SOMETIME in the late 1980s or early 1990s, during the Des Lynam/Jimmy Hill era, Match of the Day’s producers allowed 90 Minutes magazine to do a behind-the-scenes feature on the show. The article contained a revelation that I found quite startling at the time. There’s a part of me that still does.
The revelation was buried quite deep in the piece, amid a load of facts about umpteen miles of cable and God knows how many cameras, about planning meetings and match editing techniques, and about Barry Davies’ admirably dogged attempts to discover how Northampton’s then-goalkeeper Peter Gleasure pronounced his surname. (Davies apparently collared Gleasure in the tunnel before an FA Cup tie at Kettering and asked him.)
And that revelation was this: Although Match of the Day went out live, Lynam and Hill didn’t watch the highlights of the games while we saw them at home. They had already seen the games – and prepared their chat and analysis – before going on air.
So while we’d be watching Preston get turned over by Whitley Bay, Lynam and Hill would switch over to ITV and watch a bit of Dame Edna Everage. I’m trying to picture Hill, enjoying Dame Edna for a few minutes before switching back into analyst mode to give us his thoughts on Preston’s defending at set-pieces – and quite frankly, it’s an image that disturbs me.
(I don’t know why this should be. Hill once appeared in a Monty Python sketch dressed as Queen Victoria, so it’s not as if he’s some buttoned-up God-fearing character with TV viewing habits consisting solely of Songs Of Praise and Last Of The Summer Wine.)
When Gary Lineker announced that last night’s truncated Match of the Day would be just like the old days, he meant that there would be extended highlights of just two games and plenty of analysis. I’m guessing that’s all he meant. Apart from anything else, Dame Edna wouldn’t get anywhere near the ITV Saturday night schedules these days.
“Jimmy Hill was unavailable, so Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson will provide analysis instead,” Lineker joked. And I remembered that magazine article and thought: They’ll have prepared all their analysis already. They don’t need to watch the games again.
I’d love to know what Lineker, Hansen and Lawro all got up to while we were watching the highlights of those two games last night. Did they flick over to ITV to watch Hugh Grant practise his foppish stick on Julia Roberts in Notting Hill? Did they go outside and have a snowball fight? Perhaps they had a quick game of Pictionary?
I’m not sure. But ever since that 90 Minutes article, I’ve always had a feeling that, whatever football highlights presenters do between links and analysis, they’re not watching the games.
Last night’s final match: Arsenal 2 Everton 2
Commentator: Jonathan Pearce
I knew it was going to be a bad weekend when the game I was due to cover – Sheffield Wednesday v Peterborough in the Championship – was called off two days in advance. By Friday evening, the weekend football schedule was down to a handful of games.
Two matches survived in the Premier League yesterday, raising the intriguing possibility that Manchester United could be last on Match of the Day for the first time since… well, I couldn’t tell you for certain. In the days before MOTD sent a commentator to every Saturday game, there were a few occasions – particularly in the early years of the Premier League – when they were relegated to the goals round-up. But even then, I’m not sure if they were ever on last.
So if you don’t count editions of MOTD where United’s game was the only one shown (that’s live games, and highlights which featured only one match), then the records suggest that the last time they brought up the rear was August 27, 1983. That night, MOTD featured Aston Villa’s 4-3 win over West Brom as their main game, with United’s 3-1 win over QPR on second – and therefore last. Whether QPR’s fans complained at the time that they were last on Match of the Day even when they played Manchester United has gone unrecorded.
As it turned out, though, United’s 1-1 draw at Birmingham was on first last night. And that left Arsenal’s match against an Everton side appearing last on MOTD for the fifth time this season. That’s quite some achievement for a team whose Europa League commitments have seen them play many of their games on Sundays this season.
It was a cracking game at The Emirates. Everton led twice, first through Leon Osman, then through Steven Pienaar, and should have won. Arsenal equalised with two deflected goals, the first before half-time from Denilson, the second late on from Tomas Rosicky. Notting Hill never stood a chance in the face of such entertainment. (Have you seen that film? It has one of the most ridiculous endings in cinematic history.)
Osman, interviewed afterwards, sounded as if he’d really enjoyed himself. “The snow was coming down in the second half and you could hardly see,” he said. “It was proper old-fashioned football. It was good fun.”
A step back in time, then, in more ways than one. If only space could have been found for Jimmy Hill and Dame Edna on the MOTD sofa.
1. Blackburn: 5 (GD: 1. 2L: 3.)
2. Everton: 5 (GD: 1. 2L: 0.)
3. Portsmouth: 4 (GD: 1. 2L: 0.)
4. Stoke: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
5. West Ham: 3 (GD: 1. 2L: 1.)
6. Hull: 3 (GD: 0. 2L: 4.)
7. Wigan: 3 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
8. Aston Villa: 3 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
9. Gubba: 2 (GD: 2. 2L: 3.)
10. Bolton: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 5.)
11=. Burnley: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 4.)
11=. Fulham: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 4.)
13. Wolves: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 3.)
14. Birmingham: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 5.)
15. Tottenham: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
16. Arsenal: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
17. Liverpool: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
18. Sunderland: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 5.)
19=. Chelsea: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
19=. Manchester United: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
21. Manchester City: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
GD = Gubba difference
2L = On second last (Last night’s penultimate match was: Birmingham 1 Manchester United 1. And yes, I know it was also the first game. Those are the breaks, my friend.)
(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.)