Belfast Telegraph

It's an El of a Saturday night

By Billy Weir

We should have guessed that we were in for a bit of a stuffing when Sky presenter Kate Abdo turned up at the start of El Clasico appearing to be wrapped from head to toe in tinfoil.

"This is a fixture graced by football greats, past and present, the biggest football match on the planet is about to take centre stage," she began but rather than mull over the respective line-ups of Real Madrid and Barcelona, my thoughts had drifted as to what heat to turn the oven to.

"And the BBC are back for Real," she added, going on to explain that this meant Benzema, Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. I spotted a slight flaw in that reasoning but thankfully she had the presence of mind to shimmy across the studio floor in her stunning silver ensemble to distract us, where hopefully some sense would prevail in the shape of Thierry Henry and Aitor Karanka.

She asked former Barca hero Henry just what it was like to play in El Clasico and like a turkey waiting for Christmas we sat back, confident that everything would work out fine.

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"I can't even describe it," he said as the door was slammed firmly shut on the punditry oven door.

"You know everybody is watching, you can't do any mistakes, everyone will see it," he added, which isn't strictly true as sometimes you can, as every time his name is mentioned in Dublin someone reaches for a packet of Paxo.

He wasn't getting much support from Karanka, former Madrid player and coach and now manager of Middlesbrough, or he might have been but I couldn't understand a word he was saying, shamefully not adopting a broad north-east accent like a proper football manager should when they go abroad.

But Kate's problems were only starting, as she handed over to our commentators, Terry Gibson and Rob Palmer, only for a brief moment of silence, then a strange English voice that wasn't the likely lads, Terry and Rob.

"Err, alright, we're having a small issue contacting with Terry and Rob right now," as Kate wondered whatever happened to them and Thierry and Aitor manfully filled the gap.

"Alright let's get over to the commentary team for this one, Kevin Keatings and Gerry Armstrong," said Kate and we were left dangling as to the fate of Terry and Rob, which looked about as rosy as Rafa Benitez's future when Luis Suarez gave Barca an early lead.

"Just in case you've joined the El Clasico late, glad you've managed to pull a seat up, you're more than welcome," said Kevin, as the muffled screams of Senors Gibson and Palmer were drowned out by a second goal.

"They're clutching at straws now, they need a goal now to get back into this game," said Arconada-Armstrong, giving us the sort of insight that Henry could only dream of.

It was catching, by the end two more Barca goals had arrived, Madrid fans were waving white flags like turkeys consigned to their fate on Christmas Eve, and Kate was left to sum things up.

"There's absolutely no doubt about it, this is a huge win for Barcelona," she told us and suddenly words like 'you know, maybe Scott Minto wasn't that bad' came flooding into the viewers' minds.

Of course it wasn't the only battle of sporting cultures on Saturday night as Thierry's favourite city, Dublin, played host to a double header, and we're not talking Gibson and Palmer here, in the International Rules Series on RTE2.

The Saturday Game became four games as hurling took on shinty and Gaelic football clashed with Aussie Rules with the build-up remembering that 'first there was compromise and then there was no compromise'. Or in other words, big hairy lads from Ireland were knocking the bejaysus out of even hairier lads from Australia and vice versa.

First up though was the shinty/hurling game, with protagonists given big sticks just to ensure more mayhem, as former Ireland player Ollie Byrne remembered from a game in Scotland back in 1997.

"We had a few drinks the night before the match and we went out the following day and were told in no uncertain terms you don't treat this game with a lack of respect," he said.

"In other words, they beat the beer out of you?" presenter Michael Lyster helpfully added.

"Absolutely. And a few colours of it," came the reply.

Sadly they forgot to tell this year's teams, who after a decent first-half produced nothing of any note in the second. They could have nipped off and watched El Clasico and come back on and nothing would have changed but in the end it was the Scots who were sent home to think again.

It looked to be the same in the clash of the footballs, as Ireland looked to be strolling to victory, before Australia made a comeback that Harold Bishop would have been proud of only to fall just short, meaning Ireland had won in four sports in a little over four hours, quite a feat. Even Thierry would hand it to them.

Time to blow the whistle on Jeffries

Normally on BBC NI when a programme called 'Whistle Blowers' pops up, you prepare yourself for a scary character spilling the beans on an organisation that is rightfully treated with contempt for their heinous crimes.

It was no different on Monday evening when True North's latest offering hit the screens with former Linfield boss David Jeffrey crossing over to the dark side to get to grips - not literally - with referees.

"Let's get this straight, I don't detest referees but sometimes I just can't help feeling like I do," he began as we got an insight into the lives of two Irish League referees and two members of the unfairer sex starting off on their whistle-stop tour.

"Like him or loathe him, Raymond Crangle's no nonsense approach to refereeing earns him some of the toughest matches in the Irish Premiership," said the surprisingly excellent narrator Jeffrey, or Jeffries as he continues to be called by the stupidly-challenged.

I would quibble with the 'like him' part of that statement, only joking, he's one of the better ones, although that's a bit like admitting to your favourite One Direction song.

"It's a war out there, we're like the UN, stuck in the middle of it," said Crangle, but I suppose that's what makes you beautiful, but you're wrong, some people like the UN.

Cohort Ian McNabb was seeking even greater rewards than the League Cup medal his senior friend in black was after, a Uefa certificate to go in the wee BB mug that was sitting on the desk of his bedroom, with a picture of Alan Snoddy on the wall in a tennis outfit. I made that bit up.

McNabb was in Switzerland for the dreaded yo-yo test - you'd have thought it would have been Toblerone - but it was a test we've all had, trying the get the wrapper off a toffee one but always failing and getting a bit of silver paper hitting a filling.

This test meant running about aimlessly and getting out of breath, vital requirements for refereeing, and he passed with flying colours, getting a certificate from former Premier League referee David Elleray and a packet of mint YoYos.

We also followed Rachel, a Linfield fan, and her dream to be a referee - the IFA's dreams coming true right there - and another girl who made a fleeting performance as a ref and then ran off to join a theatre group.

But as Crangle said: "I'm an actor in a play, sometimes you have to take centre stage. If the crowd are calling me the villain, the villain has to put his chest out."

We wish him well on next week's True North as he changes his name to Raymona and strives to become a Page Three girl.

The good, the bad and the ugly

The good: Just when we thought the entire sports budget at UTV had been spent on making that wee red grotto for Ruth Gorman in the UTV Live studio, the pesky scamps turned up with some actual real sport on Monday with an hour-long highlights show from the big boxing event at the Waterfront Hall at the weekend. Good to have you back, the last time sport was on UTV, Giant Haystacks was treating Jackie Fullerton very badly.

The even better: Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better for Rory McIlroy… whopping sums of cash for being top of the European Tour, a huge trophy for winning in Dubai at the weekend, a nice Rolex and a nice new lady chum, they top it all off by getting Dougie Donnelly to interview him. Sporting legend meets some wee lad from Northern Ireland.

The bad: And when you thought Robbie Savage and Darren Fletcher couldn’t get any worse, BT Sport go and put them in some hilarious sketches for their sponsors during the advert breaks. BBC NI will probably give them a series, as long as they cram in a lot of really tired jokes about religion and politics.

The ugly: Mark Chapman went a little bit potty on Tuesday night’s Race to the Super Bowl 50 American Football highlights show as Kansas City Chiefs’ Dontari Poe became the heaviest player in NFL history to score a touchdown. He weighs in at an impressive 346lb or 24 and a half stone in old money - that’s a Poe I wouldn’t want to empty.

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