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Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Outside the Box – Football on TV: A love-in for O’Neill as marvel Martin ruins Rovers’ day


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Sqf Chris Pettitt

It was clear at 1pm on Sunday what the overriding theme of the day was going to be on Sky Sports’ Live Super Sunday. Ed Chamberlain, growing more and more comfortably into the role of football anchorman, opened the afternoon’s football coverage by loudly proclaiming, “Sunderland’s new era begins today!” And why? Because new boss Martin O’Neill had spent the entirety of last week boring the pants off anybody that would listen about his golden boyhood days spent kissing posters of Sunderland legends and speaking in a broad Mackem accent while shovelling coal around.

It was clear then that O’Neill was giddy with excitement, but that was nothing compared to the animated and success-starved Sunderland faithful. As is the standard broadcasting procedure in these circumstances, a work-experience kid was sent with a microphone up to the Stadium Of Light to garner the random musings of the excitable match day fans; “absolutely delighted”, cried one as he choked back joyful tears. Another chimed in with, “his record speaks for itself!”

However the outpouring of ecstasy did threaten to spill over into lust as some were getting a bit too carried away; there were particularly unnerving carnal undertones when one slightly unsettling fan said he was “over the moon, I’ve wanted him for years”. I’m not sure O’Neill is after that kind of affection.

It wasn’t just the fans being sleazy either; other contributors to the pre-match content were indulging in mindless filth too. Blackburn striker Yakubu brazenly explained in an interview that “you need people from behind to cheer you up” and even the impish Peter Reid who, possibly referring to studio co-guest Dwight Yorke’s sordid past said, “he’ll be desperate for a clean sheet”. Not since the notorious Sky Sports Christmas party of ’08, when Andy Gray and Richard Keys performed their infamous ‘Benny Hill Does Dallas’ sketch, have the studios at Sky experienced such squalid lewdness.

Peter Reid was, and always is, a curious guest. Flitting between manic hyperactivity and sullen grumpiness, he was presumably invited on as a former Sunderland manager to give an insight into what O’Neill may be enduring over the coming months. The best pearl of wisdom he could muster was when he admitted that, “Sunderland fans think they should be winners of the league – that’s passion!” No Reidy, it’s not passion, it’s lunacy. But we must always accept that certain caveats come with any of Peter Reid’s thoughts, as he is technically an ape.

So pre-match was entertaining enough, this meant the game itself had to keep the enjoyment going and it generally did. O’Neill’s first team selection threw up some interesting points; Conner Wickham leading the line for starters and also the apparent lack of O’Neill’s ethical fibre as he reinstated Titus Bramble to his backline despite his recent unceremonious off-field antics.

There were notable characters in the Blackburn line-up too. Steve Kean turned to Kaka-lookalike Mauro Formica for a spark of creativity, but as ever he was more knacker than Kaka. And then there was the 74-year old Michel Salgado whose transformation into Mickey Rourke comes on leaps and bounds each and every day.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sunderland got off to a winning start under O’Neill but it was thanks more to Blackburn’s weekly trick of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory than Sunderland’s superiority. O’Neill should and must know that he has a long way to go before his Sunderland team are reminiscent of his childhood darlings.

As for Blackburn and Steve Kean, the misery will surely continue towards it’s inevitable conclusion, and if I thought there were indecent thoughts from the Sunderland fans regarding O’Neill, then I shudder to think of the utterings outside of Ewood Park at the moment.

A day earlier on Sky saw the season’s first league meeting, or to be more accurate - scrap, between Real Madrid v Barcelona for the El Clasico. I have to say, the whole grudge match thing has become rather tiresome and with the array of talent and technique that is on show, the last thing we should have to sit through is some WWE-style posturing from Ronaldo, Mourinho et al. I was hopeful of a real humdinger after Victor Valdes’ comedy goalkeeping led to Benzema’s opener after only a minute of the game. Unfortunately, normal service soon resumed, particularly in the second half and Barcelona’s dominance proved once more that they really are the team to beat in Europe. Apart from Blackburn of course … everybody beats them.

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