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

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