Thursday 22 February 2018

The Football League a real horror show

Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

In the early hours of yesterday morning it was possible to watch 'The Vampire Diaries' on TG4, 'The Amityville Horror' on MGM or, if you really wanted to see some scary faces before bedtime, 'Sex and the City' was on Comedy Central.

Leaving aside that it was also possible to be out somewhere having a life, perhaps the scariest thing on the Saturday night/Sunday morning TV schedule is BBC's 'The Football League Show', which can either leave viewers feeling ancient or else stuck in a time-warp when it brings back the ghosts of football's past.

The feeling of advancing years hits sharply when Paul Ince's 20-year-old son Thomas pops up on the screen scoring two goals for Blackpool, which means any viewer beyond their mid-20s is now old enough to use the phrase, "his dad was a good player".

More comforting, however, is that Blackpool's third goal came from Kevin Phillips as they beat Bristol City 3-1, with David James flapping at a cross for Ince's second goal. Some things, thankfully, don't change.

After attempting to inject razzmatazz into a dull Premier League Saturday by the old pals act that 'Match of the Day' has become, 'The Football League Show' is almost a service industry for supporters of clubs who are outside the 'Greatest League In The World' -- and there are plenty. Presenter Manish Bhasin attempts to be jovial in the hope that one day he might escape the set, which consists of two stools, a table, an always-rolling neon sign in the background and a staircase from the top of which, for some reason, Manish introduces the show.

Perhaps it's because it allows him to spend as little time as possible with Steve Claridge, the ubiquitous ex-pro expert, whose facial expression veers between maniacal and intense while never dropping below the level of unsettling.

Claridge's demeanour is understandable, given that he now has to spend almost every Saturday night watching a microcosm of his own career over the space of a few hours' highlights, starting with the glory of the Premier League and ending wondering how important Hereford's point away to Bradford might be in their fight against relegation from League Two.

The beauty of watching players drop down the leagues is that it allows us to see why they were well regarded in the first place without exposing the flaws that makes them no longer good enough to reach their former glories.

On Saturday, 34-year-old Ian Harte (pictured) smacked a free-kick into the Middlesbrough net in Reading's 2-0 win -- their fifth in a row.

If, like American Football, it were possible to just introduce players off the bench for specific tasks, Harte's free-kicks alone would make him a certainty for an international recall.

Reading's other goalscorer was the second type of player found in the Championship, one whose best years might be ahead of him if his team could get promotion or a Premier League team would just take a chance. With Reading's current form and a poacher's finish like his effort on Saturday, Noel Hunt at least deserves a chance to escape the fury of a Championship battleground.

For the majority of the players mentioned in the show, however, it's remarkable how quickly careers can change and start heading in one direction.

Jon Stead was once a bright young thing and now finds himself scoring occasionally for Bristol City; Nikola Zigic has 20 international goals for Serbia but now can't hit the proverbial barn door with Birmingham; while El Hadji Diouf has played and starred in a World Cup but currently can't help Doncaster from their place at the bottom of the Champonship.

As usual, there are some good tales, with Stephen Henderson helping out beleaguered Portsmouth by working in the ticket office on Friday before earning a point against Leeds.

Gary Doherty, a 34-time capped Ireland international, scored his first goal in two years as Wycombe climbed off the bottom of League One with a 5-0 win against Hartlepool, while Manish and Steve were keen to point out that the wife of the Bournemouth chairman didn't give the team-talk in their League One defeat to MK Dons as had been earlier reported.

The lads assured us that she merely went into the dressing-room at half-time to introduce herself to the players.


It's in the dug-out, however, where the speed of the slippery slope really hits home. The show featured Paolo di Canio, whose Swindon side beat an Accrington Stanley team now managed by Paul Cook, where a conversation between the two managers would have been like a scene from 'Goodfellas' (which, by the way, was on ITV4).

Di Canio's team won comfortably to stay top of the league but, some minutes later a familiar face appeared to lament his team's inability to beat Port Vale at home.

Six years ago, Aidy Boothroyd was about to finish third in the Championship with Watford before earning a play-off victory which gained promotion to the Premier League and secured his status as one of the game's bright young managers.

On Saturday, having turned 41 three weeks ago, he finds himself bordering on the managerial scrapheap in charge of a Northampton team that are 91st of 92 teams in the English league.

The show's post-watershed billing seems appropriate, with Boothroyd's career arc -- as well as that of several players -- a reminder of how quickly things can change. The show is also a reminder that the viewer might need to get out a bit more.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport