Archive for January 2009
I think Tony Adams may be allergic to management. He doesn’t look well at all.
His skin is grey-green colour of a dated oyster.
He is constantly squinting and blinking: a man with a meningeal dread of allowing light down his optic nerve to attack his brain.
And when he speaks in soft measured tones, he pauses, purses his lips and swallows. Like he’s just been a little bit sick in his mouth.
His hair is dishevelled and large dark crescents hang under bloodshot eyes. Symptomatic of sleepless nights, or as they call it in the north-east, Charles insomnia.
One minute he is slumping in his dugout with the apathy of a heroin-addict, but the next he is leaping and waving like high-school cheerleader. Mood swings.
And the delusions have started. That his team’s form is somehow affected by his choice of neckwear can be laughed off as quaint superstition. But the belief that Hayden Mullins is an a like-for-like replacement for Lassana Diarra signals a more worrying descent into dementia. We can only hope that January signing of a player called Pele has not been caused by confusion and befuddlement and 1960s-themed hallucinations.
If I were the Adams physician I would prescribe a short period of convalescence by the coast to take some of the sea air. Sadly, he’s already there.
So my only other suggestion is to suck the poison from Adams’ veins: the poison that is his job. It would be an act of humanity on the part of the Portsmouth board to let him go. Put him out of his misery. I know that he hasn’t been there that long. But sometimes you just know.
You’ve been doing too much Tony. Play some golf. Travel the world. Just take a break. God knows you look like you could use it.
There is an intrinsic comedy to Tony Gubba.
Maybe it’s the fact that he looks like a baby monkey. Maybe it’s the of memory of a combover so exquisite in conception that grown men have blubbed in it’s presence. And it was ginger.
Maybe it’s just his name. Say it out loud and let it roll around your mouth like fine cigar smoke. Gubba. Slower. Gubba. GUB-BA.
Maybe it’s that he is the living embodiment of ‘low-rent’. Stuck on the end of phone from Meadow Lane. Reporting from mat-side at the European Judo Championships in Antwerp. Providing updates from the Tour de Frodsham.
I researched his official website. It boasts that Gubbalicious has worked on every World Cup since 1974. But with admirable candour, it admits that in 2006 his duties were confined to a highlights package shown on the “in-flight entertainment channels of many of the world’s leading airlines”. And some rubbish ones as well.
It continues to say that Gubba has commentated on ice-skating, hockey, table-tennis, bobsleigh, ski-jumping, speed skating, cycling, rowing, judo, golf and tennis, collecting sports like a cub scout collects badge. A Gub scout. Jack of all trades, master of the proverbial none.
Except now that is. Gubba is the master of Dancing on Ice. It seems maybe that he has grown weary of his constant travels around the world of minority sports and third-rate football and has nested in the commentary box at ITV’s celebrity skate-off.
According to the website that from the outset Torville and Dean specifically requested that little Tony was hired to lend his singular Gubban tones to the show. Seems strange. Where was Barry Davies? One wonders what dirt Gubba had on the celebrated pair that forced their hand: anabolic steroids? Backhanders to the judging panel? A Tonya Harding-style clubbing of a rival couple?
So Gubba is now the voice of celebrity ice fun. And it’s a bit odd and a bit sad and his commentary sounds like he’s reading out the bits that Sid Waddell cast aside because they didn’t make enough sense.
But last Sunday might be a watershed. No words do it justice, so here it is:
This is would be frankly hilarious if only for Todd Carty’s bizarre facial pyrotechnics. But the uncharacteristic giggles coming from the commentary box elevate it to the status of e-mail circular gold. It’s already had over a million hits on Youtube. Gubba: welcome to the big time. For a man who has spent a career specializing in the unmemorable, it’s a defining moment.
And you deserve it Tony: you are the Gubner.
I was recently assured by a disingenuous associate that Dermot Reeve had emigrated to New Zealand to open a pharmacy following his retirement from cricket. I took him at his word, revelling in the vague poacher-gamekeeper scenario.
