Last on MOTD: The seven habits of highly-forgettable matches

WHEN I was a teenager, and should really have been reading The Catcher In The Rye or Razzle, a family friend loaned me a copy of The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People.

The book, written by a American management guru called Stephen R Covey, is a terrifying example of what happens when people from a business background are allowed to write self-help books.

If you’re the sort of person who uses words such as ‘synergise’ in everyday conversation, and has minions to delegate unimportant tasks to, then you might get something out of it. For the 99.9999-plus per cent of the world population that aren’t company chief executives, its advice is a little harder to apply.

(To summarise: The seven habits all effectively boiled down to variations on ‘sort yourself out’ and ‘try being less crap’. My 15-year-old self wasn’t buying any of it. And I think my 15-year-old self was right.)

It doesn’t help that the book is founded on the wildly erroneous assumption that human beings are a logical species. Habit three, for instance – put first things first – would make perfect sense if only a) We agreed unanimously on what first things were or b) We never had to deal with other people, whose ideas of first things are generally different to ours.

Covey’s solution to human difference is habit five – seek first to understand, then to be understood. The theory is that if you listen to others, nod sagely and occasionally chip in with “I hear what you’re saying”, you can appear a person of great empathy, and thus find it easier to convince people to do what you want. This works even with sociopaths, apparently – who, in my experience, make up about 50 per cent of the planet.

(I did a term’s course in Peace Studies as part of my very vague university degree. My tutor, a wise man with a great knowledge of conflict negotiation, suggested that there was often middle ground to be found in disputes – but not always. As he put it: “If you’re in a field, and a bull is charging at you, turn and run away.”)

Scott Adams’ book The Dilbert Principle takes a rather more realistic view of humans, describing them as ‘Stupid, selfish and horny’. I would suggest you are far more likely to go about your daily business in an effective manner if you bear that advice in mind rather than anything Covey committed to paper.

The seven habits principle doesn’t work with complicated stuff, such as real life. You can, though, apply the basic idea to more simple things – such as which game will be last on Match of the Day.

Every Saturday tea-time, when I’m winging my way home from Doncaster, Burnley, Scunthorpe or whichever northern Championship ground I’ve been posted to that weekend, I listen to the Premier League results and try to figure out which game will be last on MOTD, so that I can write a long and rambling blog entry which has only the most tangential connection to the match.

On my way back from Doncaster last night, I figured it would be the 1-1 draw between Wigan and Fulham at the DW Stadium. And guess what? I was right.

MOTD’s final match: Wigan 1 Fulham 1
Commentator: Martin Fisher

For a game to be last on Match of the Day, it generally needs to contain two or more of the following seven characterists:

1) The presence of Wigan or Fulham. Or both.

I started up the Gubbometer in August 2007, in response to the growing number of comments – on the internet, in print and to my face – from people convinced that their team was always last on Match of the Day. (To keep things simple, I didn’t include MOTD2.) In three-and-a-half years, I have covered 142 editions of MOTD. And in 51 of them, the final game has included either Wigan or Fulham or both. That’s a ratio of more than one in three shows.

2) A drawn result.

The first nine regular editions of MOTD this season all featured a final game that was a draw. The last match has been a draw in 16 out of 23 shows this season. In 142 shows, 80 have finished with a draw. The most common scoreline is 0-0 (which has cropped up 40 times), but 1-1 is not far behind (on 36).

3) The DW Stadium

While Fulham have been regulars at the tail end of Match of the Day over the last three-and-a-half years, it’s generally their away games that have been shoved to the back. Out of 27 appearances on the Gubbometer, only seven have been at Craven Cottage, which suggests they are just too damn entertaining at home.

If a match is going to be last on MOTD, the chances are it will have been played at Wigan, which has hosted 15 of the games buried away in a three-minute slot while Lineker and Co are checking their watches and booking taxis. Ewood Park is the next most popular venue for the final game, with 14 appearances, followed by Upton Park with 13.

4) The presence of John Roder

When I was a lazy student, John Roder used to present the sports bulletins on the Radio One breakfast show, hosted by terrifying egomaniac and future Ryder Cup radio golf commentator Chris Evans. (I haven’t checked thoroughly, but I don’t think Roder is referenced anywhere in the two volumes – two! – of autobiography that Evans has released over the last couple of years. I would take that as a blessing, John.)

While many may have been mentally scarred at having to listen to Evans at close quarters every day, Roder emerged a stronger character, well equipped to deal with a life of being posted to relatively unimportant Premier League games each weekend.

Disappointingly, Roder was not sent to Wigan v Fulham yesterday, though. Instead, that honour went to Martin Fisher, who has only done the final game six times in 142 shows. I’m guessing there was a major administrative mix-up, and will be sending a strongly-worded letter to the BBC.

5) A shot of a random football personality in the stand, to fill out the match edit if not at lot has happened.

There was a period a couple of seasons ago where the final MOTD game featured shots of Fabio Capello on such a regular basis that he looked as if he would finish top of the Gubbometer. (In the end, it was Fulham or Wigan who won it.)

