Robin Scott-Elliot: Ferguson still the benchmark for pitch-side entertainment

View From The Sofa: Festive Football, Sky Sports
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The Independent Football

Frank Worthington appeared on screen during Manchester United's visit to Birmingham last week. He was framed by numerous empty pint glasses lining the front of the box and as his image shimmered behind the glass he resembled the ghost of footballing Christmases past.

I doubt Frank moisturises. From his arresting appearance on Come Dine With Me last year, he seems very much a man of the Seventies; a splash of Brut, perhaps, but a sensible skincare programme is best left to the ladies. Who knows whether his roving eye caught the advertising hoardings at St Andrew's promoting the England team's official skincare provider? But the electronic ones are hard to ignore if watching on television. The forever flickering inducement to fly five times a day to somewhere hot and sandy clearly worked on Sepp Blatter and it is only going to get worse (or better if you're a modern-day Don Draper).

For all the change English football has undergone in recent times, the Christmas tradition of cramming in as many games as possible remains happily untouched. It does, though, lead to a glut of games on TV and, like turkey leftover recipes, by the end of the week they can blur into one fricassée too far; West Ham v Fulham v Chelsea v Arsenal v Birmingham v Manchester United v West Brom.

Red cheeks and shiny noses are also apt for the time of year so it was good to see Sir Alex popping up regularly on screen (although not on the BBC, of course) and spreading goodwill to all men, apart from those at the BBC, of course.

There is one oddity about Ferguson's career. He may have been occupying them from before Richard Keys began shaving , but there are times when the United manager appears still not to have got the hang of sitting on the bench. Maybe it is the modern way of making them plusher than a first-class flight to somewhere hot and sandy. Being of good Scottish Presbyterian stock, he probably preferred the old-fashioned bench. When he first managed Aberdeen it was literally that, a splintered plank riddled with the burn marks of substitutes' hastily stubbed out cigarettes. There is a tale that dates from around Ferguson's tenure, in the days long before footballers moisturised, of a renowned centre-half emerging from the tunnel finishing his half-time fag and in a state of arousal the tight shorts of the time could do little to disguise. As Pittodrie is one of Britain's coldest grounds that was no small achievement.

Ferguson's first European trophy was marked by him being trampled by the rest of his back-room staff as his bench technique, getting up and finding immediate forward momentum, was exposed. He still struggles, although age could be an excuse. He now resembles a peeved pensioner waiting anxiously for a bus in rush hour. He was there first so he's bloody going to get on first... Oi, what time do you call this, driver? Stop pushing, you &*@£ers. Hang on. Stop... $%&$ it.

He was like that at Birmingham when United scored, getting overtaken by his younger staff, but at least he's worth watching.

Whether because there are more cameras at games, or managers are a larger part of the narrative, no game today is complete without regular cutaways to the bench. That means we get a good look at Carlo Ancelotti's club-shop gloves as he stands lonely as a spurned internet dater. Roy Hodgson, too, has been a frequent sight. Unlike Ancelotti, he's a sitter and there's little to hold the camera's attention. He just sits there with a slighly pained expression as if Sammy Lee has been overdoing it on the pulses again.