Funny Old Game (Blackburn Rovers – NFFC Programme Notes 2012/13)

There are few who can survive in the world of football broadcasting without grating on the nerves of supporters up and down the country. For the vast majority of commentators and analysts, their only redeeming trait is that occasionally, and quite unintentionally, they will say something of tremendous comic value. If football is a ‘funny old game’ then football punditry is borderline hysterical.

There is a worn out ancient book of football clichés that every football commentator keeps on his utility belt, alongside a microphone, thermos flask and tunnel vision bat goggles. It contains phrases that, when taken outside of their usual context, make no sense at all.

Has any player ever truly found himself in ‘acres of space’? Is a man who wears his ‘heart on his sleeve’ not in need of serious medical attention? And has any hapless striker ever been given the opportunity to prove whether or not he can literally ‘hit a cow’s backside with a banjo’? If so, I’m yet to discover the YouTube video.

Perhaps these are some of the more traditional examples of a football cliché … but modern footballisms are equally perplexing.

“If anything, he’s hit that too well” is a phrase commonly used to accompany a shot that goes blazing over the crossbar. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s equivalent to me driving my car through the living room window and my wife saying, “If anything, you’ve parked that too well, love.”

Another of my favourites is, “the wall did its job, there.” Of course it did – all they have to do is stand there! You’d be a little worried about the players’ mental strength if they all ran off screaming as the free kick taker took his run up.

Forgive me for being so pedantic, but these banal football terminologies have sent me spiralling into meltdown over the years. I’m not alone either.

Former Forest Manager Dave ‘Harry’ Bassett threw a deadline day hissy fit, live on air, as a result of Jim White’s cavalier use of the illogical phrase “he always gives 110%”.

Pundits, as a species, have never had a comprehensive grasp of basic mathematics. Ruud Gullit once infamously said, “We must have had 99% of the game … it was the other 3% that cost us the match.” With such a revolutionary take on how percentages work, Gullit could be qualified to sit alongside that loveable Irish gremlin, Louis Walsh, on the X Factor. Would I watch it? A million percent, yes!

Of course, regular Sky pundit Dave Bassett is well-qualified to criticise the deployment of football clichés; he has proved to be something of a renegade when talking about ‘the beautiful game’ over the years, using Yoda-like proverbs rather than Townsend-esque twaddle.

“You’ve got to miss them to score sometimes” was a concept that blew people’s minds, making them think about the art of goalscoring in a completely different way. Before Bassett conjured up this post-modern concept, the ignorant masses believed missing and scoring to be mutually exclusive.

Other legendary Bassett phrases include, “We are now entering a new Millennium and football’s a completely different cup of tea” and the always popular, “We couldn’t hit a donkey’s a*** with a frying pan.”

What is the British football pundit’s obsession with throwing inanimate handled objects at the back end of farmyard animals? I’m sure the RSPCA might have something to say about these unorthodox training methods, used to help misfiring strikers regain their form.

Bassett isn’t the only former Nottingham Forest employee to burn the proverbial book of football adages and end up making a fool of himself. Ron Atkinson, a man so unnaturally bronzed that his trench coat was once searched for missing Oompa Loompas, once said: “Well, Clive, it’s all about the two M’s – movement and positioning.”

Former Forest football consultant David Pleat spent a whole summer raving about the flowing continental style of Czechoslovakia, a whole decade after the country had ceased to exist. (Also in their group were the Soviet Union, Zanzibar and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.)

Yes, I’ve hand picked some of the most moronic things that football broadcasters have said over the past twenty years, in order to make them look incompetent … but I make no apology! We fans would consider talking about football for a living an absolute dream and, rightly or wrongly, we all believe we could do a better job. In the meantime, the current incumbents can expect a royal roasting every time they utter something downright stupid!

Or to put it more succinctly, and in the words of Terry Venables, “If you can’t stand the heat in the dressing-room, get out of the kitchen.”

Follow me on Twitter: @Dave_Abbiss


To boo or not to boo? (Derby County – NFFC Programme Notes 2012/13)


To boo or not to boo? That is the question.

Over the past few years, the East Midlands derby has been played out to a symphony of jeers and catcalls, the like of which would make even Mussolini blush. What’s more, the thunderous boos will most likely provide the soundtrack to today’s encounter, no matter what happens on the pitch.

Football stadia become but poisonous pantomimes when two bitter rivals such as Nottingham Forest and Derby County meet. But what is it that compels grown men and women to boo with such verve and conviction when derby day comes around?

