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Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Outside the Box – Football on TV: Manchester disunited but the magic of the FA Cup is alive and well

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Sqf Chris Pettitt

The much talked about magic of the FA Cup was present in abundance this Sunday during the huge third round Manchester showdown, in fact there was more magic contained in the 90 minutes than during a Paul Daniels swingers party. Chris Foy’s card tricks, a disappearing City captain and most mystifying of all, Owen Hargreaves making it through ten minutes of football without dislocating his collarbone or something.

The feeling of enchantment was in the air long before kick-off however with the news of United legend Paul Scholes’ decision to come out of retirement and pull on the red jersey once again, and his inclusion on the bench for the derby. The broadcasts were abuzz with the news of Scholes’ return and it was almost being heralded as a marquee signing for Fergie’s men. What you possibly might have missed in the enthusiastic coverage was that Scholesy wasn’t the only player itching to step out of retirement; City themselves had been approached by a former legend with the offer to play, but Roberto Mancini politely declined Danny Mills’ pleading proposal, before having him ejected from the Etihad Stadium and asking a nearby steward: “Who was that?”

The third round of the FA Cup is usually the point at which the competition shuffles onto most football fans’ radars and consequently Sunday’s ITV FA Cup Third Round Live extravaganza was this season’s first opportunity to see FA Cup football. As it’s the only domestic football ITV have, they tend to throw the entire £6.68 budget at it, and the opening titles are a technicolour odyssey including perky comic book graphics, glorious images of FA Cup moments and a spirited soundtrack from The Enemy.

Of course all of the dizzying excitement that builds up goes soaring out of the window as soon as the gloom-laden pug face of Adrian Chiles appears onscreen. Chiles was joined in the studio by a stellar line-up of British football legends… and Gareth Southgate for the tasty Manchester derby clash. One of the guests Peter Reid, a regular contributor of mirth to this column, was curiously not held back for Sunderland’s live FA Cup tie that immediately followed the game in Manchester; perhaps the ITV execs had tuned into Reid’s recent Sky performances during the Mackem’s games and decided that would be absolutely pointless.

The game itself was of course a hotbed of intrigue, drama and chaos. The big talking point was obviously the early sending off of City captain Vincent Kompany and whether it was the right decision. A lot of commentators have subsequently pointed an accusing finger at Wayne Rooney for his extreme reaction to Kompany’s challenge; was the United forward responsible for persuading referee Foy to issue the red card? Well I’m not sure, I’m starting to think that violently-animated gurning shriek that Rooney lets out is just his default reaction to any news his tiny tiny brain receives. Happy, sad, alarmed, aroused, it always produces the effect similar to that of a disgruntled ape who’s been hit over the head with a shovel. 

My opinion on Kompany’s dismissal? Well I subscribe to the old adage of judging the players’ reactions; the victim of the tackle, United’s Nani didn’t even flinch and considering under usual circumstances, he only has to feel the vibrations of a teammate’s nasty cough to go flailing to the ground, I’d say that was a fairly clear indication of the danger of the challenge.

Nevertheless, City were down to ten men and despite a valiant effort to overturn the 3-0 halftime scoreline, it was United that progressed. Although there were some jittery moments for the Red Devils towards the end of the game as Mancini’s men pushed for an equaliser and some of the younger United lads came close to wilting under the pressure; even the normally-composed Giggs was showing signs of tension, but that was possibly more to do with the latest series of Celebrity Big Brother freshly on our screens.

A great game then to mark the arrival of the big boys into the FA Cup and an admirable job done by ITV, although if you are going to insist on choosing motor-mouth Manc Clive Tyldesley to commentate on United’s games, at least urge him to try to cloak his obvious love for them. It sometimes get’s a little embarrassing.

There was time for one more moment of merriment during Sunday’s FA Cup day of treats – the fourth round draw. The gargoyle-esque Jim Rosenthal returned to settle us down after the fevered football of the afternoon and began, “we’re about to make the fourth round draw with Budweiser”. Well, if you think giving Dave Jones a drink will make it more entertaining, then I’m all for it Jim.

Just time to mention a delightful return to form for Saturday morning footy-fest Soccer AM this week. Hilarious throughout, largely thanks to the assembled guests Noel Gallagher, ‘Stifler’ from American Pie and England Rugby Union star Chris Ashton. The former Oasis guitarist particularly was on sparkling form and his banter with United fan Ashton was a source of much amusement. Gallagher also managed to articulate most people’s views on rugby when he described it as “a nonsense game” and that “dwarf throwing is a redeeming feature”. There you go Chiles, that’s how you appear more interesting on TV.

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