Tell you what, spotter's badge for Big Ron early doors. He's at the second post and ready to give it the full gun. The anecdotes are tap-dancing from him quicker than a Cristiano Ronaldo lollipop and the former West Brom and Manchester United manager is simply in his element. He's plenty left in his locker.
Half-way through his spiel his mobile phone rings. It's former player, and now co-commentator, Andy Townsend asking for a favour. Could Atkinson get him into an exclusive golf club? "Leave it with me," he's told before Atkinson turns and says, "he wants to play there tomorrow. It's posher than God that place." It's pure Ron. It's almost pure Ronglish, which is what he's there to discuss.
An internet poll has been launched to select the best "football expression" of all time. There are 60 on the short-list including five from Big Ron (unsurprisingly the most by any individual - runner-up Sir Bobby Robson) although he's quick to disassociate himself from one of them. He didn't, he insists, say: "If Glenn Hoddle said one word to his team at half-time, it was concentration and focus."
Atkinson says: "There are a lot of things I have said and most of them go back to training grounds."
Such as "lollipop" - a step-over - and "eyebrows" - a corner to be flicked on at the near post although, again, he insists that "early doors" is not one of his. "I think it was Danny Baker who said it was but I've heard it thousands of times before," says Atkinson.
The phrases, he says, save time and explanation. Not that he minds. Unlike David Coleman, who inspired Private Eye's Colemanballs, Atkinson doesn't think he's being viewed less seriously. Take the call he had last year after Southampton had beaten Spurs 4-0 and he had criticised the latter's tactics. "Pleaty [David Pleat] rang me up the next day and said I was spot on there," Atkinson says. There's a pause before someone points out that Hoddle was the manager then. "Oh, yeah," laughs Atkinson, realising he's revealed Pleat's less than glowing opinion of Hoddle.
Not that Atkinson is short of opinions of his own. Unsurprisingly he's effusive in his praise of Claudio Ranieri. "For television he has been an absolute plum," he says. Then Atkinson feels that Roy Keane should make a public apology before he's allowed to play for his country again and Big Ron - an Aston Villa fan and former manager - insists that "Deadly" Doug Ellis won't sell up. "He's no need of the money," he says. Atkinson also admires Ken Bates and says his arrival at another of his old clubs, Sheffield Wednesday, would be good news. "Whatever people say about him he gets things done - and he does people," Atkinson chuckles.
It's entertaining stuff. But the best bits are his anecdotes. Such as when commentator Gary Newbon, he who referred to the "Borussia" derby between Dortmund and Moenchengladbach, missed out on a Paul Gascoigne interview. "He was told they'd spun for it [in his absence] and he had lost," Atkinson says. "And Gary said 'you cannot spin for it as I'm ITV's official tosser'." For Big Ron it's easy oasy.
SLICK AS A PARROT
1 Sir Bobby Robson: "We didn't underestimate them. They were just a lot better than we thought."
2 Dave Bassett: "You weigh up the pros and cons and put them in chronological order."
3 David Beckham: "My parents have been there for me, ever since I was about seven."
4 Ian Rush: "I couldn't settle in Italy - it was like living in a foreign country."
5 Kevin Keegan: "Goalkeepers aren't born today until they're in their late twenties or thirties."
6 Mark Viduka: "I would not be bothered if we lost every game as long as we won the League."
7 Paul Gascoigne: "I never predict anything and I never will."
8 Ron Atkinson: "Giving the ball away doesn't seem to work in international football."
9 Stuart Pearce: "I can see the carrot at the end of the tunnel."
10 Terry McDermott: "No one hands you cups on a plate."
This is a selection of 10 from the 60 expressions shortlisted. Visit www.thinkclear.co.uk to vote.
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