Brian Viner: Normal service is resumed when 'Match of the Day' returns to Saturday
Saturday 14 August 2004
It's good to see Match of the Day returning to Saturday nights. In fact I'm happier to see Match of the Day back than I am to see the Premiership season, which, along with most others Evertonians I know, I am approaching with the optimistic saunter, the carefree joie de vivre, of a man heading off to toil in a salt mine for eight months.
So thank heavens for Match of the Day. It will be nice to get a weekly dose of the familiar theme tune, and I mean no disrespect to ITV, which made a decent fist of the footie highlights once Terry Venables had had his Meccano, sorry, his Pro-Zone set taken away from him, and the producers realised that it was unfair on Andy Townsend to shut him in the back of a van.
But some things are meant to be, and Saturday-night highlights on BBC1 is one of them, although amid all the satisfaction at Television Centre that the football has been wrested back, I have attempted to make a little mischief with both Gary Lineker and Alan Hansen, trying to tease out of them even a flicker of disappointment that their Saturdays are no longer their own.
Neither would play ball, ironically, although Lineker did say that Saturdays are when his sons play sport for their school, and he will miss being on the touchline. He also told me that when he had a football-related barney recently with his eldest boy, George, who is a highly opinionated 12, George snapped, "You know what the trouble with you is, don't you?" "What's that?" Lineker said. "You think," said George, "that you were so good at football!" I love that. Lineker, you'll recall, scored 48 goals for England.
As for Hansen, for the last three years he has spent his Saturday mornings playing golf at Hillside, near his home in Southport, and then, when Liverpool were at home, tootling off to Anfield in the afternoon.
But on Thursday when we had a chinwag - as all conversations with Match of the Day personnel are called, in honour of Jimmy Hill - he insisted that he was looking forward to being back in the thick of it, not least because the banter while they're all watching the Saturday matches live in the production room replicates the spirit of the dressing-room, which is the one thing he still misses from his playing career. That career, of course, was incomparably distinguished. I don't think there's anyone in English football with a haul of medals like Hansen's, whose centre-back partnership with Mark Lawrenson remains probably the greatest of all time, although what kind of Evertonian would I be if I didn't assert that Kevin Ratcliffe and Derek Mountfield ran them close?
And what kind of journalist would I be if I didn't quiz Hansen on the implications of Michael Owen leaving Liverpool?
The idea that any Liverpool player should have to leave to be sure of winning medals is one he still struggles with. "It shows how far Liverpool have fallen," he said. "But for the past 18 months at Anfield I've been watching poor, poor football. I think the chairman backed Houllier to the hilt as long as he possibly could."
Hansen implied that he was disappointed with the appointment of Rafael Benitez to succeed Gérard Houllier, saying: "I'd love to have seen a British manager at Liverpool'."
But he declined to fuel the rumour that Owen has been underwhelmed by Benitez. "Some rumours are just invented, like that stupid one I kept hearing about Martin O'Neill buying a house on the Wirral. But I did hear that Benitez was unhappy that Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, Danny Murphy and Jamie Carragher sat at the same table every day. That wouldn't have happened in 1982. Whoever was there, you sat with.
"I think that Danny Murphy hit the nail on the head when he left. He said that the things that set Liverpool apart have gone a bit. Maybe because of so many players coming in who don't speak English very well, I don't know."
Unlike me, Hansen is excited about the new Premiership season. "For the first time in ages three clubs can genuinely win it. And there are three questions to be answered: can Chelsea win the title with money, can Arsenal become the dominant force in English football, can Manchester United bounce back? Manchester United thrive on people writing them off, but it will be harder for them than ever."
Speaking of difficulties ahead, never mind the top, what of the bottom? Does the Liverpool legend think Everton will go down?
"No," said the man who predicted that United would win "nothing with kids" the year they won the Double, firmly.
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