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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Outside the Box – Football on TV: A hair-raising spectacle on Saturday turns to sombre reflection on Sunday

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Take a look around you. Chances are that if you are reading this in a public place; a library, at your office while you should be working or perhaps even on the Tube, then someone close by is displaying some facial hair that seems to be a little out of place. These moustachioed menfolk are either uncool throwbacks from the seventies who listen to Crosby, Stills and Nash all day while playing around with their CB radios, or more likely, are partaking in the annual charity growathon ‘Movember’, in which men up and down the land throw down their razors and vow to keep their top lip unshaved, usually with hilarious results.

That is certainly the case for two of the team at Match Of The Day. Lawro and Gary Linekar are both three weeks into their facial hair odyssey and to be frank, their respective looks are poles apart. Linekar has gone for the chic, goateed look of one of those smarmy American hypnotists that bang on about karma, whereas Lawro has kept it simple and plumped for the dusty vagrant look. Of course it’s for a good cause and we shouldn’t mock the way they look, at least not when you can wait for the first match highlights of the evening to begin at Stamford Bridge and laugh at Raul Meireles’ painful attempt to look like Toyah, or maybe even Petr Cech, whose face is increasingly adorned with more and more protection. His latest mask makes him a dead ringer for Batman and if he continues to add to the multitude of body armour, it won’t be long until he looks like the Michelin man.

Back in the studio and Alan Shearer appeared to have a real problem with the whole ‘Movember’ concept. Indeed, not only is he refusing to grow a tache, but he seems to have instructed the rest of his hair to disappear too. He lightened up a bit later though after his beloved Newcastle wrestled a point away from Old Trafford. The big story emanating from the game was the atrocious decision to award the Magpies a penalty for what was not only legitimate tackle, but a darn good one too. As you would imagine, Sir Alex was incandescent with rage but it was his opposing manager’s post-match comments that got me perplexed. A clearly-relieved Alan Pardew talked of the breathless end to the game and admitted that “even I was kicking balls at the end,” I can only assume Jonas Gutierrez was nearby and he felt like punishing him for being sent off. 

To Sunday then and it would be remiss of me not to mention the untimely and desperately tragic passing of Gary Speed this weekend. It is clear from the sheer avalanche of public anguish that Speed was a well-loved and well-respected footballer and gentleman, and his death brings with it a numbing and senseless loss. As you might imagine, the football coverage was greatly affected by the horrific news during Sunday, none more so than in Speed’s native Wales for the Swansea vs. Aston Villa match on Sky Super Sunday. Of course the news was only just filtering through as the game began but the visibly grief-stricken Shay Given and the spontaneous minute of applause from the fans in attendance ensured that the match will always be remembered for the raw poignancy of it’s circumstances.

Honourable mentions should go to Sky Sports News, the BBC News Channel and Sky News for the dedication throughout Sunday to the memory of Gary Speed and for handling the many football personalities, acquaintances and close friends that were invited to share their grief, with great respect and understanding. The sudden nature of the story breaking meant that details were developing throughout the day so it was perhaps inevitable that the most considered and measured tribute came late on Sunday evening at Match Of The Day 2. Colin Murray, Speed’s near-neighbour Michael Owen and Mark Lawrenson, who had been with Speed only twenty-four hours earlier, were able to provide a reverential and reflective homage to the man and the player that Gary Speed was. As was right, the football action was of secondary importance as the guests warmly recounted tales of tough on-field battles, joyous evenings out and of course a mutual love of the game of football that they shared with their departed friend.

The MOTD 2 team, as well as the Sky football team, should be proud of the job they did on Sunday under what must have been immensely difficult and uncertain circumstances. As the tragic details of Speed’s passing became clearer, his peerless reputation and the unbounded affection he held, was thrust to the forefront of the coverage resulting in a wonderfully heartfelt tribute to one of the great football men of our age.

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