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Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Outside the Box – Football on TV: A boring birthday for the FA as the stars fail to shine


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For most people, an evening out at the local pub will be a largely stress-free excursion filled with raucous banter, sorrowful introspection and a touch of casual xenophobia. Nights out in this great country have followed that tight format for hundreds of years, never wavering in the face of adverse obstacles such as smoking bans, world wars or David Cameron. I would say I’m not alone when admitting that my hours wiled away in my local public house are among my happiest, yet least productive moments.

However, this negligent approach to social time shared my most of us feckless souls, was once shunned by a killjoy named Ebenezer Cobb Morley and his mates in their local boozer. They were to forego the usual tequila slammers and scampi fries and instead spent their evening drawing up the rules for what would become the great game of football we hold so dearly today. What a waste of a night out.

That’s right, back in the gloomy smog of ol’ Lahndon Town in 1863 at the Freemasons’ Tavern, the FA began a 150 year reign of glorious ineptitude and comical folly; and to kick off the landmark birthday this year, Sky Sports News brought us the FA150 Anniversary Launch last Wednesday lunchtime. I’m not sure why Sky were given the gig over the more-established broadcasters, but their picks to host the event were the two most photogenic drones from the Sky Sports News studios and this at least lent some much needed pizzazz to proceedings. Because friends, it was dull. Dull with a capital D. Duller than a Super Sunday game between Stoke and Reading. Duller than Jamie Redknapp’s forthcoming memoirs. Dull.

You’d think that in a history spanning 150 years and encompassing the entire global community, the FA would be able to scare up a few more interesting people than Roy Hodgson, some featureless Tory Minister and bloody Olly Murs wouldn’t you? But no, all the best ones stayed away; Mourinho, Gerrard, Fergie, Pep, Arsene – they all cried off and offered lame excuses and phoney apologies. The two most culpable absentees were ‘posh boy’ Prince William, only the bloomin’ President of the FA; and the slightly less posh, but infinitely richer David Beckham. I was particularly perturbed by Becks’ no-show as he’s usually the first to turn up at these things and bang on about how proud he is. During the Olympics in London, he’d show up at a phone box to express his ‘deep honour’ at being an ambassador for the Games, but suddenly he’s “too busy” to commemorate the game that made his millions. Well don’t come crying to us David when Seb Coe deletes you from his Blackberry!

The footballing names who did bother to turn up didn’t really help to liven up the stuffy atmosphere. There was a bit of good-natured joshing between Alan Shearer and Germany’s Oliver Bierhoff over their respective memories of Euro 96, and of course you can always have a good laugh at Shearer’s ghostly hairline. There was also John Barnes who tried valiantly to lower the snoozometer by literally talking faster than the human ear can cope with, but even this failed to excite the almost comatose crowd. If I’d have been in charge, I would have invited Mario Balotelli and Paul Gascoigne along with a six-pack of Stella and Gazza’s pet Labrador and then given them the stage for half an hour. You’re almost guaranteed entertainment. But no such hi-jinks were planned and the rapidly diminishing guest list only got more and more tedious. There was the ageless Sir Trev Brooking talking about how much football had changed since he was a lad presumably knocking the ball against the wall of the Freemasons’ Tavern whilst Ebenezer and his mates were working inside. Then there was Howard Webb, who’d been given the day off by Sir Alex to mumble something about referees being ‘special’; and poor old Fabrice Muamba, who had to answer the same question he’s continually been asked since his retirement: can you get David Bernstein Strictly Come Dancing tickets Fab?

I’m sure the coming year of events to mark the FA’s 150th Anniversary are going to be varied and exhilarating; I’m particularly looking forward to the ‘National Football Day’ in August announced by Prince William, which I can only assume will be a Bank Holiday because it came from the mouth of a Royal; that’s the law Cameron, so we can all have a day off work. But to start the year’s celebrations with this damp squib of a shindig was incredibly calamitous; it was like preparing for a Beatles concert by wheeling out One Direction to sing a few bars. It needed more stars, more excitement and more Balotelli. But they’ve got a whole year, and perhaps another 150 to make up for it. The FA deserve their party, but if we want the Premier League, England and indeed the game of football to continue to prosper then Bernstein, Wills and the rest need to take a leaf out of Ebenezer Morley’s chaste book, turn down the Sherry and get on with the job. Then perhaps, there truly will be something for the FA to toast.

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Chris Pettitt

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