Robin Scott-Elliot: Hansen the king of Saturday stonewallers
Soccer Saturday/Carling Cup, Sky Sports/BBC
Monday 17 January 2011
It was Ron Atkinson, after once more failing to collect his final piece of cheese during one of Clive Tyldesley's infamous shepherd's pie and Trivial Pursuit parties in the late Nineties, who remarked with a wry smile that history is the most surprising of mistresses.
During the American Civil War, General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson became so concerned over his troops' tendency to feign injury on the battlefield, going down too easily, that he insisted on his doctors making absolutely certain that the wound was true before the injured man was taken away. Over time this became known in US military lexicon as the Stonewall penalty – if you were wounded, you then had to be prodded by the doc before being let into hospital – but it was not until the Second World War and the flood of US servicemen into this country that the expression crossed the Atlantic. It was soon picked by their British counterparts through inter-unit football games, confusing affairs in which the Americans caused chaos by refusing to shed their helmets.
It has long since become ingrained in our football culture, which is why this weekend we had three stonewall penalties in the first 10 minutes of Soccer Saturday. Which is early doors in anyone's book.
Soccer Saturday plays an important part in the evolution of the English language, especially with Paul Merson, a committed stonewaller, and Dean Windass, the new Paul Merson, using words, and at times collections of letters, in a way few could have imagined possible. At one point Windass, who was watching Leeds against Scunthorpe, delivered a stream of consciousness in which the only recognisable words were rubbish, scunny and long afternoon. He is the first true beat pundit.
Alan Hansen is the daddy of the stonewallers, rarely missing a chance to dig out his pointing trowel when a centre-forward hits the ground inside the area. Hansen has rarely appeared to stretch himself in recent months/years/ decades (take your pick). A typical piece of analysis runs "Two good feet, good in the air. Stonewall penalty", followed by a glare at the presenter that says: "That's your lot, you wee English bampot – I've got a tee-off time to keep."
Live domestic games on the BBC are almost as rare as West Ham semi-finals, so it made for happy viewing to see Hansen and Co make a good go of things at Upton Park (insert Avram Grant joke here). There is one question though that arose from the game: what's happened to Guy Mowbray? He was anointed as Motty's successor (thought for the day: Clare Balding described herself as Tigger last week – what member of A A Milne's crew would Motty be?) for the World Cup and did a fine job, so why wasn't he in situ last Tuesday for a big live game? Perhaps Jonathan Pearce, who was there and still can't stop himself gabbling when things get exciting, has locked Mowbray in his garage.
In the studio Gary Lineker, Hansen and Lee Dixon had plenty to talk about after a see-saw first-half at a club threatening to go into meltdown against another who were striving for a first cup final in colour and so they watched a report about Liverpool and then spoke about Liverpool. Perhaps it is the return of his old mcmucker that has reanimated Hansen, but he was back to his feisty best. Lineker has become a very able frontman. There are fewer nods and winks than Des the Housewives' Deus and he has an easy control of the studio, which with Hansen in this sort of mood is no mean feat.
It had to come, though. A Birmingham penalty appeal. "Stonewall," said Hansen. Jackson, by the way, really was shot by his own men in the end; the ultimate stonewall penalty.
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