Frankly it’s a laughable notion that Reeve should settle for a life peddling paracetamol to poorly Kiwis. But my gullibility is excusable given the register of unforeseen career-changes among some of his fellow cricketers.
Politics seems like a popular choice at the career office. Imran Khan formed his own party in Pakistan. Manoj Prabhakar stood for the Indian parliament. And it seems that cricketing politicians are as Caribbean as reggae music and Lilt: Learie Constantine, Sir Wes Hall, Roy Fredericks, Sir Frank Worrall and latterly Desmond Haynes have all taken some form of higher office in the West Indies.
Charles Burgess Fry lost three General Election campaigns running as a Liberal candidate and didn’t become King of Albania but the CB CV is a famous read: England cricket captain, long-jump world record holder, international footballer, teacher, editor, writer and all round jolly good polymath. And his party piece was to leap backwards on the mantlepiece. But hey, we’ve all done it.
Kapil Dev had a swing at the golf lark, went into the floodlight business and just last year became Lieutenant Colonel Dev of the Indian Territorial Army. Of course he did.
The list continues like a game of Happy Families: Mr.Hayden the cook, Mr. Croft the pilot, Mr.Russell the artist, and ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Mervyn Hughes, travel agent and actor. The latter seems as fanciful as Reeve Chemists but apparently Merv played a small role in a high-octane comedy actioner called Fat Pizza.
Musicians abound at the old cricketer’s home. Curtly Ambrose and Richie Richardson hooked up over a couple of Lilts to create a reggae band. Shane Watson, AB de Villiers and Brett Lee are all preparing for life after cricket by tuning up their guitars, learning their chords and practising in their garages with their bandmates. Lee has even had time for a change of musical direction. This will never wear thin:
Arguably though the best gig for the senescent cricketer is reality television. The chances of success are high.
Phil Tufnell was the pioneer, wading into the jungle to wrestle with ballet dancers and weathergirls and sneak off with the I’m A Celebrity laurels. TV Tuffers cast off the sullen self-doubt he often displayed as a cricketer and presented himself to the nation as a twinkly cheerful type with an appetite for woodlice.
Darren Gough and Mark Ramprakash both found their feet on the dancefloor. They triumphed in consecutive years on Strictly Come Dancing and thus created a minor cricketing monopoly on the show. Gough put aside a shaky cha-cha-cha in the first week to haul his burly, bingo-winged frame across the floor and into the viewer’s affections.
Ramps was a natural dancer from the outset, but his appeal was mainly founded in his growth from shy and retiring type to a sexual god of the samba as Arlene would say. Except that he didn’t retire: carrying on to collate thousands upon thousands of runs.
Mark Butcher represents the sole cricketing failure in the world of reality television, coming up just short during the BBC singing contest Just The Two Of Us. His loss is forgiveable. A talented singer who had the misfortune of being paired up with Sarah Brightman. Brightman has the look of a blow-up doll, and her voice sounds like she is slowly deflating. Her incessant trill simply drowned out Butcher’s bassy tones.
Bad luck Butch. But at least you’re not in the pharmaceutical trade like Dermot Reeve. Or Chris Lewis…
They toyed with Bark Butcher. Wrestled with Spongedog Squareleg. My own suggestion of Andy Surrey was laughed out of the Oval. But eventually the marketing team at Surrey CC plumped for Kenny Kennington as the name of their new mascot: a large fluffy dog with the physique of the Honey Monster and a mean line in oversized sneakers.
I was fortunate enough to be offered the gig of filling those shoes when Kenny was invited down to Craven Cottage to join Fulham FC mascot Billy the Badger before their game with Sunderland last April. I wrote a mainly anodyne piece about it at the time for the Surrey website.
But here is the real version.
Kenny Kennington was nervous before the day. Kenny felt unprepared. He’d read about method acting and knew of the techniques advanced by Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. But plans to spend a month at Battersea Dogs Home, following his canine comrades and learning something of their ways, fell by the wayside. Kenny didn’t even know what his breed was. What was his motivation?
