James Corrigan: Patron saints of punditry mingle joy with grieving

View From The Sofa: Saint and Greavsie/Setanta Sports</
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The Independent Culture

"Listen, Bolly, there are three kinds of football club in the world: the haves, the have-nots and the have-not-yet-paid for-what-they-haves. Got it? Good."

OK, DCI Gene Hunt actually said "people" not "football club" in Monday night's offering of Ashes To Ashes, but as Southampton continued their barefooted hop on the searing tightrope of survival, and as St James' Park threatened to go all Elland Road, it was difficult to listen to the straight-talking, politically incorrect hero of this time-travelling classic and not reapply his words.

After all, the dutiful game and its subjects were still indistinguishable back then; the people was the football club and the football club was of the people. So much has changed since 1982. Except Saint and Greavsie, of course.

Nineteen eighty-two was the year when the pair first hit the screens with their (still) novel format of humorous observation and penetrating analysis, a gig that was to keep the old boys off the state's books for the next decade or so. Then Sky came along, football was transformed into a 24-hour obsession and "Ian and James" (as their dear mothers used to call the show) was buried under the game's newly discovered importance.

Well, Setanta dug them up on Saturday. And it was sad.

Not sad because of any depreciation on their part, although I must confess that when Setanta announced that Saint and Greavsie were to be "unencrypted" for their FA Cup coverage, huge boulders being rolled away from tombs popped into the mind. What else would Setanta resurrect in their desperation? The Dickie Davies moustache, twitching there on the desk like some epileptic caterpillar? Or what about the Jimmy Hill chin, crashing around the set like the monstrous mammary gland in Woody Allen's Everything you always wanted to know about sex...? They could have just revived the Des Lynam pay-off, but Gary Lineker has been doing that for years with varying degrees of failure.

No, this plucked at the misery strings simply because it made us hark back to the days when football and its pundits could still be enjoyed and when the build-up to the FA Cup final was as entertaining as the match itself. Saint was Saint, chuckling at the Greavsie rants and, although Greavsie clearly still employs his scriptwriter – "that Drogba fella gets in people's ears, up their backsides, and in their ribs" – the said scriptwriter has mothballed very nicely. The gags weren't flippant or irrelevant (re Lineker), the criticisms were courageously aimed and not cowardly in their vagueness (re Hansen, Lawrenson) and the insight was of an infinitely higher quality than the brain-numbing platitude (re Shearer, Schmeichel etc). It was the way it used to be and oh, how the soul ached for the past.

After this success (they were widely credited with giving ITV a damn good Cup stuffing), Setanta will doubtless offer Saint and Greavsie a regular slot. But we can't go back. Too much water has gone under the bridge, too many roubles into the Bridge. Everyone has got carried away and half of them should be carried away. What Gene Genie would make of it cannot be printed.