Monday, 28 February 2011

Phil Collins and the Genesis 'Match Of The Day' song he'd rather you forgot all about

I suppose Phil Collins was always going to write a football song really. After all, he's a man of the people, an earthy Chiswick boy made good. He's the plucky drummer that stepped into the breach when Peter Gabriel left Genesis and Collins took over on vocal duties.

So dedicated to serving his public in musical form is Collins that he famously performed in both London and Philadelphia during Live Aid in 1985 - the unselfish act of a generous man, and in no way a publicity stunt to make him appear to be the most do-goody of the pop star do-gooders that day, far better than that idle Geldof fella who just lounged around in London all day. I'm sure Collins travelled economy class on Concorde as he dashed off to give the Philly folk their Phil fill.

Yes, there can be no denying that the Genesis frontman is a multi-talented instrumentalist and singer, not to mention creatively dexterous enough to have pulled a few (surprisingly non-Oscar nominated) acting performances out of his bag of tricks over the years, all while still supporting his beloved Tottenham Hotspur, generally loving his football and being an all-round folk hero. A fair assessment, no?

So given that we've established Phil's credentials as a suitable man to pen a football song for the masses, what in the name of Subbuteo is this?

There have been an abundance of terrible football songs over the years, but this has an earnest quality to it that makes it all the more offensive. How cheap does that keyboard riff sound? I keep expecting John Shuttleworth to pipe up with a burst of "Austin Ambassador Y Reg". And in saying this, I worry I might offend John Shuttleworth...

And why does Collins keep going so high-pitched on the vocals? Like tomato in a shop-bought sandwich or casual racism at the barber's, there are certain things we shouldn't have to put up with, and Phil Collins singing up an octave is most certainly one of them. He sounds like Vinnie Jones has got him by the goolies.

And then there's the lyrics. It's a ludicrously naff attempt at conveying the passion and commitment of a football match. And he does rather focus on the negatives, doesn't he? Was this song co-written with Barry Davies? You suspect that Phil doesn't really like football that much, he just likes having a good old grumble. He's certainly not fond of referees - slating officials is a common theme of the lyrics, with the idea of kicking one to death even getting an airing at one stage. Much of the rest is gibberish and barely makes sense. I've posted the full lyrics below for you. Take a moment to pore over them as you listen to the song. They are ludicrously bad from start to finish, but my personal highlight is this:

"There's a few things before we go
That I think you ought to know
Obstruction, body checking, heavy tackles"

I like how he sets this up as if he's going to give us some insider knowledge, something that will enrich our lives or keep us safe from harm - and then he just lists three more things he doesn't like about football. Thanks for the handy hints, Phil.

The following quote was supposedly made by Phil Collins on his internet forum in November 2004: "Match Of The Day... no video was done for this as far as I can recall... but I am weak and my limbs are frail.....etc. Etc. It was also not our finest hour looking back at it now!!! I wrote the embarrassing lyrics and the track featured an attempt to bring some of the hipper grooves of the day into Genesis, with very suspect results."

Hipper grooves? I think what we can take from this is that there definitely was a video for this song, but that it has been lost in the annals of time. There's an internet rumour that one was filmed on the terraces at Loftus Road. Does anybody have any further information? If anyone has a copy of the video, put it on Youtube - you will be a hero.

As bad as this song is, if one thing is telling, it's that Collins doesn't even touch on MOTD in terms of punditry or commentary. Because, as I have written about more thoroughly recently, it was much more about the football action in those days.

It's 1977. The kids are growing tired of radio-friendly pop and bookish prog. Something is brewing. Punk rock is about to whip them up into an angry, glorious frenzy. You'd like to think this song was something of a tipping point.

Collins: touched by genius? (Feel free to
insert your own 'Invisible Touch' gag here...)
Genesis - "Match Of The Day"
Released on "Spot The Pigeon" EP, 1977.

There's the Reds and there's the Greens
Super slicks and has-beens,
They're accompanied by three men dressed in black,
One's a whistle, two are flags, and quite often they're the drags
Kick the ball into the goal, they put it back.

