AT the Championship match I was covering for a newspaper yesterday afternoon, I was in a dilemma. (Ah yes, good cars those dilemmas, as Ted Chippington used to say – and indeed still does.) Should I try to crowbar in a Hallowe’en reference or not?
Topical references are a bit dangerous in newspaper match reports. Judge them right, and your readers will think you incredibly erudite and clever, and your colleagues will discuss you in the office in hushed awe-struck tones. (That’s complete bollocks in the latter case, and no doubt in the former too, but there must be some reason why we sports journalists try to work the news into our scribblings.)
However, if all of the reporters covering all of the matches for a particular paper have the same topical idea, then the sports section can end up as repetitive a read as one of those chain e-mail jokes that get passed around from office to office.
To give you an example: Around this time last year, the Jonathan Ross-Russell Brand-Andrew Sachs phone brouhaha story had just broken. And one newspaper – I forget which one – contained three separate football match reports all referring to the scandal.
Still, at least the reporters in question were paying attention to the news, and trying to be a bit creative. All you need to do to remember it’s Hallowe’en is look at a calendar.
But it was Hallowe’en. Surely a little reference to ‘horror show defending’ couldn’t do any harm? I rang the office. “Don’t put any Hallowe’en references in your report,” came the reply from the very sensible chap on the other end, no doubt terrified at the prospect of receiving a dozen match reports with exactly the same intro. I didn’t make any reference to Hallowe’en.
If only the people in charge of producing Match of the Day and the Football League Show had phoned the very sensible chap in my office. But they didn’t.
Last night’s final match: Everton 1 Aston Villa 1
Commentator: Alistair Mann
“We’ve got a Hallowe’en Match of the Day special for you tonight,” said Gary Lineker at the top of the show.
“Plenty of treats and horrors, a cauldron of goals, and referees showing more red than a vampire’s feast.”
OK. At least that was the Hallowe’en references out of the way. Until Gary handed over to Manish Bhasin halfway through MOTD to preview the Football League Show. (There isn’t an acronym for that yet.)
“We’ve got some really scary Hallowe’en outfits,” said Manish from the top of the staircase in that echoing warehouse where the League Show comes from. “And I’m not talking about Steve Claridge’s shirt.”
OK. Stop now. Let’s discuss Everton versus Aston Villa, shall we?
As Lineker rightly pointed out, it is the most-played fixture in English top-flight history. Yesterday was the 189th league meeting between the sides. The very first, in September 1888, was won 2-1 by Villa. In the days after that first meeting, fans of both sides were heard to grumble: “Why is the result of my team’s match always read out last by the town crier?”
Apparently, nobody had ever been sent off in an Everton-Villa league game at Goodison until yesterday, when home goalscorer Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and visiting defender Carlos Cuellar both saw red within minutes of John Carew’s equaliser.
Lineker managed to hold off any more Hallowe’en references after that, but Bhasin didn’t.
“We’re close to the witching hour,” he opened the Football League Show. “No tricks but plenty of treats. . . Steve Claridge has ghosted past a few defenders in his time. . .”
And then, over to Lizzie for your texts and e-mails. Her opening gambit? “Did you have a happy Hallowe’en or was it a horror story?”
2 Lizzie stop Hallowe’en references & talking to audience as if we r idiots. Tell Manish that I can read a calendar, and I’ve already had the trick or treaters round tonight. Tried to fob them off with a packet of honey and lemon Lockets but didn’t work. Now my car is covered in scratches. What about super Rochdale, 4-0 at Bournemouth? Keith Hill for England manager!
“We start this Hallowe’en edition with a team whose recent record was pretty frightening,” Bhasin continued, introducing West Brom’s match with Watford. By which time, the clock had passed midnight and it was November 1, and I’d had enough.
1. Portsmouth: 3 (GD: 1. 2L: 0.)
2. Everton: 3 (GD: 1. 2L: 0.)
3. Wigan: 3 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
4. Gubba: 2 (GD: 2. 2L: 1.)
5. West Ham: 2 (GD: 1. 2L: 1.)
6. Hull: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 4.)
7=. Stoke: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
7=. Wolves: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
9. Blackburn: 1 (GD: 1. 2L: 0.)
10=. Bolton: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
10=. Birmingham: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
12. Fulham: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
13. Aston Villa: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
14. Sunderland: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 3.)
15. Burnley: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
16=. Arsenal: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
16=. Chelsea: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
18=. Liverpool: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
18=. Manchester City: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
18=. Manchester United: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
18=. Tottenham: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
GD = Gubba difference
2L = On second last (Last night’s penultimate match was: Stoke 2 Wolves 2.)
(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.)