The Savage eye scores a victory for weary footballers
'Robbie, lot of disquiet after Saturday's game against Scunthorpe, why the team is so inconsistent and now can't seem to do it at home?"
"Just before we start, Col, I just wanna ask you something. I was in the car on the way home Saturday and listening to what you said on the radio: 'I've heard rumours that some of the players don't think that the backroom staff are up to the job.' That's what you said. So, can you substantiate what you meant by that?"
The Robbie is one Robbie Savage, currently of Derby County, late of Manchester United, Crewe Alexandra, Leicester City, Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers. Age 35, veteran of over 550 games and dozens of controversies; recipient of some 90 yellow cards in the Premier League (a record), perennially vilified by fans (home and away), but not without a certain amount of charm.
The Col is one Colin Gibson, veteran sports broadcaster with BBC Radio Derby and lifelong Rams' fan. And Gibson found himself last Monday having his journalistic standards challenged by, of all people, the same Robbie Savage.
Things had all gone Pete Tong at Derby. Hovering above the relegation zone, they'd suffered the indignity of a 1-4 drubbing, by bloody Scunthorpe, on the Saturday. Then he listened to the radio on the way home. The upshot was that Robbie was mad as hell and wasn't going to take it anymore.
So when Gibson turned up with his microphone last Monday, Savage turned the tables. It wasn't exactly Frost-Nixon, or Parkinson-Ali, but it was interesting to hear the hunted doing a bit of hunting for a change. And it helped to reveal, in passing, why professional footballers have retreated en masse behind closed doors: the scrutiny is relentless, the criticism ruthless. They are white mice in a laboratory, there is no escaping the microscope and they have withdrawn their trust.
Robbie Savage: So, can you substantiate what you meant by that?
Colin Gibson: (Pause) That's what I've heard.
RS: You've heard of who?
CG: I'm not prepared to say.
RS: I'm the captain in the dressing room, yeah? And I haven't heard it. You're saying on the radio, 'rumours'. Me, I don't think that's responsible journalism to report rumours. I don't know if you feel the same way.
CG: It's been suggested to me, so
RS: So why haven't these people got the courage to say who it is then?
CG: They didn't name specific players.
But Savage is coming on like a barrack room lawyer, as Gibson is about to find out.
RS: You said 'rumours'. Let me tell you about the backroom staff. Johnny Metgod, do you know who he played for?
RS: Who else?
RS: Real Madrid. (Triumphantly) Real Madrid. Gary Crosby -- d'you know who he played for?
RS: How many Cup Finals?
CG: No idea.
RS: Four or five. (Triumphantly) Cup Finals. Martin Taylor?
RS: Did he play in the Premier League?
CG: Might have done.
RS: Might have done. Do you know did he?
CG: He played at least one game that I remember.
RS: Did he play in the Premier League?
RS: Simple question.
RS: I'm asking you a question.
CG: (Rattled) Well you tell me the answer, you seem to know.
RS: Yeah I know, yes he did.
RS: So: 'I've heard rumours some of the players don't think that the backroom staff are up to the job.' Well let me tell you this: they are up to the job, one hundred per cent, and so is the manager. So put that on your radio station.
CG: (On the ropes) Well it's going on the radio station, clearly.
RS: (Landing jabs) Play it a lot. Next question.
CG: Why are the team so inconsistent?
RS: (Petulantly) Well you've got the answers, what rumours have you heard?
Gibson replies that the now infamous rumours had been "doing the rounds".
RS: So it's been doing the rounds? Our gaffer (Nigel Clough) conducted a pre-match and post-match interview with your radio station; why wasn't it put to him then?
CG: I don't know, I didn't do the interview.
RS: Why wasn't it put to him? Simple question. Why not give him the right to reply?
CG: (Long pause) Well he's been asked the question today.
RS: Instead of trying to assassinate him through rumour. (Accusingly) Rumour on your phone-in. Rumour.
Long pause while Gibson ponders his options. Savage airs his grievance about phone-in shows.
RS: All people do is phone and nail the team, nail the manager, nail the staff.
CG: These are the people who pay your wages.
Gibson has just played his trump card and Savage suddenly finds himself back-peddaling.
RS: Well yeah. Yeah, yeah, they do, yeah.
CG: (Finally landing a few himself) So they're not entitled to their view?
RS: Course they are. But all they want to do is . . .
But he stops himself before saying what he probably really thinks: that there are a lot of fans out there who have dehumanised footballers to such a degree that they've become acceptable targets for the vile, hateful abuse that used to be confined to the stands but is now ubiquitous.
Savage is no role model himself but we reckon that a lot of his peers were quietly applauding him last week.