Name game leaves Tyldesley stalled in pit lane

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The Independent Online
I BLAME Fifa. At the first sightings during the World Cup they should have stamped it out. Jaap Stamped it out in fact (though he wasn't the first - that was Gianluca Vialli a few years ago, I seem to remember).

I'm talking about shaven heads, which have been getting out of hand lately. Manchester United's Polish visitors on Wednesday for the Champions' League qualifier (ITV), the deeply unambitious LKS Lodz, had clearly decided that their only hope of pulling out any kind of result depended on bamboozling the opposition with tonsorial uniformity.

On first inspection, it looked as if United were about to take on 11 Ivan Denisoviches, though on closer inspection the truth was more horrifying: it was 11 Dennis Wises they were up against. "Any English player thinking of having their head shaved - don't," said the commentator, Clive Tyldesley, thinking of a season of misidentification ahead of him. Not that Lodz were the only willing victims of a No 1 crop. When Stam or Roy Keane clashed with any of the Poles, it looked like an impromptu game of Twister at a Combat 88 convention. I suppose these things are done to foster team spirit - remember the bottle-blond Romanians in the World Cup. But it's immensely distracting and I wish they'd stop it.

Beckham, with his silly, fussy, floppy fringe, should seriously consider it, though. What he has so far been unable to grasp in his very public career is that brand spanking new convertible Jag or not, Spice person on his arm or not, a bad hairdo still makes him look ridiculous. Still, why should he care? It's not as if the nation's out to get him or anything.

He can console himself with the fact that if things do get nasty at any stage, he's got Keane on his side. A friend told me she fantasises about a steamy encounter with the Irishman in the United dressing room - which makes me think that perhaps something's gone wrong somewhere in her development, because although I've no idea what he's like as a lover (and have very little wish to find out), he looks truly terrifying.

After a season of inaction, he was soon back in the swing of things on Wednesday, steaming in on some hapless Pole. "He should be patient and jockey people a bit," said Ron Atkinson, while Tyldesley advised that "he really has got to be controlled tonight" - which is a bit like giving the police CS gas and expecting them to use it only in emergencies. Still, Keane's a lovely lad. After Gary Neville had been jockeyed off the ball on the opposition goal-line, it didn't take an HND in lip-reading to see what Keane was saying (and he was miming it vigorously anyway): "Nev! Nev!" you could see him yelling. "Elbow him!" As I say, a lovely lad.

The shaven heads weren't giving Tyldesley grief so much as his attempts to pronounce their names. Trying to do a Barry Davies with the team name, he came up with "LKS Woods", as in Tiger Lodz, though later he'd corrected it to "LKS Wudge". The goalkeeper, Boguslaw Wyparlo, came out as "Boguslaw Ray Parlour", though Tyldesley had no trouble with the splendidly named Omadiagbe Darlington.

It's a question of Life After Brian for ITV, and Tyldesley, though technically a superior commentator to Brian Moore (but then which commentator wasn't?), lacks that ham quality that made Moore annoying yet endearing. He kicked off with an ambitious Formula One metaphor, about this being qualifying with the chequered flag far away, that ran for several laps on empty before coming in for an overlong tyre change, stalling in the pit lane and ending up with no championship points.

Tyldesley also showed a worrying tendency to weigh his commentary down with lumps of Motsonry, providing an overly thorough run-down on the technical specifications of the new playing surface at Old Trafford, for example (the only one of its kind in the northern hemisphere, apparently, grown on a Yorkshire turf farm and costing pounds 500,000 with 12 pop-up sprinklers embedded in it).

Back in the studio, Bob Wilson was coming over all frisky, which made for unappetising viewing. It was the fault of Barry Venison, who's about to become the new Saint - or is it the new Greavsie? - alongside Gaby Yorath in the revived On the Ball. "She frightens me, Gaby," Venison said. "She's bigger than me." Wilson was in there quick as a flasher - sorry, quick as a flash. "I was going to say you'll have your hands full," he said, "but I'd better not."

It sounded off-key, somehow, like hearing your grandmother tell the one about the bloke with "Sheffield Wednesday" tattooed on his private parts. If that sets the tone for the coming season, then we are in for a tawdry time of it indeed.

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