On arrival at the Cottage I was directed to one of the corporate boxes to meet Billy the Badger. Billy was big news in the mascot world. A few weeks previous he’d delighted the folk of Fulham with an impromptu and athletic show of break-dancing on the pitch at half-time. Building his part maybe, but the performance had earned him a mention on Soccer AM no less. As a mere novice of the mascot art, the thought of meeting Billy was an intimidating one.
Billy was actually Roger. A fidgety and gap-toothed fellow who confided in me that he is actually a Liverpool fan. That’s a secret by the way. He’d pitched up earlier to give him ample time to get into character. I needed time to get into the Kenny suit: it’s a minor feat of human engineering. I too was attempting to find my character, but I don’t think Roger appreciated it when I tried to sniff his bum.
The occupational hazards of the mascot trade were quickly revealed to me. Even on a chillsome Spring day temperatures inside the suit reached the levels of a kiln. It occured to me that human spontaneous combustion is not urban myth: it just happens to mascots. Visibility is poor also. I had a wonderful view of my elephantine sneaks – but not much else.
So Billy and Kenny waddled off. Firstly to fulfil our duties meeting the children at a Fulham FC community day held in the park that adjoins the Cottage. Billy was in his element. This was his home. His sett. Making an exhibition of himself to the rapture of his adoring fans.
Kenny was a different story. Firstly he attracted the mild curiosity of some of the little perishers. I had resolved before that to really capture the essence of a dog then it would wrong to speak to anyone: I decided instead to woof. However it seems that a proper means of communication is essential when consorting with the younger generation. For when one of the little shits asked if he could punch me in my dog bollocks, he took my responding bark to mean: “please young sir, do your worst”.
The final indignity came when another little blighters ventured an opnion on my footwear. “They’re shit mate”. Cheers. By this time the youthful throng had almost entirely turned their attention to their beloved Billy, leaving Kenny to concentrate on not passing out.
I was later told by a Fulham official who was helping out at the community day that at one point Kenny had wandered off on his own, unaware of his surroundings, and waving at no-one. I was a broken dog.
The highlight of the job was certainly walking out onto the pitch before the game. It proved to be a genuine boyish thrill. And the verbal abuse of the travelling Mackem support seemed benign compared to the stick that had been dished out on the park earlier.
And to prove that every giant furry dog has his day, Kenny Kennington went on to win the prestigious mascot race at Twenty20 finals day at the Rose Bowl later that year. Of course I wasn’t in the suit, but was there to witness it. A proud day for all Kennies everywhere.
Watching Kevin Pietersen last Sunday as he supported his ex-popstar wife take part in a celebrity ice-dancing contest I tried to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. Once a South African off spinner with ambitions to play for the Proteas. Now an ex-England captain and batsman exchanging pleasantries with Phil Schofield.
The twist of KP fate can partly be attributed the racial quota system that exists in South African sport. He set sail to seek his fortune in England when he considered his opportunities in his homeland to be limited.
The integration policy is a clunky but necessary initiative following the years of segregation during the apartheid era. But I sympathize with Pietersen. And I empathize with him also. I had a similar experience at school. On a marginally smaller scale.
My dreams of playing cricket for England were in shreds at a formative age, and ambitions of representative honours for my school followed soon after. Couldn’t bat, couldn’t bowl, couldn’t field. Couldn’t catch. Couldn’t really run if I’m honest.
But I could add. And my handwriting was receiving plaudits from the teaching staff. There was an opportunity to make my mark in the cricketing world. Literally.
I pencilled in my first dot ball for the under-13s and did not relinquish my grip on the scorebook for five years. I was part of the team. Admittedly the part who sat at the front of the bus sharpening my pencils and talking to no-one. And the part who awkwardly loitered outside the dressing rooms while the rest of the team got changed.
The pinnacle of my scoring career was manning the pad for the school 1st XI. For one idyllic summer term I was not only responsible for the scorebook but also a futuristic scoreboard, operated by an ingenious console called the Chinaman. The highlight was a rare triumph over the MCC. I recall haring across the pitch to join in the celebrations as if victory had only been sealed with the last flourish of my pencil.
One more term of scoring duties and I would be awarded my colours: a tie, a natty piece of neckwear that was the symbol that I could finally call myself a sportsman.
