Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 31 January 2015

Billy on the Box: It’s Hammers time as footy gets W Factor

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 07: Lionel Messi (L) of Barcelona duels for the ball with Alvaro Arbeloa of Real Madrid during the la Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium on October 7, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

It's typical, you wait for one giant football match to come along and suddenly two arrive at once.

It was a super Sunday evening as El Clasico returned to our screens with only marginally more drama than Gary Barlow walking out in a huff on X Factor, although thankfully no-one had turned up in Louis Walsh’s polo neck jumper.

This was a big occasion on Sky, so the team chosen reflected that, turning to the W factor. Scott Minto a former West Ham player was presenting in the company of the Wigan manager Roberto Martinez, but only because the only other Spanish people available were Carlos the waiter from Duty Free and those annoying free-loading (or should that be free-downloading?) girls from the BT ads.

“If you’re interested in football then this is the ultimate,” promised Minto, only for breaking news to come from ESPN in the hirsute shape of James Richardson, who had upped the ante for arguably the big match of the weekend being in Milan. I can feel an argument coming on, but do continue, James.

“It’s a massive night of European football with big games all over the continent (somehow at this point he failed to mention Ballinamallard United’s defeat of Linfield, but I digress) but tonight on ESPN something arguably that is unbeatable,” he said, as an argument for Mr Richardson was duly delivered.

In fairness, he has a point. I mean, Barcelona and Real Madrid can only muster two sides, while in Italy we had four taking part with Inter, Milan, Internazionale and AC all in action.

It needed some big pundits and it got it, in the shape of Mark Hateley, who scored for AC and Milan in a derby in 1984, and Gabriele Marcotti, journalist and the only other Italian on TV apart from Captain Bertorelli from ‘Allo Allo. (imagine a slightly less rounded Stephen Nolan and you’ll get the idea).

But there was no having to turn to former Hammers’ men for ESPN, oh no, not on your nelly. What’s that you say, Stewart Robson is the co-commentator? Would you Adam and Eve it?

Back to Spain, or Catalonia if you want to be politically correct or incorrect depending on your viewpoint, and it was an explosive situation building with commentator Rob Palmer stating that Lionel Messi was ‘treading through the footballing landmines.’

Loosely translated, little Lionel — how he must always be referred to, a bit like Big Ron Atkinson or Wee Jimmy Krankie — was being booted. Professor Palmer wasn’t finished though.

“You may have noticed that the volume has been raised inside the stadium significantly. The fans decided after 17 minutes and 14 seconds they would stage a political rally. They want their independence back, they lost it in 1714 to Philip,” he said.

This is a scurrilous accusation. I mean I know the Duke of Edinburgh is knocking on a bit but even he wasn’t around back then and anyway he would only be interested in Panathinaikos v Olympiakos.

“Great history lesson, Rob,” came the response from former Watford great Gerry Arconada-Armstrong, gutted that there aren’t 82 seconds in a minute so that he could remind us that he had scored a goal in Spain.

“If you’re a student of the game, this is the ultimate seminar,” added Palmer, finding Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo simply irresistible and before I get addicted to this analogy I can confirm that there was not a bevy of beauties pretending to play instruments behind Rob and Gerry.

But there was an emotional hark back to bygone days on ESPN as Richardson, in pure Gazzetta Italia style, reached down and whipped out a copy of an Italian paper, only for us to be rudely interrupted by Gabriele (and not the one with the eye patch) talking about ‘brain farts’.

I know the wind of change is going through Italian football at the moment, but this was a step too far and I immediately stormed off to don a polo neck and show my support for that other big W, Rylan. That’s W for winner, obviously.

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