Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Billy on the Box: Football’s back again in a class of its own

The middle of August has always been a significant time, for while mothers across the land are busily preparing their charges for a return to school, football sneaks in and snuggles up on the sofa again.

Yes, whisper it quietly — football is back. Mind you, you would have been hard pushed not to notice as no matter when you switched on a telly this week, there was the beautiful game.

To counter this and to give mums something to watch while they’re sewing name badges into blazers and searching under the stairs for old wallpaper to cover exercise books with, X Factor is also back.

So every Saturday night a bunch of has-beens with very little to say for themselves, pass judgement on a collection of talentless wannabes desperate to become famous. And how nice it was to see Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer back talking about Liverpool.

“After a long summer with so little happening in the world of sport, thank goodness football is back to excite us,” said Gary, thankfully back in the bosom of his loved ones after an uncomfortable summer of being held hostage in a strange environment.

There was still no escaping the Olympics, as Steve Wilson, commentating at the Hawthorns wondered if a new spirit would permeate football: “From ‘faster, higher, stronger’ to ‘fairer, cleaner, humbler’? Perhaps.” Alan Pardew, anyone?

Match of the Day are in the final years of their schooling, but there were plenty of new arrivals looking to make their mark, with the Footballer’s Football Show, Fantasy Football Club, Dream On (more of those elsewhere) and the Premier League’s Most Amazing Moments.

Incredibly BBC3 managed to gather together a collection of nobodies that Louis Walsh would die for, to comment on the top 50 highlights, but pairing Robbie Savage with someone even more annoying in the shape of a strange, many-toothed man called Donovan Daily, which sounds like a punishment for fans of 90s pop, was a step too far.

Onto the live action and it was a bad start to geography and a smudge in the copybook for senior boy Alan Smith whose Big Boys Atlas of Football let him down very badly with his comment about Chelsea’s Eden Hazard on their visit to Wigan.

“They’re clearly worried about the Frenchman,” he said, although not as worried as Hazard wondering just how long he’d been French and would the Belgian FA kick up a stink.

The following evening, Gary Neville, recently graduated out of shorts, was eagerly awaiting entering second year and arrived with a smart new haircut and armed with a new pencil set for Monday Night Football.

All the talk was of a new boy from Holland (or was he French) and Gary immediately panicked all of a red persuasion by saying that Robin Van Persie was a ‘different type of signing for United’ and then uttered words that still make Sir Alex Ferguson shudder — Juan Sebastien Veron.

Then disaster struck as Gary’s new magic pencil stopped working and left him like a drunk man trying to chase the final prawn ball around his plate before we cut away and brought David Moyes in, accompanied by the strains of Spandau Ballet’s Gold in the background.

Alan Parry, a man who knows more about Jesse Owens than Jessie J, was determined to get the final Olympic reference in at kick-off.

“When you’re used to winning the gold medal, silver is failure. Expect Manchester United to be hungrier, they’ll be stronger thanks to the return of Vidic, faster with the addition of Robin Van Persie but will they finish higher than last year’s second place?” he asked. Doubtful.

To cut a long story short, Marouane Fellaini (definitely Belgian) was just the man to send through the barricades to win for the Toffees and make it a bad first day for RVP.

But as Sky’s football advert says, you can’t always get what you want and there’s not a lot of sympathy for the Red Devils.

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