Football: A pate full of superlatives

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The Independent Online

LIKE MOST footy fanatics, I've always hung on to every word of players and managers. Lately, though, they've become about as unfathomable as one of Jorge Campos's goalie's jerseys.

I blame it all on this percentage effort business, you know. Nobody can make head nor tail of it. If I recall rightly, in the good old, bad old days everything used to be plain sailing. Players and managers simply used to give their all. One hundred per cent effort and that was that. Game shot.

And now?

Put it this way - I hear it's even got Carol Vordeman stumped. And there was a time when the poor girl could calculate the odds of a Stig Bjornebye cross reaching the far post to three decimal places. And still find time to laugh at a Richard Whiteley joke.

Not any more, though.

They say it all started to go haywire about 10 years ago. Ironically, it's reckoned it was two of our esteemed old pros, Sir Bobby Charlton and Jimmy Greaves, who triggered it...

Guesting on Saint and Greavsie, it seems Sir Bobby was asked by Greavsie to estimate the extent of his own hair loss.

"Now then, Bobby, me old fruit, tell us all this then, me old cock sparra. How much of the old `barnet' would yer say has vamoosed up the Great North Road since our old England Under-23 days, then, eh mate?"

Overnight, the expression "110 per cent" was born.

Once unleashed, the phrase spread like baby oil on Sir Bobby's pate. Soon 110 per cent itself seemed scarcely sufficient to convey the players' efforts. Before long, even the likes of big Jan Molby and Matt Le Tissier were said to be cruising at levels of 140-150 per cent, making them fleeter of foot than their counterparts from bygone eras.

Relativity in time and motion, they termed it.

Take big Jan himself. Ponderous to the naked eye, maybe. That, though, was a mere optical illusion. Compared with his predecessors, the guy was a gazelle. If not quite a blur, then certainly faster than Francisco Gento. Even carrying a crate of Heineken.

Confused? Then join the club.

Nor was it any less bemusing down the other end of the pitch.

Take Willie Young. You remember Willie? Accused of bringing down Paul Allen in the 1980 Cup Final? Well, he never did. "That's right, you heard. Our Willie was innocent." The same relativity principle has now proven that at the time of the incident, he was, in fact, still disembarking from the Arsenal coach in the Wembley concourse. Evidently the last step alone took him 40 minutes to negotiate.

Now is that slow or is that slow? Bizarre, too, I'd say.

And it gets more bizarre the further back in time we go. An example? Try Paddy Crerand. It now transpires Paddy was such a slowcoach he actually spent his entire career running backwards.

Can you credit it? And here's us thinking he always used to run sideways.

And so, to today - and perhaps the most bewildering percentage of all. Kevin Keegan, it seems, has pledged to give 1,000 per cent as boss of England. That's right, one thousand per cent.

Astonishing, eh? And him only part-time, too.

Even more astonishing, though, is the effect Kevin's latest claim has had on Paddy Crerand. Evidently, the poor guy was last spotted disappearing up his own backside in sheer desperation.

Mind you, given his chronic lack of pace, that's probably no bad thing, you know.


Alan Edge is the author of `Faith of our Fathers - Football as a Religion'.