Robin Scott-Elliot: Spoonful of Shearer helps the medicine go down ... and down

View From The Sofa: Football Focus, BBC1 / Soccer Saturday, Sky Sports / Match of the Day, BBC 1
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The Independent Online

There are times when footballers do little to combat the impression of being children trapped in adult bodies. Barry Ferguson and Alan McGregor's V-signs to the cameras at Hampden last week were straight out of Gregory's Girl. Peter Pan's got nothing on today's players, except of course his aerial ability.

This kick-a-ball kidulthood means that the ideal manager is always described as a mortar board- sporting, old-fashioned educator, dishing out detention and inspiration in equal measures. Before England's game with Ukraine, Rio Ferdinand told ITV how much the players admired Mr Capello Sir, because he was like a good teacher; Mr Chips with menace. But for a club such as Newcastle that is not enough. Sure you need discipline, but you also need a sense of fun and adventure because that is how the Geordie Nation like their game played. In short, you need Mary Poppins.

Saturday was Alan Shearer day. The day according to Garth Crooks that Newcastle's "fairy son" returned home. At least, that's what it sounded like as the BBC went all giddy over their man's first step into management against Chelsea. "It is," said Manish Bhasin, effortlessly catching the moment on Football Focus, "the battle of the interim managers."

"It's the Shearer factor," said Rob Lee from the Focus sofa as he waits to be cast alongside his old mate, possibly as Bert. "It's incredible," said somebody. "He's the Messiah," said someone else. "Pulsating," said Manish. "He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy," pointed out Terry Jones, bringing a much-needed note of realism to proceedings.

Over on Sky, Paul Merson was there to take us through the game itself, battling courageously with the English language. "Chelsea looking the more likely?" asked Jeff Stelling. "They look like the team that if anybody does will be the team, Jeff," explained Merse. And he was soon to be proved right, in a manner of speaking.

So finally to Match of the Day, from whom Shearer is on loan. As we were told again. And again. And a few more times too. Gary Lineker spoke to Big Al post-match and managed to phrase every question with a reference to his place on the sofa alongside the other Big Al. "Even though they lost, they're in a better position than when he took over," opined the Other Big Al before going on to explain that Big Al was practically perfect in every way.

As for the man himself, he looked like he was playing a part, but one he was not yet altogether sure of. He didn't seem to know what to do with his hands during the game and settled on the safety-first option of tucking them into his pockets. "The fairy tale didn't quite happen," reflected Lineker. The Other Big Al patted the sofa suggestively. "We need to educate," summed up Shearer before flicking open his brolly and floating up, up and away over St James' Park.

ITV puts England games on the map

Opening titles can be something of an industry obsession and something of an irrelevance to viewers. But ITV's choice for live England matches, where they sweep across the country from landmark to landmark, is worth a second glance; imaginative, clever and quirky.