Simon Tyers watches entertainment presenters fawn over Mourinho, and the Masters at work

While I haven’t quite lost all faith in the ability of the wider broadcasting world to discuss modern football in a rational, unaffected way, the events of Wednesday September 20 on BBC1’s The One Show brought me close. It involved a discussion between football presenter and writer Adrian Chiles and football journalist Alyson Rudd about professional football manager José Mourinho interrupted by co‑presenter Christine Bleakley exclaiming “I know you two will talk about football, but...”

Bleakley had already put herself centre stage in the preceding discussion on Mourinho’s perceived attractiveness to women through weapons-grade gushing that left Chiles smiling through gritted teeth and Rudd looking like she’d realised she’d been invited on under false pretences. That, however, was high-level debate compared to the never noticeably subtle Fiona Phillips on GMTV, who took much the same line of questioning regarding Mourinho’s suaveness with that noted expert on fashion and the female psyche, John Hollins. This is surely the sort of approach most people feared might eventually come to pass when Sky took their ­stranglehold on football coverage.

Sky, meanwhile, were contributing towards football’s descent into a branch of showbiz with Premier League All-Stars. The tournament featured 20 squads made up of ex-players, people whom we have to take Sky’s word for it are celebrities and a few viewers, except for spoilsports Blackburn, who nominated fashion designer Wayne Hemingway’s son as a member of the ­public. The message was clear – if you have the dedication and the requisite mates cajoling you into phoning the application number, you too can be seen running around for a bit near Micky Hazard, Donny Tourette or Nick Leeson.

The event’s opening night saw Ron Atkinson and Rodney Marsh sneak in through punditry’s back door, overenthusiastic touchline reports from Craig Johnston – who now looks about 80 – and a crowd seemingly bussed-in from an Ant & Dec studio audience, who seemed quite apathetic about the action. There were also far too many special rules, flashing lights and tracks from The Matrix, in an attempt to compensate for the fact that we’re watching a lot of unfit and ageing men playing low-quality futsal in an arena only one-third full. It took a full 11‑and‑a-half minutes to get from introduction to kick-off for the first game and it still involved a Ticketline advert. Clearly this is an event for the television age.

Even with such flashiness, Premier League All-Stars is unlikely to supplant Masters Football as the best opportunity to see how much extra timber is now carried by barely celebrated early-Nineties players. Masters Football is an odd, entirely self-absorbed netherworld, where anyone still possessing an ounce of energy can become a goalscoring hero, keepers either make brave saves with their feet or are purely decorative, and Brian Kilcline is recast as a Beckenbauer-style libero, striding forward from central defence to launch shots well wide from just inside the opponents’ half. It has been suggested that the main purpose of Masters tournaments is as a yearly guide to the current style and length of Kilcline’s hair and beard.

Back in the no-less-surreal but marginally easier to grasp world of full-scale football, followers of All-Stars co-host Ian Wright’s wide range of verbal tics should note that the man has a new catchphrase – used several times during the England v Israel game – “I’ve got a lot of respect for the lad”. Presumably, what with Sven gone and Shaun getting a few games, Wright has no need for his old act, of someone undergoing a slow and public nervous breakdown. In fact, Wright had so little to sound off about that he was reduced to commenting “we should be beating teams like Israel comfortably, and we did”, as if he’d written the first part down before kick-off and was determined to get it in somewhere.

Even with such competition, the most craven sentence delivered all month came from Steve Rider during the Porto v Liverpool match on ITV. Having already had to watch Andy Townsend prompt memories of the Tactics Truck with his new telestrator, Rider concluded with the reassuring thought that “there’s sure to be better performances from Liverpool in the weeks ahead”. Yes, presumably there will be, Steve, but it’s a bit soon after the event to hope your ITV audience stays with you given the hyperbole levels involved. And if they don’t play better, Fiona Phillips will soon enough be asking Roy Evans if Rafa’s goatee is an improvement.

From WSC 249 November 2007


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