Capello doesn’t crop up quite so much these days, but it’s still nice to have a shot of a football manager in the stand, accompanied by a remark from the commentator telling us who it is.

At Wigan yesterday, we got Liverpool’s 80s throwback Kenny Dalglish, taking in two teams he could yet be fighting against in a relegation battle. I can’t remember what Martin Fisher said over the shot of Dalglish, but I think it was a pretty solid effort, along the lines of: “Kenny Dalglish there, watching on from the stand.”

Fisher was right to play it safe, because it’s easy for a commentator to trip up in those circumstances. During the World Cup quarter-final between Germany and Argentina, Steve Wilson was completely flummoxed by a shot of Charlize Theron in the Cape Town crowd. “I’ve no idea who that is,” Wilson responded, before speculating that she might be a WAG.

My favourite crowd shot commentary, though, was John Motson’s effort during the 1990 FA Cup final between Manchester United and Crystal Palace, when the camera panned in on Nobby Stiles in the stand. “Well, I don’t need to tell you who that is,” Motty said. “That’s Nobby Stiles.”

6) Uncontroversial manager comments.

Roberto Martinez got into a bit of bother last season when he apparently suggested that Sam Allardyce was little more than a Sir Alex Ferguson loyalist. (Martinez subsequently denied making the comments and phoned Allardyce to apologise.)

Generally, though, the Wigan manager is not one for making outrageous statements, and nor is his Fulham counterpart Mark Hughes, who will generally restrict himself to grumbling about a mildly contentious refereeing decision before suggesting his team deserved a better result.

7) A minor talking point, but nothing really worth noting unless you support the club in question.

There were two at the DW Stadium yesterday – a disallowed Clint Dempsey goal, rightly ruled out for handball, as TV replays showed, and Andy “Andrew” Johnson’s first Premier League goal in almost two years.

It wasn’t a particularly tidy effort, as it was deflected over the keeper by Gary Caldwell, but it cancelled out Hugo Rodallega’s opener and, for Johnson, closed the door on a difficult couple of years, in which he has been struck by all sorts of injury problems.

When you’ve waited as long as Johnson has for a league goal, being last on MOTD is an irrelevance. It’s just great to be on it at all.

Gubbometer

1. Fulham: 7 (2L: 5, 3L: 1)
2. Wigan: 6 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
3. Stoke: 4 (2L: 6, 3L: 4)
4. Bolton: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
5. Birmingham: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
6. West Brom: 3 (2L: 5, 3L: 1)
7. Everton: 3 (2L: 4, 3L: 3)
8. Blackburn: 3 (2L: 3, 3L: 7)
9. West Ham: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
10. Wolves: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 3)
11. Sunderland: 2 (2L: 3, 3L: 1)
12. Newcastle: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
13. Tottenham: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 1)
14. Blackpool: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
15. Aston Villa: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
16. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
17. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
18. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
19=. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
19=. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)

2L=On second last (Stoke 2 Bolton 0)
3L=On third last (Chelsea 2 Blackburn 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 on Wikipedia, hosted by Sepp Blatter, Jimmy Wales, Tony Gubba and [Citation needed], with music from the late Ronnie Hazlehurst and S Club 7.)

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5 Responses to Last on MOTD: The seven habits of highly-forgettable matches

  1. That can’t be a very good self-help book if “put first things first” is the third thing in it. Anyway, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but Tony Gubba himself hasn’t been on Match of the Day at all this season, he’s been confined to The Football League Show, where he normally does, funnily enough, the first game. He’s so late on Match of the Day now he’s not even on it.

  2. mikewhalley says:

    I had noticed Tony Gubba’s MOTD absence (tragically, I do notice these things). It is a lot less surprising than Dan O’Hagan’s almost total disappearance from the show’s commentary roster. Has he upset someone at the BBC?

    After Gubba only did the final MOTD game twice last season, I had a feeling he was being phased out, and took the decision to remove Gubba Difference from the Gubbometer table this year. Glad I did, as it turned out.

    (Incidentally, surprised no one spotted the deliberate mistake on the Gubbometer all-time stats graphic, which had Everton in twice. Oops. It should have been Birmingham in joint-ninth with Derby, and I’ve now made the correction.)

    Habit one in the Seven Habits book is ‘Be Proactive’, suggesting that doing stuff is more important than organising yourself first. I think Covey’s assumption is that you’ve got a secretary to organise you.

  3. Donna says:

    Oh yes, I bet every football manager who’s read this has a PA in the background, waiting for him to stop arsing about and just do something useful…

  4. Bad Andy says:

    Fulham’s numbers are even more incredible if you think that last season they were only eligible for the main Match of the Day programme around 14 times because their Europa league run saw them playing on a Sunday more often than not.

  5. mikewhalley says:

    Yes, Fulham were only on last four times last season, although Everton’s Europa League exploits didn’t stop them being on last eight times – more than they’d managed in the previous two seasons put together.

    I would do a pro-rata table, except it would take me forever. (Unless I borrowed Stephen R Covey’s PA.) Suspect Derby would do very well in it, given that their 13 appearances all came in one season. Fulham might get close to matching that this year!

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