Belfast Telegraph

Highlights can be hair-raising stuff

Billy On the Box

By Billy Weir

Back in the day, or many days in my case, the best you could hope for in the years BS (Before Sky) with regard to a bit of Sunday sport was the odd live game on the Big Match or a bit of Bullseye.

Obviously you couldn't beat the latter but highlights were still king back when Sky was still a tentative tingle in Rupert Murdoch's loins, so it was a bit of a throwback on Sunday as I dipped my toe back into the murky waters of recorded action.

Of course it is virtually impossible not to know the score of any game played nowadays, that new-fangled internet and text maniacs keeping those of us who enjoyed blissful ignorance bang up to date, even if we don't want to be.

Rugby Special was one such show from yesteryear, usually a hotchpotch of club action, typically played on a pitch that once had a blade of grass that was cut down and shown the error of its ways, but with a fabulous theme tune and the tartan-clad musings of the magnificent Bill McLaren.

The format, albeit switched to Six Nations action, was resurrected, as indeed was the theme tune in the build-up to the matches, but with McLaren's return beyond even the Beeb, John Inverdale was in for what looked like a play-off between England, Wales and Ireland for the title.

No, I don't mean the Six Nations, I mean the nattiest jumper as Jeremy Guscott, Jonathan Davies and Paul O'Connell all showed up in lovely pullovers and were nice and cosy as England took on Italy in the first of the highlights.

"If you don't know what happened in this match, you've never seen an international rugby fixture quite like this," teased Inverdale and suddenly I was interested.

I moved from interested to flabbergasted with everyone's favourite Englishman, Brian Moore, coming out with a phrase that will take some beating after Italy somehow led 10-5 at half-time.

"I'm not here to be a cheerleader for England," he said, to a chorus of guffaws from all four corners of the Six Nations, replaced by a horrible thought of Moore in hot pants shaking his St George pom-poms at us.

Normal service was resumed after the break, however, when someone with a brain explained to their thick players how to deal with the Italians not engaging at the ruck but that cut little ice with coach Eddie Jones.

"If I was the BBC I'd be asking the RFU for their money back because you haven't had a rugby game," he said to the Beeb's Sonja McLaughlan, who was there to be an England cheerleader although her pom-poms remained under wraps.

"In soccer they talk about parking the bus in front of the goal. I don't know what they had in front of the goal but it was bigger than a bus," said Jones as McLaughlan now entered levels of hysteria not seen since Jim Bowen wheeled out the caravan on Bullseye.

The general consensus back in the studio was that Eddie should dry his eyes, and if O'Connell tells you that, nice jumper or not, I would do it.

There were highlights, albeit much less, of Ireland's defeat of France and Scotland taking on Wales but in typical Beeb fashion you could even be an England forward and know what was about to happen with Inverdale's introduction to the latter.

"Wales going for their 10th consecutive victory in this fixture but runs like that have to come to an end sometime…" he predicted, and it duly did, as before you knew it the pom-poms, jumpers and other dodgy material were deposited in something big, well, bigger than a bus, obviously.

It wasn't the end of the highlights as the League Cup final soccer showdown was still to come, the first challenge being to slap yourself for ever referring to football as 'soccer' and the second remembering where they were shown.

A bit like that missing set of keys, the remotest of remote control or your misplaced pom-poms, they're always in the last place you would think of looking and so it was to Channel 5 for the EFL Cup highlights as they like to be known now.

They are trying hard to become a player in the footy market, bless 'em, but a word to the wise, if you are attempting this, Owen Hargreaves is not the man you want, with his husky trans-Atlantic tones not fulfilling any of the criteria needed for proper punditry - gritty, northern and preferably with something sensible to say.

Not that Hargreaves has nothing to say, it's just what he says is straight from the hind quarters of a caribou carousing around Canada looking for a soccer game.

The main talking point afterwards was the disallowing of Manolo Gabbiadini's early strike that would have given Southampton the lead against Hargreaves' former club, Manchester United.

"What an impact Gabbiadini has had on this game, three goals, two of them have counted," he said, as we longed for Jamie Redknapp or, heaven forbid, even Michael Owen to come along and save us.

"Gabbiadini scoring a goal at 0-0, that would be 1-0," he revealed after the game, as Channel Five's graphics bods also played the numbers game, revealing that fellow pundit Francis Benali had made 369 appearances for Southampton while Hargreaves' caption was confined to 'Manchester United 2007-2011'.

That's because 27 appearances would have looked a little daft but, in his defence, he did score two goals, and, I stand to be corrected on this, had he scored another one it would have been three. At least.

But after the sighs and lows came the highs again, presenter George Riley revealing that United's success and his fourth League Cup win had elevated Jose Mourinho to exalted company.

"Jose Mourinho has joined an esteemed group of Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson as he became the Portuguese man of four," he concluded as, a bit like Sir Ian Botham's hair in those halcyon days BS, we remembered that highlights aren't always the best option.

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