Yes Match of the Day's
The only way, to spend your Saturday

Each side's eleven men, with numbers on their backs
But at a distance they all tend to look the same
But some own their boutiques, well they clean up every week
Inciting riots, causing chaos, such a shame!

But Match of the Day's
The only way
We spend our Saturday

And that's not all, our mates the keeper
Slippin' and sliding in the mud
Arms as long as creepers

Send him off Ref'
Where are your specs Ref'?
We'll kick you to death Ref'
Oi! Are you deaf Ref'?

There's a few things before we go
That I think you ought to know
Obstruction, body checking, heavy tackles
So put on your hat and scarf
Have a drink, have a laugh
From the terrace you can see your men do battle

Yes Match of the Day's
The only way
You can spend your Saturday

Don't forget, the trainers with their sponges
Managers with open cheques, liquid business lunches

Send him off Ref'
Where are your specs Ref'?

We'll kick you to death Ref'
Oi! Are you deaf Ref'?

...Phfff! Good game 'ey, Ron?...
...D'you see that goal in the second half? Cor!...
...Bit of a dirty tackle that, mate!...
...I reckon that should've been a penalty myself...
...We paid £400,000 for him, d'you realise that?...
...Ooh, look out, here comes a bottle...
...Yes, fancy a pint then? My round...

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Brian Moore and 'The Big Match'

The release of a DVD archive of the best moments from ITV's 1970s and early 1980s football programme The Big Match offers a treat for those old enough to remember it the first time around, and for the rest of us, a glimpse into an era when football really was all about the football, and not about vast sums of money, image rights and WAGs. And at the centre of this feast of proper football is one of the true gents of sport - the late, great Brian Moore


Those of you who are, like me, born after the 1970s will probably only be familiar with Brian Moore as a commentator. For the duration of the 1980s and 1990s Brian Moore was the consummate football commentator – passionate yet professional, with a vocal range that went from a gruff, excitable roar [think Michael Thomas’s title-winning goal for Arsenal at Anfield in 1989, heard from 6mins 50secs here] to beautifully understated, often letting passages of play elapse commentary-free until there was something that needed saying. An example of him letting the football do the talking comes here as Norman Whiteside scores an FA Cup-winning goal in 1985 - simple and succinct, but very effective. Most television commentators say too much, as if the game is on the radio and we can't see it. No need to fill every second of airtime with noise. 

What The Big Match lacked in style, it made up for in substance
But before my time Moore was also a football anchor for ITV, fronting their coverage of The Big Match alongside Jimmy Hill and - for a time - Brian Clough as well. I'd seen bits and pieces of this classic football show, and it all looked charming and entertaining, if rather low-budget compared to today's high-tech efforts. But my interest was piqued when I was sent a review copy of a DVD entitled The Big Match: The Best From The Studio. This sat around the house for a bit until I finally had a free evening to sit and watch it. It's no exaggeration to say that I became completely lost in it's rather geeky, retro charms.

The footage turned out to be an absolute joy; a fascinating glimpse into the football world that existed just before I was old enough to notice. The is very much a no-frills compilation. No new footage, no director's commentary, no bonus features, no accompanying documentary - it's just a bunch of clips, arranged in logical clusters that you select from a main menu. You can't even 'Play All'. To all intents and purposes this is not designed as a typical entertainment product; rather it is an archive, a time capsule, a nerd's paradise.

There's so much to enjoy here and most of this blog will be devoted to telling you of some of the delights to be found on the DVD. But before I do, it's important to stress that while the footage is truly memorable, it is an absolute pleasure to see so much screen time of Brian Moore talking about football. I miss Brian. He was always my favourite commentator. Better than Motson. Better even than the brilliant Barry Davies in my opinion. He brought warmth and energy to every game he commentated on - and he very much stuck to commentating. Davies would get on his high horse about topical issues of the day (hooliganism, England being awful, etc), while Motson could be a bit anecdotal and bring himself into the commentary rather too often for my taste. Moore just commentated on the game he was watching. That was his job. He did it perfectly and professionally. Even if you aren't too bothered about some of the footage on this DVD, it's still a pleasure to watch Moore at work. Right, onto the action.

We start with a section looking at 1970s refereeing and the laws of the game, something of a labour of love for Jimmy Hill (blissfully unaware of how unevenly trimmed his beard is) and his one-man quest to right all of football's wrongs. We see footage of controversial moments, Hill's suggestions for rule changes to improve the game, debatable bookings (or 'name-takes' as Jimmy insists on calling them). He's irked that the FA are meddling with things, and not the right things; they're trying to fix something that, in his opinion, isn't broken. "We should be on top of the world. Our teams are winning in Europe. I don't see why we should be committing hari-kari in this way," he offers.

We're treated to footage from the occasion when a referee was injured and Hill, a spectator that day, had to step in as an emergency linesman at an important game. You've probably heard about this incident but it's illuminating to see so much footage of it. There is a wonderful look on Arsenal manager Bertie Mee's face as he realises that, yes, Jimmy Hill really is going to be running the line. Hill, anxious that viewers might think he did it because of an enormous ego, stresses: "In order to be an efficient linesman, I had to fade into the backcloth. I wasn't there to entertain people, I was there to do a job of work."

Moore reads Hill a letter sent in from a Mr G Iyson, chairman of a Bristol refereeing association, who is convinced that Rodney Marsh was offside when he scored the previous week. At this point ITV show a replay - no clever angles, just the regular footage, and Hill rather easily demonstrates that Marsh is clearly onside. Case closed. G Iyson shamed.

Up next we have Jim Rosenthal's News Desk, a compilation of quirky news features run in this section of the show during the early 1980s. The finest of these profiles two ex-Chelsea stars Peter Osgood and Ian Hutchinson playing for their local non-league side Spital Old Boys and running a pub together. The lads, puffing quite a bit, are interviewed on the touchline at the full-time whistle. Rosenthal asks them about the pub. Turns out it's a really grotty looking place called The Union Inn. They show a still of it. Yuck. "Peter looks after the bar and I look after the catering side," says Hutchinson. I doubt this had the viewers flocking there in their droves.

Fresh-faced Jim

Among the other highlights in this section are Fred Dinenage getting chucked in the bath at Bournemouth and a brief snippet of footage of a bouffant Glenn Hoddle out on his bicycle as he tries to regain fitness after an injury. Hoddle is huffing and puffing along, the bike creaking noisily as he does so.

The segment of the DVD dealing with viewer correspondence is perhaps the best stuff of the lot. When reading out each letter, Moore's house style for crediting authors is remarkably thorough in the detail. "This letter's been sent in from a Mr W E Aveling of 93 Cedar Road, Strood in Kent", he says. What? You've told the nation where this poor sod lives, Brian! Imagine this nowadays. There'd be rude daubings all over the guy's house within half an hour of Match Of The Day finishing.

One letter comes from a puzzled Australian viewer enquiring what the strange pitch-side alphabetical hoardings are, that he's seen during televised games. We learn that the letters correspond to fixtures in spectators' matchday programmes, and the numbers indicate the half-time scores in those games. Another viewer asks, "Where are the Spurs double-winning side now? ITV have prepared a board (yes, a physical board, not on-screen graphic) to answer this one, and they run through the whereabouts of each player in turn and what they do for a living now. Alongside more typical entries like "football coach" and "lives in Toronto" are a few more notable ones. Bobby Smith is, rather vaguely, involved with "buying and selling", John White died tragically after being struck by lightning on a golf course, and Maurice Norman, wonderfully, now runs a knitwear shop in Frinton-on-Sea. I doubt you'll see any current Premier League players treading this path in the years to come.

We're treated to a peculiar tale of a cow invading the pitch at a game, breaking a goalpost and causing the rest of the game to take place with a spectator holding the post up. There's some video of hirsute Norwich striker Dave Paddon scoring powerful free-kicks in much the same way as Cristiano Ronaldo 'pioneered' at Manchester United. A couple of younger viewers have written in too. One asks how to prevent getting blisters from football boots (again, imagine Alan Shearer dealing with this sort of query now), and he is given an insight into how Clough does it at Derby County, ie. force your players to sit with their feet in a trough of surgical spirit. We even see a photo of David Nish undergoing this ordeal - necessary precautions because "Nish's feet are worth a few bob". The other young lad to write in asks if The Big Match can please re-run the clip from last week of a policeman falling over because his sister "laughed so much it made her cry".

