LONG before Pamela Stephenson attempted to pull down his trousers on TV-AM, and long before he became Luton Town chairman, amiable local TV news anchorman Nick Owen tried his hand as a football commentator.
One memorable night at Villa Park, he narrowly avoided urinating all over the heads of several thousand Aston Villa supporters.
Owen recounted the story years later when he appeared as a guest on the BBC’s Fantasy Football League show. One night in the spring of 1981, he was commentating on a midweek match involving Villa, who were chasing the league title.
During the game, he developed a pressing need to go to the loo. But he couldn’t for two reasons:
1) The match was still in progress, and while a newspaper reporter could probably get away with disappearing for a few moments, a TV commentator really needs to be there at all times. Although it would be wonderful to hear a commentator one day utter the words: “Corner to Villa. Back in a moment, I’m just off for a slash.”
(On that note, Martin Tyler tells a story of missing the last 15 minutes of an Everton game after food poisoning caused him to be sick on the gantry. “Luckily, nothing happened,” he told the Guardian subsequently. I’m guessing it wasn’t a live Sky game, unless he got round it by asking Andy Gray to babble away even more than usual.)
2) The TV gantry at Villa in those days was attached to the underside of the Witton Lane stand roof, and was only accessible by a retractable ladder, which was lowered into the seats below. For safety reasons, this couldn’t be done during or immediately after the game.
As the game progress, and Villa toiled away, Owen became increasingly desperate for the final whistle. When it came, he felt relieved, and ready to relieve himself.
But there was one problem. The Villa fans decided to stay behind to listen to the results from the night’s other games. And that meant the ladder couldn’t be lowered. Eventually, Owen couldn’t hold himself in any longer.
He was saved by a couple of members of the production team, who found a pile of around 15 disposable plastic cups and placed them on the floor of the gantry, allowing Owen to spare his bladder.
It’s one of the more unusual mishaps to befall a football commentator, although Paul Mitchell could probably run it close.
Last night’s final match: Bolton 2 Portsmouth 2
Commentator: Paul Mitchell
Mitchell is BBC Scotland’s main TV commentator, which means that when he’s not watching his national side fail to qualify for yet another major international tournament, he spends much of his time watching teams with gloriously poetic names get stuffed by Celtic or Rangers.
It was while preparing to watch Motherwell get beaten (narrowly, as it turned out) by Celtic in the 2006 Scottish League Cup semi-final that Mitchell suffered a major setback. His teeth fell out.
As Mitchell explained to the Daily Record: “I lost two teeth playing rugby years ago and have two falsers but just as I drove into the Hampden car park I bit down on a sweet and they came out.
“Every time I spoke I was whistling through the space in my teeth and I knew I couldn’t commentate like that.
“I was in a panic but I went looking for a chemist and managed to find one that sold a denture repair kit, so I was able to jam them back in and I got through the match OK.”
Mitchell, and his teeth, occasionally make the journey south of the border to commentate on a Premier League game, and this weekend he got the task of watching a side whose season has been one mishap after another.
Portsmouth are increasingly resembling the student who spent their entire year’s loan in the first term (do students still get loans?), and are then reduced to pleading for other people’s goodwill to stave off destitution.
This week, it’s Lens who have played the role of benevolent parents, allowing Pompey the means to keep themselves in pasta and Chicken Tonight sauce until the end of the season, and maybe even have a couple of nights out at that skanky student club that does cheap vodka.
Well, OK, what they actually did was waive their right to the £4million transfer fee they would have been entitled to had striker Aruna Dindane played one more game for Pompey, where he has been on loan this season. Instead, they accepted a £200,000 fee to scrap the permanent deal.
That meant Dindane was able to play at Bolton yesterday, and he made the difference – scoring two second-half goals to earn a point after Ivan Klasnic and Kevin Davies had put Bolton 2-0 up at the break. Mitchell’s teeth didn’t fall out once.
With Pompey already relegated, and Bolton just about safe, this was always likely to be the final game on last night’s Match of the Day, even though there were far less entertaining ones in the Premier League. (Yes, Arsenal 0 Manchester City 0, I’m looking at you.)
And Pompey’s relegation gives them a great chance of finishing the season as Gubbometer champions. With just two weekends of the Premier League season to go, they have opened up a clear lead at the top of the last on MOTD standings.
If their home game against Wolves next Saturday is on last – and let’s be honest, it probably will be – Avram Grant’s side will be Gubbometer champions.
And is Grant happy? Is he heck. Instead, he’s still grumbling away about the fact that Portsmouth won’t be allowed to play in next season’s Europa League – they qualified by reaching the FA Cup final – after the FA and Premier League this week blocked their path due to their financial troubles.
“The romantic thing about English football, is that a team like Portsmouth – in a very difficult situation – don’t put up a white flag and give the Premier League a bad name,” Grant said.
“Instead, they keep fighting and show the famous spirit of English football.
“And I think they deserve a reward, not a punishment. I hope that someone, somewhere will take the right decision.”
Your team’s reward, Avram, will surely be the Gubbometer crown.
1. Portsmouth: 8 (GD: 1. 2L: 1.)
2. Blackburn: 7 (GD: 1. 2L: 4.)
3. West Ham: 7 (GD: 1. 2L: 2.)
4. Everton: 7 (GD: 1. 2L: 1.)
5. Stoke: 7 (GD: 0. 2L: 3.)
6. Bolton: 6 (GD: 0. 2L: 7.)
7. Wigan: 5 (GD: 0. 2L: 3.)
8. Hull: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 9.)
9. Wolves: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 8.)
10. Fulham: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 5.)
11. Aston Villa: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
12. Gubba: 2 (GD: 2. 2L: 3.)
13. Birmingham: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 8.)
14. Burnley: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 7.)
15. Tottenham: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 3.)
16. Sunderland: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 7.)
17. Arsenal: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
18. Liverpool: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
19. Manchester United: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
20. Chelsea: 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: Wolves 1 Blackburn 1.)
(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.)