Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Billy on the Box: Windsor Park or animal park?

Tuning in to Sky’s coverage of Northern Ireland v Serbia on Saturday evening I had to check I hadn’t pressed the wrong button on the remote control.

With mentions of jackals and ferrets, I wasn’t sure if we were at Windsor Park or Animal Park.

Sadly Kate Humble was nowhere to be seen, just the somewhat less photogenic Mark Robson and Gerry Arconada-Armstrong, eventually dried out from the flash flood that ended their commentary prematurely in the Under-21 match at the Oval the previous evening.

“I had to hang up my coat in the hot press,” Robbo told us, surely the first time hot press has been used on Sky. I await his next commentary when he uses cubby hole.

But all the glory was being saved for McGinn, up against Aleksander Kolarov, the Roberto Carlos of Serbia, we were reliably informed.

Quick as a flash, Robbo pounced telling us McGinn’s a ‘real jackal’. Clever.

Mind you, it helped that Kolarov played more like Carlos the Spanish waiter from Duty Free.

Then we moved onto the History Channel, with talk of Serbia‘s turbulent past, Robbo remembering tanks trundling past the stadium when Northern Ireland played Yugoslavia and Gerry regaling us with tails of the Serbs and Croats not passing to each other.

No divisions of that kind in Northern Ireland nowadays, Rangers players passing to Celtic ones and not a tank anywhere in sight.

Then again, I’d rather walk through Belgrade with a ‘I love Croatia’ T-shirt on than dander through Govan on a Saturday night.

Back to McGinn who had evolved from a jackal to a ferret by this stage, but up against Aleksander I was only surprised it wasn’t a meerkat. Simples.

Not to be outdone, Gerry adopted a different approach, with the Celtic winger, the new darling of Windsor Park (words that you thought would never see the light of day), described as ‘willo the wisp’.

But there was no need for Evil Edna, there was enough cackling to do us for a lifetime, Robbo clearly being told to liven things up by shouting at the top of his lungs as soon as anything vaguely interesting happened.

“If I had a sponsor for every time I’ve said itch I’d be making a lot of money for someone,” he told us, and if you had a pound for everytime you woke me up from my doze on the sofa wailing like a startled banshee, you’d be even richer.

Then again I nearly fell off it when Andy Kirk came off the bench prompting Gerry to tell us that he had been speaking to his dad, Paul.

“How Lisburn Distillery must wish they had him as manager,” said Gerry, and no doubt viewers tuning in in the Home Counties were nodding in agreement and calling Jim McGrory all sorts of nasty names.

But it was worth tuning in to see the Serbs manager Rady Antic, scoring ‘that’ goal for Luton that relegated Man City all those years ago, with David Pleat, in his beige suit and slip-ons, bounding across the pitch like a gazelle on heat.

Or was it a ferret. Or a jackal?

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