Saturday 15 August 2020

Spinal Tap-In - the rejected title for Leeds United's fiction blockbuster

It's not current, but I've just finished watching the Leeds United mockumentary Take Us Home, set in the 2018-19 season.

Like all mockumentaries, it ends badly, when the championship club isn't taken home at all - home being the Premier League, where they were last seen in 2003-04. Take Us Home being a spoof, I liked the twist with the billionaire owner, Andrea Radrizzani, coming across as a genuinely nice man, unlike that Peter Risdale, the real equivalent at Elland Road in the 90's and 2000's, whose money couldn't match his ego, sliding them into relegation.

Overall, TUH was a great watch with some clever moments; the thing where Derby County manager Frank Lampard (looking so smart and trim in those days) had his words edited to moan on about "pliers" was laugh-out-loud funny, while the ordering of Leeds' boss, Marcelo Bielsa (a legendary creation) to his own team to let the opponents (Aston Villa) equalise surely sets the bar for all other mocs to follow. And yet I hear that the currently in-production Take Us Home II (This Time We're Not Fucking About with the Play-Offs) might have emulated its predecessor, with footage of fictional middle-class centre forward Patrick Bamford fluffing a series of chances so unmissable they had to film several re-takes to get them right.

I'll be moving on to the Anelka film next, which I don't yet know is real or imagined. There is some obvious material to work with for the director should the temptation to provoke a series of long faces not materialise. For instance, the casting of a couple of spliffed out, devil-may-care siblings advising their younger brother - once their opinions had been asked of - to "stay with Wenger for a bit longer, that's what I'd do, but it's up to you, bro, it's your career" might have legs, and there could be a humorous moment of bitter regret just as Anelka steps up to take the decisive penalty in the 2008 Champions League Final in the knowledge that Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar has just worked out the system Chelsea have been using to score past him.

"If bloody Allardyce hadn't pissed off to Newcastle, I might still be at The Reebok Stadium now", isn't exactly what 'Le Sulk' muttered under his breath before stepping back to take the ill-fated pen, but the script might not need too much re-working.

Often though, reality is funnier, or more bizarre, than fiction/exaggeration. The first time I saw Anelka play was at Highfield Road, home of Coventry City, towards the end of 1996-97 when we had barely been seen the 18 year old signed by Arsene Wenger for £500,000 from Paris St Germain. All we knew was that he was lightning fast, even quicker than Perry Groves. In this 21st April 1997 meeting, with the home team fighting against relegation and Arsenal looking to boost Champions League qualification hopes, half time came with the score at 1-1 - Anelka yet to be used from the subs bench as expected, the dugout his new regular haunt for that half a season.

But no one could have predicted what the fifteen minutes break would conjure up. From our central position in the East Stand, amidst a torrential downpour, TV's celebrity fitness freak, Mr Motivator, hoved into view surrounded by a bevvy of cheer-leading dancers, performing a full-on workout to the dance tune, Bellissima. As a nearly 22 year old boy back then, I was always on the look-out to make my life more interesting with funny stories, but this was so surreal it needed no extra touches. Take in the scene...Mr Motivator. In the pouring rain. With hareem. Directing vigorous body conditioning routine at away fans during half time of  Premier League match. What? Who? Why?

I'd seen 'half-time 'entertainment' before, of course. Been at Highbury for Arsenal's first ever Monday Night Live match in Sky Sports' first ever football season, listening to The Shamen being booed as they mimed Move Any Mountain (the lip-synching wasn't the problem); and been at Selhurst Park for another Monday-nighter, watching inflatable sumo wrestlers grapple each other and hearing the predictable "This is better than the football !" remarks. On another occasion, Sky's official cheer-leaders, the 'Sky Strikers' were advised by one Clock-Ender to "Fuck off, you slags". 

I don't recall any comments, or feedback coming Mr Motivator's way, and I can only assume this was because everyone was stunned into silence.   

Let's see if Patrick Bamford's missed chances can top that.           


Monday 3 August 2020

Youthful ITV football commentator being readied at expense of journeyman

Now that domestic bliss has been attained by Liverpool (league) and Arsenal (FA Cup), we can now turn to matters...oh right, yeah, Manchester City (League Cup)... that may have gone unnoticed during this crowd-free thrill-ride that propelled us through to a season end in August, which is normally the month when people moan that the season is starting too early

One of these matters I type of arrived in mid-July when ITV Only Went And Demoted Clive Tyldesley. Yes, after 22 years of uninterrupted unpopularity, the advertising channel's lead story-teller is being replaced by Sam Matterface, a professionally trained younger man from the Peter Drury School of over-acting.