Personally, I just don’t have it in me to pull off a good old fashioned boo. I have tried to master the art but I just can’t muster up enough hatred, even when faced with our fiercest foes.

As I have mentioned in previous episodes of ‘The Red Revolution’, I practise my booing technique whilst passing fields of sheep on the motorway … but for all my endeavour in the pursuit of an aggressive battle cry, my feeble boo sounds more like a cow that’s been kicked in the groin.

If truth be told, I rarely feel the urge, or see the need, to express myself in such a way. Though, many fans seem to boo whether the occasion warrants it or not.

Over recent years the increased hissing and hollering has been largely down to the number of players (and managers) who have, bravely or foolishly, crossed the divide from one side of ‘Brian Clough Way’ to the other.

In light of the inevitable abuse that accompanies moving to your club’s arch nemesis, why is it that so many players opt to venture over to the ‘dark side’?

Some Reds fans have suggested that Derby has become something of a feeder club for Forest. All Derby’s best players eventually end up at the City Ground, whilst Forest give the Rams first refusal on any players who become surplus to requirement.

Perhaps, more realistically, the reason is purely geographical. These players fear going too far South, where people drink strawberry flavoured lager and jig about on chimney tops with Dick Van Dyke. And they fear going too far North, where life is nowt but battered Mars bars and Byker Grove. So they stay in the East Midlands; where it’s safe!

Footballers do not necessarily want to uproot their families and migrate to a different part of the country every time they move clubs. There are many factors that can force a player’s hand – quality of schools, availability of houses and, in the case of Kris Commons, proximity of KFC.

Often, though fans cannot necessarily be expected to sympathise, a move to local rivals is the most practical choice for the modern footballer … especially when the old enemy are desperate to have you!

Although I know I risk a public flogging for this mutinous announcement, I don’t think Nathan Tyson, formerly of Forest, is a player who warrants being booed. He was an essential member of the squad that got us promoted from the dank cesspit known as League One, he was ‘Man of the Match’ in his last game for the club against Swansea in the playoff semi-final defeat (2010/11 season) and, whilst wearing the famous red shirt, Tyson gave everything he had to the cause.

Had he signed for any other club, his return to the City Ground last year would have been met with polite applause. As it happened, and precisely because he had joined the Rams, Tyson’s substitute appearance was greeted with vicious hostility.

The negative reaction of the fans is even stranger when you consider what a gentleman Tyson used to be. He even helped out the groundsman by collecting the corner flags up at the end of games.

In truth, the man who provided that precious flag-waving memory would have known exactly what was in store when he signed a contract at Pride Park. Similarly, Kieron Freeman will expect the same treatment here today, should he feature. Neither truly deserve your boos.

I fully expect my words to fall on deaf ears. Fans have an irrational contempt for players who dare return to their former club donning the enemy colours. Over the past few seasons the heckling has become even more intense and uncompromising. Even Nigel Clough, who went from Forest hero to Derby’s chief shepherd over the course of sixteen years, can’t escape the frenzied jibes!

Whilst I disagree with what you boo, I will defend to the death your right to boo it.

Football supporters pay enough money, and invest enough time and emotion, to boo whoever they wish.

And of course, very occasionally it’s actually deserved!

Robbie Savage, former Derby captain, used to bask in the glory of his own villainy. Whatever club he played for, whatever club he played against, Savage was a magnet for abuse and hatred throughout his career. He minced around the field with the thick skinned arrogance of a man who was booed out of the womb!

Then, of course, there was Kris Commons, the tubby winger who all Forest fans love to hate. Having publicly declared himself a loyal Forest fan whilst secretly plotting an escape to Pride Park, Commons was relentlessly taunted as nothing more than a pie-eating mercenary … or words to that effect.

The chorus of boos that greeted both Savage, when he mockingly waved his Derby scarf in the City Ground centre circle, and Commons, when he wobbled his belly like a bowlful of jelly, were completely justified. They pretty much demanded it.

So, I’m not saying there is never a cause to boo. I’m asking fans not to cheapen the boo by going gung-ho on any former Forest player whose ever had a lamb dinner or watched an episode of Shaun the Sheep.

Some will say that I’m taking the whole issue too seriously and that meaningless booing is all part of the pantomime that is modern football. I ask only this … do we really want to draw comparisons between our beautiful game and a worn out old pantomime? I can’t think of anything worse.

Do we really want players dressed in sequins, with silly blonde wigs, spouting irrelevant camp drivel? We’d just be playing to Robbie Savage’s strengths.


Follow me on Twitter: @Dave_Abbiss