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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Outside the Box – Football on TV: Stelling and his merry mates bring festive cheer and genuine fear in the absence of any football


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Sqf Chris Pettitt

If we boil it down, there are two distinct ways to spend the festive period. You either endure the holiday wallowing in a pit of desperate desolation, alone with no hope of joviality, good tidings or communal kinship. Sat crestfallen in front of Eastenders on Christmas night, nursing a bottle of gin and reading Jeremy Clarkson’s autobiography while fighting the overpowering urge to cry. This is how I suspect (and secretly hope) Cristiano Ronaldo spends Christmas time. Of course the cheerier and far more common way to celebrate Christmas is to spend a load of time with your mates and family getting merry and having a good old giggle.

I’m pleased to say that the latter is what Jeff Stelling and his band of portly pundits chose to do for the Soccer Saturday Annual 2011 on Christmas Day. Joining Stelling were Matt Le Tissier, Charlie Nicholas, Phil Thompson and the epically challenging Paul Merson whose slapdash approach to … well everything, means that he will always be immensely watchable.

The Soccer Saturday Christmas Specials have been a festive fixture for almost a decade now and the gang decided this year to look back on some of the more memorable highlights of previous years. For example back in 2004, the Soccer Saturday team took part in the ‘Senior Superstars’ sports challenge in which the likes of Kammy, Stelling and Le Tiss competed in events such as rowing and golf. The highlight (or more aptly, lowlight) was forgotten man Rodney Marsh’s decision to celebrate his last place in the swimming by removing his trunks and ‘floating free’ in the pool. It came very close to ruining my entire Christmas, I can tell you.

In between the cosy memories of years gone by, this year’s guests reminisced over the golden memories on show and generally took the mickey out of each other. In particular the boys enjoyed making light of the running theme throughout – the weight problems they shared, although the joke did have to be explained to Merson after he admitted to not knowing what ‘rotund’ meant. I imagine there are many more words he doesn’t know the meaning of too.

Merse was actually suffering the brunt of the banter, and Stelling got in an early dig when he stated that Merse’s favourite childhood comic strip was ‘The Gambols’. Not that Merse particularly noticed, not with all the shiny tinsel adorning the table.

The back and forth bi-play between the guests, alongside the cosy proximity and underlying threat of violence made me think of the Soccer Saturday Annual 2011 as having a very similar feel to that of ‘Loose Women’, only with more alcohol and less body hair. It was a fine way to spend Christmas morning (in the absence of any real football of course, an issue that urgently needs to be addressed before next Christmas!), and Stelling and his boorish boys ensured that if you hadn’t already began drinking, then Rodney Marsh’s bare backside would have you grasping for the Scotch.

The hangover might just have cleared by the time Boxing Day came around, and finally something to get excited about as the football recommenced. It certainly seemed as though one of the Match Of The Day regulars may have overindulged a tad; Lawro looked a little worse for wear, not that it stopped him pontificating over the Premier League games of the day.

Manchester United were up first for their game against lowly Wigan and we were informed that Roberto Martinez’s men had never taken a single Premier League point from United. Would they enjoy a little Christmas magic and end that run? Well no. Rather predictably the game ended with a 5-0 trouncing for the Latics, and another result adding to the growing ominous feeling towards United’s form, particularly coupled with rivals Man City dropping points at West Brom. The result at the Hawthorns did provide the day’s one genuine shock, Ben Foster keeping a clean sheet. And against the likes of Balotelli, Aguero and Silva. I suppose they do say Christmas is the time for miracles.

There was more festive wonder at Anfield where under-fire Blackburn boss Steve Kean escaped with a point and continues to defy conventional logic by retaining his employment with the poultry royals Venky’s. His seemingly impervious defences to avoid being removed from his position could be explained away by this being Venky’s busiest period of trading, the consequence being that they’ve taken their eye off the footy to sell more turkeys. No no, I’m sure all Rovers’ fans will agree; they are just extremely incompetent. Merry Christmas Venky’s; and Merry Christmas to you all.

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