2008 slightly skewed: April to June

CONTINUING my highly-subjective look back at 2008, thrown together while I eat my way through leftover Christmas chocolates. Mint crisp, anyone?

April

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I spent much of April watching the disintergration of Ian Holloway’s managerial career.

Holloway somehow managed to guide a Leicester side comfortably good enough to stay in the Championship to League One. He did his best to retain a quirky edge at his post-match press conferences – crowbarring a reference to Dancing On Ice into one of them – but the stress was showing in the closing weeks of the season.

After a defeat at Sheffield United in early April, Holloway somehow ended up discussing the fact that the only two people who ever called him Ian – rather than Ollie – were his wife and his mother.

Before the following week’s game against Colchester, Holloway showed his squad Samuel L Jackson’s inspirational sports movie Coach Carter. It didn’t work, as Leicester turned in one of the most nervy performances I’ve ever seen from a sports team, and scraped a 1-1 draw.

The match was chiefly memorable for an incredibly half-hearted one-man pitch invasion by a 50-odd-year-old chap who was able to get at the way across the pitch before the stewards finally woke up and escorted him out of the ground. Holloway suggested the disgruntled fan meet up with him for a coffee.

Within a month, Leicester were down, having failed to win at Stoke on the last day, and Holloway had as much coffee time as he wanted.

What Leicester needed, it turned out, wasn’t Coach Carter, but their own answer to Pottermouth.

Pottermouth was an anonymous Stoke fan who left a stirring speech on BBC Radio Stoke reporter John Acres’ answerphone as his team wobbled on the verge of promotion to the Premier League.

It became known as ‘Pottermouth’s Battle Cry’ – urging the team to ‘do it’ for a long and seemingly random list of Stoke celebrities, landmarks and local heroes. Amazingly, it worked: Stoke did it for Pat McGarry and his paper shop, and reached the Premier League, unleasing Rory Delap’s long throws on the nation’s best defences.

The best April Fools’ joke concerned a story about disgraced sprinter Dwain Chambers taking up a four-week trial with Super League side Castleford Tigers. The only trouble with the joke was that it turned out to be true.

May

This was the month I managed to make front-page headlines in Sweden.

Daily newspaper Aftonbladet phoned me for an interview about the Manchester Evening News’ campaign to save Sven-Goran Eriksson’s job as Manchester City manager.

Curiously, Aftonbladet gave my comments on Eriksson’s impending exit priority over those of United manager Sir Alex Ferguson in the same article. This is the only time this has ever happened in my journalistic career.

Then again, May was a curious month for me. I also took part in a live interview on Radio Five Live which had to be abandoned due to a swarm of Rangers fans singing sectarian songs into presenter Peter Allen’s microphone.

The interview took place in Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens during the build-up to the UEFA Cup final between Rangers and Zenit St Petersburg – at around the time of the day when the demon drink was turning large sections of the travelling Scottish support from merry to lairy to scary.

Manchester couldn’t cope with 100,000 Glaswegians in the city centre – and when one of the big screens failed just before kick-off, a riot broke out.

Elsewhere, Jim Gannon became the first Stockport County manager to get a mention on Have I Got News For You? Gannon was refusing to speak to Sky Sports after a dispute with the company’s customer services department caused by his broken Sky digibox at home.

It meant that Sky viewers were denied Gannon’s thoughts after County won promotion to League One with a Wembley play-off victory over Rochdale.

Manchester United’s Champions League victory over Chelsea in Moscow was something of a mixed blessing for Mancunian rabbi Arnold Saunders.

Saunders revealed that he was continually being mistaken for United’s far-from-universally-popular owner Malcolm Glazer by (presumably very short-sighted) fans, with one even pouring a can of beer over him. This was despite the fact that Saunders is more than 30 years younger than Glazer, a man who has never, ever been seen in Manchester.

It’s not clear how many of the anti-Glazer protestors celebrated United’s Champions League win. Any who did would need a very flexible moral compass.

June

Somebody at ITV seemed to get in into their head that all English fans would be supporting Portugal at Euro 2008 because Cristiano Ronaldo was playing for them. (This would never have been allowed to happen when Brian Barwick was head of ITV Sport.)

As a result, coverage of their opening game against Turkey featured Craig Doyle shouting to make himself heard in a Portuguese bar in . . . erm, Vauxhall, south London. (Well, ITV are cutting back these days. And they’ve got to pay Simon Cowell’s salary somehow.)

Ronaldo was asked again and again and again whether he would be leaving Manchester United for Real Madrid. Again and again and again, he dodged the question.

In the meantime, while no one was looking, his national team manager agreed to take the Chelsea job.

Luiz Felipe Scolari’s move to the Premier League wasn’t the biggest shock of the month, though. That was Dougie Donnelly’s absence from the BBC’s Open coverage for the first time in nearly 20 years.

According to the Daily Mail, Donnelly was informed he had been dropped via a message on his answerphone. Amid all this, some guy called Padraig Harrington won the Claret Jug.

Back at Euro 2008, Turkey and the Czech Republic took part in one of the most extraordinary finishes to a football match ever seen. Nihat Kahveci scored twice in the last couple of minutes to see Turkey through 3-2 – and even then, there was still time for their keeper Volkan Demirel to get sent off for pole-axing Jan Koller.

ITV commentator Jon Champion summed it all up perfectly: “If a spaceship landed in the centre circle, direct from Mars, I wouldn’t be surprised now.”

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