Saturday 25 September 2010
Brian Viner: I never thought I'd side with Collymore, but he's right about Shearer on Match of the Day
The Last Word
Turn right at the German War Memorial. If you reach a cafe, you've gone too far.
These are the directions on UKdogging.com to the car park in Cannock where six years ago Stan Collymore's penchant for having sex with strangers in public places got him into a spot of bother, and once I've reassured you that we know very little about dogging websites here at The Last Word, and that those directions were lifted from an old newspaper interview with Collymore, the question is whether he has gone too far in his assault on Match of the Day, which he has accused of being "stale, clichéd and smug", reserving particular disdain for the punditry of Alan Shearer.
It is perhaps a little unkind of me to dredge up the details of Collymore's past. After all, there's no doubt that he's a reformed character in many ways, an assault on Match of the Day being much more wholesome than an assault on Ulrika Jonsson. Yet those dogging revelations are not irrelevant to this debate. For one thing, they prompted his sacking by the BBC, and while I wouldn't for a second accuse him of still harbouring bitterness after all this time, it's surely fair to assume that he might have held his Twittering tongue were he still on the Corporation's books.
Moreover, in a way it is in support of Collymore that I cite that unfortunate business in Cannock Chase, the point being that a top footballer can never be wholly separated from his past deeds, or misdeeds. That is why Shearer, who scored for England in an entirely different sense from anything Collymore did with strangers, registering 30 goals in 63 internationals (30 more than Stan) and 283 goals in 559 club appearances, has settled as if by divine right on to the Match of the Day sofa. Yet a fantastic playing record does not a top TV analyst make, any more than it makes a top manager. So on the subject of Shearer, I side with Collymore. Newcastle's favourite son rarely tells us what we don't already know, and sometimes tells us what he doesn't quite know himself, as in the instance from last weekend, raised by Collymore, of Hatem Ben Arfa.
But big Stan's criticisms go deeper than that. He reckons that Shearer, Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson look "like a golfing clique who have a passing interest in football", delivering "a lazy show that doesn't provoke debate in our game and just says, 'We've been there and done it and we don't have to do anything but sit here and dole out clichés'."
That's a valid jibe, but it's unfair to direct it only at Match of the Day. Right across the media there are ex-footballers raking in handsome salaries in exchange for decidedly limited insight. As it happens, I don't include Hansen or Lawrenson. They're very good at their well-remunerated jobs, while their colleague and mine, Lee Dixon, is one of the best pundits of the lot. I agree with Collymore that for all Lineker's presenting skills, it can be frustrating not to hear more opinion from him. But TV analysis really shouldn't be the exclusive preserve of retired footballers. Pardon me for bigging up my own profession, but what of the journalists who've spent all their working lives watching and interpreting the Beautiful Game? They should have representation on the sofa too.
Don't miss out on birdies while your wife gives birth
On Monday evening I conducted an interview, on stage at the Rankin Club in the small Herefordshire town of Leominster, with the small Welsh Ryder Cup stalwart Brian Huggett. He could hardly be more of a stalwart, in fact. He was a player in 1963, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1973 and 1975, and non-playing captain in 1977. He was instrumental in opening the Great Britain and Ireland team to the golfers of continental Europe in 1979. And he is an "official ambassador" for next week's event at Celtic Manor.
Huggett talked marvellously about Ryder Cups past and forthcoming. He also noted that Monday happened to be the 37th birthday of his daughter Sandra, who incidentally is now an actress, best known for playing junior doctor Holly Miles in Casualty. He has vivid memories of the day Sandra was born, not because he was in the delivery room or anything, but because he was otherwise engaged on the opening day of the Ryder Cup at Muirfield, about to play with Maurice Bembridge in a fourball match against the mightiest possible opponents, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
The news that he had just become a father for the second time, conveyed by his own father on the practice ground, did not put Huggett off his stroke that Friday afternoon, indeed quite the opposite; he and Bembridge defeated Palmer and Nicklaus 3&1. The following morning in the foursomes they put Chi-Chi Rodriguez and Lou Graham to the sword, winning 5&4, and in the afternoon fourballs they halved with Homero Blancas and Lee Trevino. In the Sunday singles matches Huggett hammered Blancas 4&2. Anyway, you can imagine what he makes of the tendency of expectant fathers among today's sportsmen to down clubs, bats, balls or whatever in their eagerness to cut the umbilical cord.
When defeat tastes just a little sweeter
For Evertonians there was only one possible pill to sweeten the horror of losing away from home to League One opposition in the Carling Cup, and the following evening it was duly administered; Liverpool losing at home to League Two opposition. Cheers, lads.
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