I’VE never been a fan of practical jokers. I put it down to the mild terror I used to feel on Saturday nights as a five-year-old watching Game For A Laugh on ITV, knowing that Jeremy Beadle was about to do something horrible to someone, and an entire audience would be rendered hysterical with unsympathetic laughter.
That’s probably why I’m finding it difficult to smile at the story of Derek Williams, the chap who apparently managed to fool Mexican club Universidad Nacional into thinking he was Sven-Goran Eriksson – Mexico’s new coach.
Williams, it seems, managed to persuade the club to give him a tour of their stadium after reportedly sending them false documents which appeared to have come from the Mexican football federation.
He also told Ricardo Ferretti, Universidad Nacional’s coach, that he had come to watch some of his players, with a view to selecting them for Mexico.
According to his website, Williams has done this kind of thing before. He tells of causing chaos during a shopping trip to the club shop at Eastlands shortly after Eriksson was appointed Manchester City manager last July. (Even though I was covering City for the Manchester Evening News at that time, I have no recollection of this story whatsoever: I must have blotted it from my memory.)
It was only when I looked at Williams’ website that I realised our paths have crossed before. Last November, he left a comment at the blog I used to write for the Manchester Evening News, under an entry on Eriksson’s reaction to Steve McClaren’s sacking from the England job.
His comment certainly gave the impression he was an Eriksson fan, as he wrote: “After the way some elements of the press hounded S-G E (the man the foreign media call “the world and England’s most successful football coach”), I am sure he wouldn’t touch his old [England] job back with very long barge pole. Other slightly less talented managers don’t seem to be queueing up either after the treatment he received, so what are our chances for W-Cup 2010?”
There’s a hint of exasperation in Williams’ remark at Eriksson’s treatment at the hands of the FA, but little suggestion of an ability to make international headlines. Well, surprise, surprise.
I’m really not sure what Williams was trying to achieve with his trip to Mexico. Publicity? Well, I suppose he has made a major name for himself now.
But I can only tolerate practical jokes if they set out to make some kind of satirical point. (Think Chris Morris getting all those politicians and celebrities to warn of the dangers of a made-up drug for Brass Eye 12 years ago, and you get the idea.) Just showing that people can sometimes be a bit gullible isn’t telling me anything I don’t already know. (And yes, I know there was an element of that in Morris’ jokes, but it wasn’t everything.)
Williams seems harmless enough. His level of practical japery is more Dom Joly than Aaron Barschak, so if it does gain him a little more publicity and extra work over the next few months, then good luck to him.
But even through Mexican TV pictures so fuzzy that it looked as if someone had placed a hessian sack over the camera lens, I could still tell he wasn’t Sven.