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Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Outside the Box – Football on TV: Spain conquered, but Fabio gets a reality check from a Spurs and England legend

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Sqf Chris Pettitt

I don’t know if you noticed but the greatest footballing nation of recent years popped over during the weekend. You could quite legitimately be forgiven for letting it pass you by though, as the life of an England supporter over recent times has left the vast majority of us bare husks, bereft of hope and with an aching and jaded despondency whenever international fixtures come around. Even the ridiculously over-the-top phoney war with Fifa over the squad’s desire to wear poppies failed to really generate any genuine spark or excitement.

Of course, against all conventional logic, the England v Spain game ended in a victory for our boys, although it must be said that it wasn’t the most thrilling of games, despite the result. It had a similar sort of feel to a third round FA Cup tie between Man Utd and Doncaster in which Donny spend the game camped in their own half before nicking a goal to pick up the win, the only difference being that Dean Saunders wasn’t at Wembley on Saturday trying to persuade El Hadji Diouf not to kick a nearby child. Or he might have been, but they didn’t show it on TV.

Fair play to England though, a hard-fought victory over the current World and European champions should not be derided; but you did get the sense that for the Spanish boys, the game was no more than an exhibition. Not that you would believe that, listening to the collected voices at ITV. Adrian Chiles, Gareth Southgate, Jamie Carragher and Andy Townsend were all banging on about the importance of the game and that this was “more than a friendly”; and as ever, the moon-faced Clive Tyldesley was screeching us into submission with his relentlessly earnest support for the cause. He seems to be on an eternal mission to convince you that the game you are watching is the most crucial football match that has ever been played. I sometimes wonder whether he is embroiled in a Saw-like situation and if he fails to keep us convinced of the overwhelming significance of the game he is describing, then he will be instantly decapitated with a swipe of Jim Beglin’s old shin pad.

Tyldesley was also stressing the importance of the game with respect to the England manager’s future plans, and before the game posed the question “what will Fabio Capello learn tonight?” Well, if he continued to watch ITV into the evening, he would have learned that Paul Gascoigne once fed his best friend Jimmy ‘Five Bellies’ Gardner mince pies laced with his faeces. There were dozens more warm and heartening stories like that when Gazza sat down for Piers Morgan’s Life Stories. The infamous Raoul Moat escapade, Gazza’s torturous battle with alcoholism and of course his dazzling career were all on the agenda for this emotionally charged interview. Clean for 11 months, Gazza looked immeasurably better than he has for a long time, his mischievous charm thankfully still in tact despite the years of self-inflicted sufferings.

There were also a few surprises to spring out of the interview; finding out Linda Lusardi is still alive, and that she seems to be some kind of expert on Gazza’s life; learning that the promise of a sunbed for his sister was the reason that he chose Spurs over Ferguson’s United all those years ago; and most astoundingly that Jose Mourinho once climbed out of his own backside long enough to refer to Gazza as ‘the Special One’.

But this programme was about so much more than the football personalities that have clambered onto Gazza’s coattails throughout the years. It was a tremendous reminder of the prodigious talent the man had, and the destructive powers that it can reap. I was unfortunately too young to witness Gazza’s heady highs but have been all too painfully aware of his calamitous lows; yet to see him resolute in his desire to make a better life for himself and his family was a timely reminder of how football really does produce players you are proud to support.

So, if Capello was watching Gazza’s life story, there may have been one further unnerving truth that he learned; that his job next summer will be all the more difficult without a player of Gascoigne’s spell-binding calibre, and that really is a sobering thought for Capello, Gazza and every other England fan.

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