Finally, rounding off this section, we get some cracking footage of German goal machine Klaus Fischer practicing overhead kicks in a crash-matted penalty area, complete with Brian Moore's purring over the beauty of the slow-motion replays, followed by scenes of The Big Match presenting Brian Clough with a birthday cake in his office at Nottingham Forest. A dopey-sounding Peter Shilton does the honours with the cake, showing some subtle signs of coercion as he does so:

Shilton [with cake]: "I've got to... err... I've been asked to present this to you."
Clough: "Give over! From Brian Moore? It doesn't blow up does it?"
Shilton [cogs visibly turning]: "Uhh, I don't think so. It better not do. It's his fault if it does."
Clough: "Give us a kiss!" [pecks him on the cheek]


No need for me to say too much on this section, it is simply a compilation of goal-of-the-season competitions played one after the other. There are dozens of absolute corkers, but just a few personal highlights to whet the appetite: Bobby Kerr for Sunderland v Birmingham in 1972, smashed in from a cross a la Paul Scholes against Bradford about 10 years ago; Chris Garland scoring against Spurs for Chelsea in 1972 - worth a look for the way the crowd on the terrace swell forward en masse as it goes in; Don Rogers goal of the season from 1973, scored against Stoke while looking pretty damn awesome in a white Palace kit with solitary red and blue stripes down the centre. Rogers, wearing 11, gets one gold digit on each stripe. This (pictured below) looks undeniably cool; Brian Bason scoring for Chelsea against Carlisle in 1976, notable for the fact that he's down injured in the build-up, but picks himself up and, despite a severe limp, wellies in a rocket.

Don Rogers scoring for Palace in 1973, wearing a rather nifty shirt
The regular 'Where Are They Now?' segment on The Big Match was probably even more interesting to 1970s viewers than it would be to us now. I for one am always fascinated to learn what random players of the 1980s, say Vince Hilaire or Ian Crook, are up to these days. Multiply that by five for viewers in a pre-internet age - it's not a service Rothmans has ever provided, sadly.

The format seems to be: get a letter from a viewer wondering where some old boy is now, track him down, get him to pose for some awkward photos, show the photos one-by-one on the telly while saying what he's been up to. There's some belters in here too. Former Swansea forward Trevor Ford is now "sales director of a prosperous car dealership in Merthyr Tydfil" and is apparently saddened that he remains Wales all-time top scorer, something he puts down to the fact that "centre forwards these days just aren't prepared to get hurt in their quest for goals".

Then there's former Brentford keeper Joe Crozier, now director of a lighterage company, with a fleet of tugs and barges to his name. There's a cracking shot of him standing on one of his barges and pointing at nothing in particular, but the best photo is the one from his playing days. How wonderful is this photo? The panic-stricken facial expression, the ball that looks less like a football than any you've ever seen, the fact that he appears to be screaming "Nooo!". It's slightly like Patrick McGoohan fleeing from the big orb in The Prisoner, only in reverse.

Meanwhile there's ex-Portsmouth man Norman Uprichard, who now works behind the bar in a student union; old Spurs forward turned newsagent owner Len Duquemin, who these days has to leave Spurs games early, in time to get back to his shop and sell the evening sports papers; and what's this - yes! - it's Maurice Norman. They've tracked him down to his wool shop. They've got photos! Natty cardy, Maurice.

The DVD wraps up with a couple of Year In Review features, where they look back on the footballing year just past (1970 and 1971 are included). A clear highlight in this section is Malcolm Allison's thrilling argument live on the show with Alan Mullery. They don't hold back, saying exactly what they think of each other. It largely consists of Allison informing Mullery that he's not as good as he thinks he is, and that he doesn't have any pace. Mullery generally takes this abuse while doing lots of facial expressions like this, before having a pop back. It's compulsive viewing.

