Deep inside a wardrobe, halfway to Narnia, I recently discovered a 1987 Saint and Greavsie annual gathering dust. Inside (the book, not the wardrobe), Martin Tyler tells of the perils of trying to interview the Uruguayan footballer Enzo Francescoli.
The problem for Tyler and his film crew was that Francescoli didn’t speak a word of English. And although the crew did their best, they couldn’t even get Francescoli to say: “I am very happy here in Paris with Racing Club.”
This was in an era when the overseas presence in English football consisted of Ossie Ardiles, Jan Molby, Jesper Olsen and a handful of others. These days, with so many players in English football for whom English is not a first language, you might think the language barrier would be more common. And yet it isn’t, largely thanks to the wonderful invention of Jackanese.
Jackanese takes its inspiration from the episode of Father Ted in which three bishops visit Craggy Island to decide on whether the Holy Stone of Clonrichert should be upgraded to a Class II relic. Terrified that Father Jack will offend the bishops, Ted teaches him to respond to every question by saying either “yes” or “that would be an ecumenical matter”.
For footballers, Jackanese works in a similar way. Any question, however complex, can be answered with one of two easy-to-learn stock phrases:
1) “I am very happy to be in the Premier League.”
2) “I just want to play football and help the team.”
These phrases are so easy to pick up, even Enzo Francescoli wouldn’t have been intimidated by them. They come in very handy when faced with a room full of monoglot English journalists, and ensure that a player never offends anyone. And, crucially, they can be applied to answer almost any question:
Question A: Why did you decide to join Stoke City?
Answer A: I am very happy to be in the Premier League.
Question B: Can Tottenham challenge for a Champions League spot?
Answer B: I just want to play football and help the team.
Question C: Do you believe that Barack Obama can improve America’s relationship with North Korea by extending the hand of friendship?
Answer C: I am very happy to be in the Premier League.
Question D: Three men are running a market stall. For every £1 they make, Bob takes home 40p, Alf takes half of what remains, and Norbert takes the rest. If Bob takes home £40.40, how much did the market stall make in total?
Answer D: I just want to play football and help the team.
So successful has Jackanese been, that it has also been adopted by footballers whose first language IS English. And with the return of Match of the Day to our screens this weekend, we now get the opportunity to enjoy these utterings on a weekly basis.
Last night’s final match: Portsmouth 0 Fulham 1
Commentator: Martin Fisher
Fresh from scoring an incredibly fluky winner for Fulham at Fratton Park yesterday, Bobby Zamora gave a textbook demonstration of the art of Jackanese.
The striker, who scored after Clint Dempsey’s long-range shot went in off his back, is confident enough to move beyond the two stock phrases, but still manages to ensure he says nothing that could cause Kim Jong-Il to launch nuclear weapons on west London. The result was the following 10-second exchange with interviewer Martin Fisher:
Fisher: Well Bobby, all the best strikers say it doesn’t matter where it comes off as long as it goes in the net. You’d adhere to that, wouldn’t you?
Zamora: Yeah, definitely. As soon as it hit me, and went in the back of the net, my arm’s up and I’m running off, yeah.
Now you may think that I’m being unkind here, that I’ve deliberately picked out the most banal exchange of the interview in order to score a cheap laugh. Well, I admit that I enjoy a cheap laugh as much as the next blogger. But with this interview, I didn’t have much choice – as it was the only extract used on Match of the Day last night. That leads me to believe that it must have been the best part of the interview.
This is not as daft as it sounds. On Radio Five Live yesterday evening, I heard an extended version of Tony Gubba’s MOTD interview with Sunderland striker Darren Bent, who had just scored the winner at Bolton on his debut. Gubba must have asked eight or nine questions in an heroic attempt to get Bent to say something interesting. Bent, equally heroically, responded to almost every one with a variation on the phrase: “I just want to score goals and keep my place in the team.”
(Perhaps if the interview with Bent had been done by Twitter, it might have been livelier, but that’s another story.)
Bolton v Sunderland, by the way, was the penultimate game on last night’s MOTD. And I feel this should be recognised, given the number of people on message boards who have now amended the complaint “Why is my team always last on Match of the Day?” to “Why is my team always last or second last on Match of the Day?”
So, for this season’s Gubbometer, teams level on points and Gubba difference will be separated by the number of times their side is on second last.
Question E: Do you ever get fed up with your team being constantly last on Match of the Day?
Answer E: Yes. It’s a fecking disgrace.
1. Fulham: 1
(GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
1. Portsmouth: 1
(GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
3. Bolton: 0
(GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
3. Sunderland: 0
(GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
GD = Gubba difference
2L = On second last
(NB. Teams will receive one point for every time they appear last on MOTD. Appearances on MOTD2 are not included. Teams level on points will be separated by Gubba difference – the number of times a team is on last with Tony Gubba commentating. Teams still level will then be separated by the number of times they appear second last on MOTD.)