, it got more frustrating to play as the computer began to repeat answers – especially as almost every game ended with the ZX Iatrist running out of patience and saying: “Go and pretend you are a lemming.”

(I should add that as I’m writing this, I’m trying to get my head around the psychological consequences of five-year-old me pretending to be a psychiatric patient for the benefit of a computer game. Ah, we knew how to make our own entertainment in those days.)

Listening to footballers being interviewed, I’m sometimes reminded of ZX Iatrist. It’s as if certain players, like a ZX81 game, are programmed with a selection of answers which come out regardless of the question.

That was certainly the case when Jermain Defoe was interviewed by the BBC’s Gabby Logan on the pitch after scoring the goal that took plucky England past the mighty Slovenia in Port Elizabeth and into the World Cup knockout stages for the first time in, um, four years.

“Jermain: First World Cup start, first World Cup goal – you looked like you were enjoying that,” yelled Logan above the vuvuzela din in Port Elizabeth, inviting Defoe to discuss England’s much-improved performance.

“Lost for words, to be honest. What a moment,” Defoe replied. “It’s something that you dream about. But I was focused before the game. And the team won, that’s the important thing.”

In fairness to Defoe, he was doing his best to articulate his feelings – not easy when you’ve just run goodness knows how many miles. To expect anyone to produce deep and meaningful thoughts when they’re physically exhausted is unrealistic. I couldn’t do it, but then I couldn’t run as far as Defoe in 90 minutes full stop, let alone score a goal as well-taken as his.

It’s tempting to wonder if there is really any point to these interviews. If you want an even more extreme example, you only have to look at those post-race interviews conducted during the last Olympics, when some poor sod who had just run themselves to the point of collapse were shuffled towards a trackside reporter and expected to be coherent:

Reporter: You’ve just won an Olympic bronze, how do you feel?
Athlete: Gasp! Fnnnrrrrr wwwrrrnnngggg rrrrnnnnnffff.
Reporter: Did you ever dream that this moment might one day come?
Athlete: Nnnnnngggg ffffffffrrrrrrr drrrrrrvvvvvllllg. Gasp!
Reporter: How much will this mean to all the people watching back home?
Athlete: Gasp! Gasp! Uuuuunnnnng ffffflllllrrrrrr pffffffft.
Reporter: Fantastic stuff! Well done!
Athlete: Rrrrrrrnnnnnnuff. Gasp!

Defoe was far more articulate than that, thanks – I suspect – to the media training that all top footballers undergo. It might result in bland answers, but it does allow them to get through post-match interviews when they’re knackered, because they can go on to auto-pilot.

It’s fascinating, though, to compare Defoe’s pitchside TV post-match interview with that of Landon Donovan, who scored the very, very late goal against Algeria in Pretoria that took the USA through as winners of England’s group.

I very much doubt that Donovan was in any better a state to consider his answers than Defoe. But while the England striker defaulted to platitudes, Donovan’s instinctive response sounded not unlike that of an America’s Got Talent finalist.

“It’s been a long journey over the last four years,” Donovan began. Crikey, Landon, that IS a long journey. Even the 192 bus from Piccadilly Gardens to Hazel Grove doesn’t take four years, usually.

“People who know me closest know how much I’ve worked for this moment,” he continued, and I swear I could have heard the vuvuzelas start to play Whitney Houston’s One Moment In Time in the background.

“You’re alive,” the interviewer finished. To which Donovan replied: “We’re alive, baby!” And that’s the important thing, as Defoe might have added. Rarely can two match-winning goalscorers have expressed the same emotions in such different ways. It’s probably a cultural thing.

I don’t think ZX Iatrist – or indeed the ZX81 – ever cracked the US market, for reasons I outlined in the first paragraph of this blog entry. If it had, I suspect it would have been the same game in principle, but very different in practice.

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