Belfast Telegraph

Remembering the funny old game with Ian St John

By Steven Beacom

The 80s were full of famous fun double acts... Morecambe and Wise, Cannon and Ball, Little and Large... but there were none better than Saint and Greavsie.

Legendary pair Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves were the most hilarious of the lot and, having enjoyed successful football careers themselves, they knew the game inside out.

ITV's Saint and Greavsie show on Saturday lunchtime was must-see television.

Sadly, when Sky won the rights to televise the Premier League from 1992, the canny Scot and charismatic Englishman, who won 72 caps between them, were axed from the schedules.

"The reason we were not on was because Sky television bought all the football rights and ITV ended up with none at that time," explains Saint, now 74.

"Sky could have taken us, I suppose, but they wanted new people in and wanted to put their own brand on it, so Jimmy and I ended up out of work."

What a pity, because while they always called a spade a spade, too many of today's pundits on Sky Sports tend to sugar-coat what viewers are seeing in front of them.

"The Premier League wasn't great this season, but the people and pundits on Sky have got to sell, sell, sell the game and say the matches are great, the players are great and everything's great," says St John, who occasionally these days gives his no- holds-barred verdicts on LFC TV.

"I'm sitting watching and I'm thinking, 'this game is boring.' I've seen a lot of boring games this season, but the pundits on Sky clearly see things a different way to me, the way they talk about some matches.

"When I'm on TV doing a turn, I can't say a player is great if he's not. That just doesn't sit with me. If a player wasn't doing the business I'd say it. Maybe if I kept my mouth shut, I'd be on more!"

Greaves (73), who scored 44 goals in 57 England appearances, and countless others for Chelsea, Spurs and AC Milan had a heart attack last year.

Renowned for his phrase "it's a funny old game", his pal St John said: "Greavsie is not a big football watcher, you know. His big love is cricket. Thankfully he's doing okay now after a little health scare.

"We enjoyed the TV show. We always had a laugh and I really had good times with Jimmy. He was terrific to work with."

Interviewing St John is a breath of fresh air and education all in one.

Open, lively, not afraid to annoy the status quo, he was a good friend to Northern Ireland in the midst of the Troubles.

While other sporting stars refused to come anywhere near our wee country for fear of their lives, St John made regular trips to Larne for 20 years to stage soccer schools, because he didn't believe in giving in to terrorists.

He'll be back in Northern Ireland next month, alongside fellow Liverpool great In Callaghan, for what is sure to be a compelling night's entertainment with the pair speaking about their magnificent careers and modern day football, on stage in Newtownabbey.

"I was over in Larne for about 20 years in a row every summer to coach kids," the Saint recalls.

"It was the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and people said to me, 'why are you going over there with all that danger,' and I told them, 'you can't just give in to these people.'

"We never had any bother and we were always welcomed warmly.

"Other old professionals would help out, like Gerry Armstrong, and we would bring in lads from Linfield and other Irish League sides, and it was a great week for everybody... the players, the kids and ourselves."

St John, who reveals he'll not be surprised if Luis Suarez leaves Anfield this summer, adds: "I'm looking forward to going back to Northern Ireland where there are many, many Liverpool fans.

"We've had one show already in England and it went well and hopefully we can have another good one in Newtownabbey."

Belfast Telegraph


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