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Tuesday, 09 April 2013

Outside the Box – Football on TV: Di Canio attempts to form his first impression while West Ham’s Brady dispels hers


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Fascist, egotistical, divisive, authoritarian, plain bonkers; these words are ringing around all our ears right now thanks to a recent media storm it’s been impossible to escape from. No, not the death of a former Prime Minister yesterday, although I can see why you’d think that. Instead it is the recent appointment of Paolo Di Canio as Sunderland boss that has created the biggest fevered whirlwind of conjecture in the world of football since Ryan Giggs popped round his brother’s gaff.

You could be forgiven for believing that the maniacal Di Canio had in fact been handed the keys to Number 10 as opposed to the Stadium Of Light, such has been the intense spotlight on his political leanings and alleged links to far-right campaigns, as well as being a bit of a Mussolini fanboy. Thankfully, we could actually get down to seeing what kind of football manager he is on Sunday as his new charges faced a stern away trip to Stamford Bridge, the featured game on Match Of The Day 2. I say we wanted to find out what kind of football manager he is, I am aware that his new post is not his first foray into club management but I can count the number of times I’ve watched Swindon recently on one hand; in fact I could do it without any hands.

So what were the first impressions? Well, warmly hugging John Terry before the game began hardly hushed the cacophony of dissenting voices; it was like watching Hitler affectionately embracing Darth Vader - we’re lucky their meeting didn’t bring about the apocalypse. Di Canio was evidently nervous as he took his place on the touchline, presumably the nerves explain why he turned up looking like a camp TV property expert. He will have been calmed when his struggling side took a surprising lead in first half stoppage time, but even the most sanguine of Mackems must have expected Chelsea to roar back which of course they did, to leave Di Canio musing on a lack of fitness in the camp and not enough red-blooded, passionate, fist-pumping, Nazi-saluting amongst his beleaguered squad.

A slightly iffy start for Di Canio then, and he will have to improve his team immeasurably if he is going to silence the hoards of doubters who have so mercilessly sniped at him since his appointment. Still, if Twitter’s an accurate gauge on popularity, and I’m spectacularly confident it is; Di Canio has a long way to fall to become as disliked as Mrs Thatcher judging by yesterday’s torrent of bile.

Speaking of tough, progressive women in power; transatlantic laxative substitute Piers Morgan invited the “First Lady of football” Karren Brady onto his modestly titled Piers Morgan Life Stories last week. Somewhere back in my football fan past, I had built up a picture of Brady, the former Birmingham MD and current West Ham Vice-Chairman, as a hard-nosed, matron-like bogeyman of football without ever bothering to find out whether it was an accurate impression. So tuning into the show I was expecting to experience that rare televisual occurrence of Morgan being the lesser of two evils; but how wrong my apparently chauvinistic instincts were. Because Brady showed me, and all of those other misinformed football fans over the years what an incredibly loving, articulate and impressive person she is. It was impossible not to be bowled over by the sheer guts she must have had to build up the floundering Birmingham City at the tender age of twenty-three; twenty-three! At twenty-three I could barely tie my shoe laces, yet here was this young woman, not only attempting to infiltrate the burly male-dominated game of football, but stunningly outperforming all of the tubby, beer-bellied oafs she dealt with in the boardroom.

But what shone out of the interview more than her savvy business acumen, was the tender story of her noticeably close-knit family. Asked early about her perceived robust temperament, she answered that she had “two personalities: a home personality and a work personality”, at which point a salivating Piers Morgan asked if he could have one of them to fill the gaping hole in his own. The ‘home personality’ she spoke of belied the domineering, stiletto-heeled tyrant image that has often been presented to us, and watching her talk affectionately of her two children and Panini sticker stalwart husband Paul Peschisolido who, incidentally we learned, she sold twice while in charge at Birmingham, was a real treat.

So in a week in which we lost a colossal female icon, it was a joy to see another take centre stage and prove that football isn’t just for boys. Despite Barry Fry calling her a “hard bastard” and the fact that she works alongside literally the two shadiest businessman in Britain - messrs Sullivan and Gold; Karren Brady demonstrated to us all why first impressions can be wholly false and misleading: something we should perhaps remember as we all cast our eyes towards the Stadium Of Light.

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Chris Pettitt

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