I CAN’T even begin to imagine what it must be like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with the Stoke City manager Tony Pulis. But then I’m not Nick Hancock.
There was a time, when I was growing up, that Stoke fan Hancock seemed to be everywhere; swapping gags about John Major with Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You, consigning Jim Davidson to Room 101, launching the career of the popular light-entertainment presenter Gary Lineker on They Think It’s All Over, hosting every football bloopers video under the sun.
Ah yes, the football bloopers video. In the mid-1990s, Hancock seemed to have cornered that market. I should know, as I usually got them as Christmas presents.
(If I were to measure my life in Christmas presents I have received, I’d say I was at that awkward stage somewhere between Subbuteo teams and Bill Bryson books. The life of the football blunders video, meanwhile, was at that awkward stage somewhere between Danny Baker and Tim Fucking Lovejoy.)
There was Football Nightmares, featuring a picture of Hancock looking horrified on the front cover. Then there was Football Hell, featuring a picture of Hancock looking horrified on the front cover. Then there was Football Doctor, featuring a picture of Hancock… well, looking slightly sinister, creeping up behind a football with a sticking plaster on it. (I guess the producers had to try something different.)
I’ve got all three of these videos, gathering dust in a forgotten corner somewhere, along with other bits of 1990s ephemera such as Dubstar’s second album and a couple of Sean Hughes books. They’re OK, I suppose; something you might have on in the background if you had a few football mates round.
Having been ubiquitous in the mid-to-late 1990s, Hancock disappeared from the screen for a while. Turned out he’d decided to take a break from showbusiness to go and work for a friend’s mortgage broking company.
“When you’re doing comedy all the time, you get more and more distant from the real world, so I wanted to get back to the daily grind, get up in the morning and go to work and come back and put on my slippers,” he explained in an interview with the Daily Telegraph earlier this year.
“I remember turning up to a meeting when I first started and some of the staff looked at me funnily as if to say: ‘Is that really Nick Hancock sitting there?’”
But he’s started popping up on TV and radio again over the last two or three years, in some fairly odd places; a quiz show here, a cookery programme there, even a sailing documentary with Richard Madeley. (Hancock said that he was almost killed – presumably by the extreme weather conditions rather than a barrage of inane Madeley questions.)
Earlier this year, Hancock made the news after buying Stanley Matthews’ 1953 FA Cup winners’ medal for £20,000. Then came the mountaineering trip with Pulis as part of a 12-strong party raising money for the Stoke-based Donna Louise Children’s Hospice Trust.
The fact that the fearsomely resilient Pulis described it as the toughest physical challenge of his life might gave you an idea as to just how gruelling it was. By all accounts, the party were lucky to escape serious injury.
Hancock, while he’s been taking on all of these adventures, has put the sports comedy stuff that made his name on the backburner. At least until yesterday, when he appeared as Colin Murray’s stand-in, hosting Radio Five Live’s Fighting Talk.
Murray, like Lovejoy and James Corden, is one of those characters who moved in to the sport/humour cross-over zone when Hancock vacated it. The problem is that none of them, not even Corden really, is a professional comedian. Hancock, on the other hand, was once president of the Cambridge Footlights. My God, it makes a difference.
Hancock, unlike Murray, understands one of the significant rules of panel games: If more than one person talks at a time, the result is an inaudible mess. He’s also smart enough to pick up on panellists who are coasting. (He put down Andy Parsons for making a particularly low-quality joke about phoning up various Premier League footballers to get their opinion on a particular issue and being told: “Who are you? How did you get this number?”)
It was the sharpest Fighting Talk has been for a very long time. It’s enough to make me wish Hancock was hosting on the show on a regular basis. And it’s almost enough to make me revisit his football blooper videos. (Instead, I’m listening to the Dubstar album as I type this. It’s got 15 tracks, which is about six too many.) It’s not enough to make me want to climb Kilimanjaro with Tony Pulis, though.
Last night’s final match: Everton 1 Stoke 0
Commentator: Alistair Mann
Pulis, I get the impression, is not one for mollycoddling his players. Sure, he’ll look after them, make sure they’re properly prepared for games. But he won’t give them an easy ride.
So when Alistair Mann asked him after yesterday’s 1-0 defeat at Goodison Park for his views on the fact that Stoke had played three games in seven days, Pulis wasn’t about to use it as an excuse. After all, he’s climbed Kilimanjaro in a blizzard.
“We’ve worked very hard on fitness and the medical side,” Pulis said. “But, you know, they get paid a bloody fortune these players, and to ask them to play three games in a week shouldn’t be too much.”
Pulis has more of a right to grumble about the harsh ruling out of a Tuncay goal for an alleged push on Leighton Baines shortly before Yakubu struck Everton’s winner.
Lee Probert’s decision to disallow the Stoke goal was arguably a blunder worthy of a Hancock video. But he doesn’t do that kind of thing any more.
1. Wigan: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
2=. Bolton: 3 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2=. Wolves: 3 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
4. Fulham: 2 (2L: 3, 3L: 0)
5. Everton: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
6=. Stoke: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
6=. West Ham: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
8. West Brom: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
9. Blackburn: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 4)
10. Birmingham: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
11. Sunderland: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
12. Newcastle: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
13. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
14=. Aston Villa: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
14=. Blackpool: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
14=. Tottenham: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
17=. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
17=. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
17=. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
20. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
2L=On second last (Fulham 2 Wigan 0)
3L=On third last (Arsenal 1 West Ham 0)
(Teams are awarded one point every time they appear last on Match of the Day. Teams level on points are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. Teams still level at the end of the season will be separated by the drawing of lots at a glittering ceremony in Washington, hosted by Sepp Blatter, Jon Stewart, Christine O’Donnell and Tony Gubba, with music from the ghost of Paul the psychic octopus.)