Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Billy on the Box: Blood, sweat and tears on big days of derby thunder

Robert Duvall and Tom Cruise pose with the World Series of Soccerball Cup at the Etihadbowl

It's not often that a football match surpasses, never mind matches, the humongous hype that can be shovelled onto it by Sky, but for once the Manchester derby lived up to its billing.

You got the feeling though it was going to be one of those days when Graeme Souness warned that a win for United ‘would be a real punch in the nose for City’ and that set the scene for what was to come.

“This match has global box office appeal and quite rightly we’re joined by two genuine Hollywood legends,” said Geoff Shreeves, who suddenly morphed into Claudia Winkleman, minus the silly fringe, to talk to Tom Cruise and his granda, who, it transpired, was Robert Duvall.

“Tom, you’ve watched football in the Bernabeu and America, what are you expecting today?” asked Geoff.

“I expect to see City dominate, Joe Hart let in a Wayne Rooney shot that Tony Hart would have saved, then watch a stroppy Italian stomp off before United throw away a two-goal lead only for Robin van Persie to score and then a man who looks like Plug from the Bash St Kids will get split by a coin-throwing eejit,” was what he meant to say.

In reality, he fibbed and said he had been following football since the Eighties, but it’s a risky business proclaiming knowledge of something and Geoff wanted to see the color of their money.

Duvall said he was a massive soccer fan, had heard of Pele and had named a dog after Jimmy Johnstone but overstretched himself by asking Geoff “will there be a shoot-out today if there’s a tie?”. Geoff, employing the Claudia interview technique, replied with: “Err, um.”

Now panicking, he scrambled around for another question, asking Tom “What do you think of the pitch?”

It was damp. Of course it was, this is Manchester, that’ll be the rain man. I’ll get my coat.

Finally though the match got under way and it was a cracker, although maverick Mario Balotelli wasn’t living up to his hype as top gun, exiting stage left after 51 sullen minutes.

“Balotelli’s agent compared him to Mona Lisa this week,” began Martin Tyler, continuing that there was little sign of an ‘enigmatic smile’, more the face of a bulldog that had been licking something unpleasant off a nettle.

“I don’t know what the Italian is for whinge,” he added, with cheeky Red Gary Neville concurring that although ‘I don’t speak Italian, I know the culture”, as a horse’s head ordered by a Sig Mancini was despatched.

He may know about all things Italian but his big cat skills are less well proven as he suggested that ‘the best way to catch a tiger is not always to shout at it’, unless it has spilled Frosties all over the floor.

His knowledge of French remained untapped, but after United grabbed a winner thanks to Samir Nasri poking a foot out around the wall he was hiding behind, Souness did his bit for international relations.

Indeed, it was the worst decision made by a man called Samir in that neck of the woods since that wee lad started knocking about with Deirdre Barlow, but Souey still chopped him down.

“Are you prepared to take a blow for the cause?” he demanded afterwards. “He should have just taken it in the face. What’s the worst that can happen?” You could end up with Deirdre.

Meanwhile, in Dundee things were not going well as men in orange seemed quite happy that something red, white and blue had been lowered.

Dundee United were the pride of Tayside on Sky Sports 4, just edging out the live aardvark racing and synchronised backside scratching to fill the schedule, against noisy but harmless neighbours, Dundee.

And, in a warning for the world, it was the Arabs who prevailed, with the home forces, marshalled by a man called Benedictus, failing to deal with the invaders. I think this was predicted by Nostradamus, although with a name like Benedictus, you’d have thought he could have dealt with a cross.

There was more derby action on the other side of the world too, this time in cricket as the KFC T20 Big Bash got under way at the Etihad Stadium, although this one was in Melbourne and not Manchester.

It also meant the return of a legend in the shape of Shane Warne |(pictured) although not quite the epic script that the Aussie spinmeister had penned as his Melbourne Stars team took on Melbourne Renegades. Yes, the names are that stupid.

I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Perth Scorchers, who I think were formally known as St Johnstone, but Shane’s boast that he’s still playing as well as he was in his pomp is marginally less believable.

He dropped a dolly of a catch and then bowled two overs for 41 runs that included a couple of sixes that seriously endangered visitors to the Boucher Road KFC drive thru.

Still, it’s great to have him back, if only to hear him talking to the commentators while he’s on the field, but if I was him I’d leave cricket and stick with the hurley.

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