But something sinister was about to destroy the very fabric of the school.
Initially I welcomed the decision to opt for co-education after centuries of single sex schooling. I’d never seen a girl before. I’d only read about them in books.
So a hardy dozen or so young ladies pitched up at the school gates one September. A strange crew. We gawped. We sometimes prodded. We never actually spoke to them, preferring instead to conglomerate around the pool table. Penny football was a strictly men-only domain.
The authorities deemed that dramatic measures were required to smooth the path of sexual integration. And the easiest and most public place to do that was on the sports pitches. But rugger was too violent and the girls were just too malco-ordinated to compete at hockey and cricket. But there was one corner of the sporting field where physical inequalities could be put aside: the scorebox.
Two girls were selected to replace me in that final summer: a couple of those busy girlguide types that had leapt straight out of the pages of Enid Blyton. The governing body of school cricket never told me that I had been shunted aside. I found out on Teletext.
I was allowed back for one last fling with Chinaman when the girls were unavailable. I opened up the scorebook and vomited immediately. It was a nightmare in graphite. They’d created an HB vision of Hell.
At the end of the year the girls were awarded their colours for services to cricket: a large woollen scarf. It looked ridiculous.
I got nothing.
There is a definite trend emerging among these early posts. A nostalgic dredge of the broadcasting river bed. It’s a sort of regression therapy for me. A Question of Sport was my womb and I suckled at the teat of David Coleman.
The mid-to-late eighties was the height of QoS popularity. It was an age of legends. Of big personalities and even bigger sweaters. Droves of viewers regularly switched on to gawp at the kings of knit wage trivia war, topping out at a massive 19million in 1987. Admittedly this figure was bloated by a rubbernecking element agog for a bit of car-crash telly: Princess Anne lined up alongside team captain Emlyn Hughes the week after he’d confused her for a male jockey in the picture round. At least it wasn’t the horse.
Of course she wasn’t remotely peeved about the comparison, but Hughes did create minor shockwaves by casually sliding his arm around her Highness like a hopeful adolescent at the back of Cineworld and tearing up the royal protocol manual in the process. God knows what was going through his head. Maybe he had a penchant for jockeys. But the ensuing furore does amply demonstrate the impact of the show of the time.
Hughes was strange and excitable man, forever squealing about the tip of his tongue. Whatever was on the tip of his tongue, it invariably wasn’t the answer.
He was replaced in 1988 by Ian Botham. Beefy was a sporting and celebrity colossus at the time: his cricketing powers were only just beginning to wane. He walked with elephants for charity. And he was friends with Eric Clapton. And he had a movie agent who was touting him around Hollywood as the next James Bond. Wierdly he did miss out on the 007 gig, but in terms of global cultural import the QoS captaincy was more than a consolation.
Botham’s opponent, the Scaramanga to his Bond, was Bill Beaumont. As far as I am aware he did not have a third nipple. Billy was a mainly knowledgeable rugger with an inscrutable air. Inscrutable or vacant, not quite sure. Billy was the stalwart of the QoS golden period, putting in a 14-year shift. I hazard that Beaumont was the most successful skipper of this period. Unfortunately I do not have the stats to back this claim up. If only someone had collated a QoS version of the Wisden Almanack.
I watch a lot of Sky Sports News. It’s a staple ‘go to’ channel when you can’t find anything on the thousand or so other stations and you’ve drained your Hollyoaks surplus on SkyPlus. Just flick on and hook yourself up to a steady saline drip of sporting updates. The comely mob of presenters will regurgitate info for you like a mother cuckoo to an expectant nest of chicks. You’ll end up with transfer gossip coming out of your nostrils and vomiting up a league table or two.
So I was intrigued when I found out that Setanta had launched their own rolling news channel as part of their burgeoning sports coverage.
And like so much on Setanta, it’s very similar to Sky Sports. Just slightly worse.
Maybe the cunning creatives at Setanta HQ hit upon a formula: make it look the same as Sky Sports, but make it look different. At the same time.
