Wednesday, 13 January 2021

John Fashanu's dumbing down was ahead of it's time and gave the world Mr Tumble

During his otherwise distinguished playing career, Ian Wright was often asked to explain himself to FA disciplinary committees; "Why did you stick two fingers up to those Oldham fans?; "Why did you punch that Tottenham player?; "Why did you try and break that football near the Manchester United goalie?" Blah, blah, yawny, yawn, blah!

The result of these meetings had a detrimental effect on the lifespan of Wright's Arsenal's goals record, and earned him a number of scattered winter breaks years before the English game invented them (after the rest of Europe) but life is a a bit cosier in the pundit world he now inhabits, where the less regulatory board of Gary Lineker is the only one he has to answer to. And yet, on Saturday evening (9/1/21) after Arsenal had beaten Newcastle United 2-0 in the BBC's live FA Cup 3rd Round match, 'Links' appeared to call into question Wright’s observation on the attacking instincts of Arsenal's Emile Smith-Rowe.

"Explain what you mean by “'play on the half turn'", Gary tapped back at him, presumably for the benefit of those viewers who'd never seen a game of football before but had stumbled upon this fan-free fixture and persevered with it all the way through 90 minutes of plotless ambling - and the start of The Masked Singer on the other side - then extra time, where finally they got their "rewards" by being present for a drilling down into a term of expression for attacking intent. 

Visibly taken aback by the request for justification of his words, Wright could have indeed been forgiven for assuming that a whole new audience had inexplicably tuned in, eager to add "half turn" to "fleckerl" and "soggy bottom" from other 'reality' shows. Floundering, Wrighty suffered the ignominy of having his scrambled words interrupted and clarified by Alan Shearer - a man who'd enjoyed a far jollier relationship with the FA interrogation panel, particularly if meeting just before a World Cup -  jumping in to save the day like Jake Wood (aka Max Branning) when Scott Maslen (aka Jack Branning), completely lost it in the live EastEnders.

Watching from his home not too far from North London, ex Wimbledon striker John Fashanu would have been shaking his head in dismay. If there was anyone better placed to present a pitch-based glossary of terms to an uneducated public, then John couldn't think of them. Fash has never received the recognition he thinks he deserves for his co-commentaries during USA 94, where he, voluntarily mind, took on the role of educator to the masses; back then, he'd heard that many had fallen in love with football on the back of Italia 90, and expected that another section of many would be tuning in to BBC to hear all about this curious sporting event. 

Fash never made it beyond the group stage at USA 94, but left an indelible mark on the tournament. During his predictable stationing at African nation games, he observed in one match the age old trick of a player slotting the ball through another another player's legs and was more than happy to be there to enlighten the sofa-dwelling natives.

"That's called 'a nutmeg'".   

This information was brought to the viewer in a tone later perfected by cBeebies legend Justin Fletcher, who famously attributes his career to Fash, explaining that something special lit up in him during Nigeria-Bulgaria. 

"Honestly I can't owe him enough", the alter-ego of Mr Tumble told us; "I was a young man going nowhere, slumped in front of the telly with nothing but a wacky costume, and then this guy starts talking...it was a game-changer; all I had to do was tweak the patronising element and harness it to better use. You sign!...oh sorry, force of habit!...aaaaay!"

Hearing that he was the inspiration for Fletcher's success, Fash said it was "humbling but not surprising", and though non-stop work commitments (Fletcher's) have stunted their friendship growth, it is believed that the children's entertainer is Fash's favourite ever Justin.

Years before 'Fash and Fletch' was written off as a workable idea, the former was approached by an independent company to expand on his World Cup performance by fronting a DVD charting the history of football-speak. However, talks broke down when Fash insisted on using clips of his own playing days to illustrate the action. "This is known as 'a skull-cracking, eye-socket-smashing elbow to the head" was deemed a non-starter with those out-of-touch FA disciplinary stiffs.

An embittered Fash was left to ply his trade on ITV's Gladiators, where his change of tack was most evident in never telling anyone what "Awooga" meant.    

The demise of Gladiators amid the advent of the 21st century left the Fash trail to go cold, although he did get back into work for a lesser know cable channel covering the 2010 World Cup, where he exclaimed that "the keeper's had a mare there!", adding further fuel to the suggestion that he'd scaled back on his previous philosophy.

Fash wasn't asked to provide a detailed analysis of his insight to the viewers, but once upon a time would have been happy to do so.                          

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