There's also footage of Eusebio taking penalties against Gordan Banks (he scores nine out of 10); a player colliding with the goalposts at Swindon and breaking them - quite a dramatic thing to witness; some cracking footage of a packed early-1970s Kop in full voice at Anfield; and Banks again, this time making 1971's Save Of The Year from a penalty in the League Cup semi-final against West Ham. What's most noticeable here is that some of the West Ham team can't look as the taker steps up. Imagine any Premier League team caring that much about the League Cup now.

And that's it. A superb two hours of the sort of football - and coverage of football - that tends to be sadly lacking today. Coverage that focuses purely on the game, diverting only for any aspects of mild humour around it, all glued together by the most tremendous of football men that was Brian Moore.


Fittingly, not wanting to cause a fuss, Brian Moore passed away the same night that England thrashed Germany 5-1 in Munich. His death was largely overlooked by the media - a tragedy almost as great as the fact that he was never included in any Queen's Honours List. However, if any good came of this, it is that it's as if Brian never really died. He lives on in his magnificent commentaries and in his gentlemanly presentation style on The Big Match.

The Big Match: The Best From The Studio is available for £9.99 from

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

A moment from Football Manager last night, starring Connor Wickham and Emile Heskey

I ruddy love Football Manager. And the 2011 incarnation is the best yet. This is for a multitude of reasons, among them the new 3D game engine, fans jumping up and down on the terraces, improved realism and much-improved tactics and training. But one of the biggest leaps forward is that you can actually converse with your players now. Admittedly, this is crudely done using a multiple choice system, with your player then reacting to your desired comment based on the intricacies of their in-game personality.

I'd been trundling along nicely as manager of Lewes. Two promotions in three seasons and sitting pretty in the upper echelons of League Two. [Does League Two have echelons? Maybe that great sporting word 'reaches' would have been a better choice?] Anyway, I was loving life at Lewes but the main problem was that my puny ground sold out its 500 seats and all space on the terraces every game. I needed a bigger ground if I was going to take the club further. But the board wouldn't even consider it. Good FA Cup runs had meant away days at Manchester City and Sunderland in successive seasons - so there was plenty of money in the bank. In short, I had perhaps taken Lewes as far as I could.

I remember Chris Mann, aka '@equaliserblog', tweeting a while back that after several seasons on Football Manager with Dynamo Dresden it had "got a bit tiresome", and he'd started again with a bigger club. Or, as he succinctly put it, he decided to "go and win some stuff". Having hit a similar wall myself, I decided to have a bash with Aston Villa. Always quite liked the Villa. There's lots of reasons why: my brother supports them, so do a few mates, I like the colours, Shaun Teale played for them, Big Ron, they used to be sponsored by a yoghurt and so on. Time to turn them into a Champions League force, I thought.

Part of the plan would be to do it with a good smattering of youth. I wasted little time in snapping up some promising young players in the shape of Tom Cairney (Hull), Connor Wickham (Ipswich), Gary Deegan (Coventry), Sebastién Pocognoli (Standard Liége), Jordan Spence (West Ham) and Lee Hodson (Watford). Chuck the experienced striker Liedson (Sporting Lisbon) and CSKA Moskow keeper Igor Akinfeev into the mix and I was all set for an exciting season.

Then I asked Emile Heskey to tutor Connor Wickham.

This seemed like a fail-safe idea to me. Sure, Heskey's not the most prolific of strikers, but what budding young England prospect - dubbed on the game as "the new Alan Shearer" no less - wouldn't want to learn from Big Emile's movement and hold-up play? Clearly the Football Manager 2011 incarnation of Connor Wickham only thinks of glaring misses and terrible goal-to-game ratios when he thinks of Emile William Ivanhoe Heskey.

I've pasted the transcript of my virtual conversation with Heskey and, subsequently, Wickham below. For some reason the cold, stark frankness of the exchange made me laugh out loud. I don't know if it will tickle you to the same extent as it did me but, y'know, it's good to share these things...

Yes I think you better had, Emile.