So the clever little buggers decided to mirror image the graphic set-up on Sky: the info box is on the left! It’s the same but different. A brave new world of rolling sports news. Or not. It actually looks a like poorly-formatted PowerPoint presentation.
They also realised that nothing says ‘up-to-minute sports journalism’ than employing a gaggle of harassed-looking operatives mincing around in the background pointing at computers and pretending they’re plucking the latest scoops from around the sportsglobe. But I have a faint suspicion that on Setanta that it’s actually the cleaners in to scrub the coffee circles off the MDF work surfaces.
Final Score created the blueprint for the live sports updates. Now orphaned by the death of Grandstand, Final Score survives on BBC1 and in the alien surroundings of the ‘red button’. It has lost it’s identity though, taking on the same graphical features as Sky Sports News. Complete with an unimaginitive info box on the right. At least Setanta tried.
I’d like to see Final Score go retro. It worked for Monster Munch. Get Gerald Sinstadt on the phone. Find Des. And someone search the BBC warehouse to dust off the old videprinter. Plug it in and make it burble and warble like a typewriter with guff issues.
It’s a better sound than Garth Crooks.
We all know that Setanta Sports is rubbish. And we know that the Setanta Sports adverts are also rubbish. So we should be sad that this appears to be the final televisual resting place of Desmond Lynam, the silver smoothie who once sailed the airwaves in the Good Ship Moustache, gleefully dispensing bon mots and bon quotes to an adoring nation.
The BBC is the spiritual home of Des. He worked there for eons after all. He started at BBC Radio Brighton in 1968 and ended up fronting Grandstand, Sportsnight, Match of the Day, Wimbledon, The Grand National, The Olympics and The World Cup. A hefty portfolio of high-level helmsmanship.
And then he left. Off to ITV to head up their newly-acquired Premier League coverage. But this was a different Des. Uncertain. Unsure of his lines. His sardonic suavity had evaporated somewhere on his cross-channel migration. Even the ‘tache seemed to have grooming issues.
And since then Des has embarked on an odyssey to find his way back home to televison studios at BBC Sport Towers. A few times he nearly made it: A ‘Have I Got News For You‘ here, a ‘We’ll Meet Again’ there. I won’t forget the regrettable performance last year on Sports Mastermind when it dawned on me that Des had actually been replaced by a robot. Struggling to tune into the autocue and serving up the kind of banter that makes people sidle away at cocktail parties. This wasn’t right.
Maybe BBC Sport is a different place to the one Des left. Some of his comrades have fallen: Pickering, Rollason and Vine. The Easy Rider left town on the horse he rode in on. Gubba followed him. And where in God’s name is Donnelly? They have been replaced by a new attractive and ultimately clean-shaven breed: Lineker, Bhasin, Balding. Actually not Balding.
So Des has washed up in the Setanta trails via a truncated stint at Countdown. He’s been a burgervanman. He was Setanta Claus. And now he is a cartoon Des. A sketch. This broadcasting behemoth has been reduced to a doodle.
I will pray for you Desmond Lynam. I hope that the next leap is the leap home.
I’ve always loved Steve Rider a little bit. He is a consummate man with the look of a well-coiffed barn owl. He has gravitas coming out of his anus. His unflappable understated professionalism makes me feel safe. “Well played Southend” he pipes at half-time with the ingenuous enthusiasm of a mum.
Steve deserves better than this. A mere few years ago he was supping Long Island Iced Teas in the rare surroundings of the Butler Cabin at Augusta managing the BBC Masters coverage. Now he’s in a structurally unsound portakabin. With Andy Townsend. Who as usual is “really this” and “really that” and “really they’ll give 110% tonight Steve”.
Even more recently Steve was strutting around the starting grids of exotic locations such as Interlagos and Monte Carlo heading up the ITV Formula One broadcasts. His true passion. And now that’s been taken from under his nose by the very station he defected from: the Beeb.
Already talk of a transfer back to the club where he learnt his trade has been silenced. The BBC already have their man. Or more accurately boy. Jake Humphrey has got the F1 gig. I think we were all taken surprise by that. Nice young man, but he probably doesn’t know what gravitas means.
Turn the channel mate.