"Upset, annoyed, baffled", are words ITV viewers have used to describe past Tydesley commentaries. 

There was a corner of support for Tyledesley, despite everthing, such as BBC and BT Sport's Gary Lineker, and also Jeff Stelling of Sky Soccer Whateverday, who jape-tweeted "Oh I forgot Clive you are 65. Ageism alive and well in UK broadcasting...hey, ever thought of turning to 'In-play? When the Fun Stops Stop."   
Stelling, who turned 65 in March, may not have chosen his words responsibly when speaking in favour of Tyldesley, who replaced retiring legend Brian Moore in 1998 and within a year became a figure of hate for grossly misjudging the nations's mood upon the act of Manchester United winning the Champions League with a last gasp goal to secure a unique treble.

"Where were the Germans?" he cried, before the game-changing follow up: "but quite frankly who cares?!"

To underestimate quite how many people cared was one thing, but equally shocking was that a football-speaker with such an obvious approach to big-line rehearsal should almost word-for-word ape Barry Davies' commentary from the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, when Great Britain's Hockey team also edged "the Germans" in a Final.

To some, Tyldesley had already begun to blot his much crossed-out copybook at the World Cup in France the previous summer with his tiresome wine-drinking anecdotes, so naturally his unashamed celebration of Alex Ferguson's grand achievement landed him, in the blink of an eye, on very thin ice.  

Tyldesley skidded around on said thin ice for a while, clumsily trying to make amends at Euro 2000 by engaging the public in the way Alan Partridge would attempt to talk football or women with leery working class lads. 

"He's only gone and scored on his tournament debut!" he described Paul Scholes' customary debut goal (for England against Portugal) seemingly dropping Davies as a guru in favour of my over-excitable friends in their early twenties. In the same tournament, he noted that Romania's (Adrian) Mutu was the first footballer to share his name with a Pokemon character. This was maybe - just maybe - the standout 'on-trend' era of a man who encouraged colleagues, friends and other strangers to refer to him as 'C to the T'.      

For England's opening game in the next Euros (another overturned lead leading to defeat against France), Tyldesley welcomed us by saying "you can hold hands if you like", thus sticking to the kind of attention-seeking approach that was never crafted by his more illustrious predecessor. The calibre of a "Thomas charging through the's up for grabs now" seemed beyond a man who began one England kick off with "A little less conversation, a little more action, please".  

In 2011, during a Stoke City versus Arsenal FA Cup quarter final, Tyldesley passionately urged football academies and schools to develop players in the art of the long throw ably demonstrated that afternoon in the Britannia Stadium (now the bet365 Stadium - the fun has long stopped for Stoke's fans) by otherwise terrible footballer Rory Delap.

In 2018, opening his lines for the World Cup semi final between England and Croatia (once more a lead and match lost), Tyledsley promised the viewers he would do his best to justify the occasion in the manner of past commentating giants like Moore and Davies, yet by doing so he'd already failed because he'd just made it all about him.

Tyldesley remains "upset", "annoyed", "baffled" by the decision to replace him with a man who is exactly the same age as he was when he took over from Moore. Maybe, just maybe, C to the T thought he had the gig until retirement, like Mooro, but to do so would undermine the point about popularity. It also overlooks the total dispensation of his colleagues over the years. The equally confident Andy Townsend was shown the genuine door after a decade as Tyldesley's co-reactor. The former Irish captain once said on Talksport that it was fine to say "let's have  a chinky" instead of a Chinese take-away, and though there is no suggestion this had anything to do with his dismissal, ITV would have been aware that Townsend had only got the job in the first place following Ron Atkinson's "off-air" analysis of Ghanaian born Chelsea defender, Marcel Desailly (Tyldesley, as far as I am aware, didn't make any public announcement disclosing his upset, annoyance or bafflement over his co-commentator's observations).

While the choice of Glenn Hoddle to replace Townsend may counter the priority of risk suggestion, Tyldesley might instead reflect that he'd produced his best stuff for BBC during a spell between 1994-98.  

"They gave him shooting space again, and he's scored again!" (on Luis Garcia for Mexico against Rep of Ireland, USA 94); "It's a brilliant goal by Hagi!" (on Gheorge Hagi for Romania against Colombia, USA 94). Clive may just be another Beeb jewel gone to pot on ITV. Perhaps he's done well to hang on for so long when so many have come and gone (Welsby, Lorenzo, Smith, Yorath, Ryder, Chiles, Townsend, Atkinson), but as for him going public on his words being stolen, quite frankly, who cares?           

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