Belfast Telegraph

FL72 simply leagues apart

By Billy Weir

You find before you a man sitting on the horns of a dilemma with the troubles of the world resting on his chunky but beautifully formed shoulders.

If Ryan Giggs becomes Manchester United's new manager, I'm afraid my love affair with the Red Devils, which stretches back to the dark ages, or the Eighties as I like to call them, is at an end and I will be forced to seek a new footballing mistress.

With this in mind and in the knowledge that jumping on board a team already in the Premiership would be akin to nipping over to Thailand in that, yes, I would have instant gratification but ultimately I'd feel grubby and you would think ill of me, I sought a new love. Anyone who started supporting Chelsea in recent times will know the feeling.

Thankfully the Football League Show is a bit like a Kays catalogue for those wishing to browse for a new team in secret, but thankfully neither presenter Manish Bhasin or Steve Claridge turned up in their underwear – pages 123-152.

It's a simple format. Every goal from all three divisions of FL72 – that's what the Football League is now known as, it's not the start of a catalogue number – is shown, with slightly longer highlights of the goals from the Championship.

It will always be the Second Division to me for I grew up at a time when the only opportunity you got to see action from the lower reaches, and I'm still talking football here, was when snow decimated the First Division schedule or the FA Cup was on.

Mr Bhasin, or wash-hand to his friends, enticed me in by saying it was 'the penultimate weekend of the Football League, which once again promises a thrilling finish across all three divisions.' Good, you've thrilled me, continue please.

"Eleven issues could be dealt with and Steve's with me to see how many of them materialise," he added as Steve shifted awkwardly in his seat and started undoing the laces on his brogues (P256, 50p a week for 40 weeks) just in case we went past 10.

Having supported United all these years, I'd prefer to stay in that region for a new team, so helpfully first up was a Lancashire derby between Wigan and Blackpool with local names such as Al Habsi, Espinoza, Beausejour and Backhuizen. Eeee, it weren't like that when I were a lad.

I have a bit of history with Blackpool, I saw The Krankies there when I was 11 and also fell off a big slide in the Pleasure Beach, both of which may explain how I am today, so it was no surprise that the first man on screen was bedecked in an orange fez while a myriad of other people in fancy dress ambled around looking slightly bemused.

Commentator John Roder explained that tickets had been given by the club to 3000 fans 'to turn one end of the stadium into a sea of tangerine' and manager Barry Ferguson must have thought he was back at Ibrox.

I say 'manager', that's not strictly correct, his title is 'interim player-manager', a bit like Giggsy, and a far cry from the days long before gardening leave was thought of and when a sacked boss was replaced by a caretaker.

But, and I know I may sound an old fuddy-duddy, the world has changed – and not for the better. Back when the only thing Giggs crossed was when he was accompanied by an old man with a giant lollipop, I could recite all 92 grounds in the blink of an eye.

As we whizzed around the country though I realise that those days are gone. Will future generations bounce their grandkids on their knee and with a tear in their eye reminisce about the day they first went to Weston Homes Community Stadium or the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Stadium?

Some are even more baffling, the New York Stadium is not in downtown Brooklyn, it's in uptown Rotherham, while Gay Meadow is no more, replaced by Greenhous Meadow. Surely political correctness and spelling correctness gone wrong?

Leyton Orient have also always tickled my fancy since the days of John Chiedozie and the late Ralph Coates' majestic sweep-over used to wave in the wind like a flapping eel, but they now play at the Matchroom Stadium, presumably playing towards the Tony Meo end in the first-half in front of the Terry Griffiths Stand.

Hartlepool made a late bid to tease me with 120 of their fans making the trip to Plymouth dressed as Thunderbirds, carrying on a tradition that has seen them in garbs such as Smurfs, Oompa Loompas and penguins for their last sojourn of the season.

Commentator Mick Conway was in his element with talk of rescue acts and the wonderful 'Lady Penelope and Scott Tracey were both sidelined but following a mistake, Jack Barmby's first goal in nine games was just the inspiration they were looking for.'

He followed this up with 'Hartlepool were now pulling the strings and lift off was very nearly complete when then hit the base of the post' – in the Joe 90th minute, no doubt.

But, they are from the north-east, so having weighed up all the options, I have plumped for Burnley.

They're from the north-west, play and always will play at Turf Moor, have links with Northern Ireland, a player called D. Ings and a manager who looks like he might kill you at any second in Sean Dyche.

It's over to you, United. Appoint someone other than Giggs, or I'm off to Burnley. Don't say you weren't warned.

Belfast Telegraph


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