Last on MOTD: I was there

IN the press room at the DW Stadium last Saturday, preparing to cover Blackburn’s game at Wigan, I found myself trying to explain to a fellow journalist what the Gubbometer was.

Remarkably, he managed to give a convincing impression of someone who was the faintest bit interested. “So,” he asked, I suspect out of politeness, “does that mean that, each week, you go to the game you think will be last on Match of the Day?”

He was joking, but it’s a lovely idea, the thought that someone might have the inclination to attend Premier League fixtures on the basis of their unattractiveness to television.

It could almost work as a piece of performance art, entitled: A Season Of Mediocrity. And it could be accompanied by an end-of-season DVD, featuring highlights (or lowlights) of all the games that featured last on MOTD during that campaign.

It would never happen, because licensing Premier League footage is a difficult and expensive business, and I can’t imagine Richard Scudamore getting too excited about a DVD showing how dull the Greatest League In The World can be sometimes.

But just to make clear, my career is not a piece of performance art. (As for what it is… well, I’ll have to get back to you on that one.) I don’t choose to go to football matches that are boring. It’s just that a lot of football matches aren’t that memorable. Therefore, by the laws of probability, a lot of the games a person attends are bound to be unmemorable.

As it turned out, last Saturday’s game at the DW Stadium was the best I have seen live this season, a 4-3 win for Wigan played in a terrific atmosphere in a downpour on a bog of a pitch. And it wasn’t even the best game of the day. Newcastle’s once-in-a-lifetime comeback against Arsenal saw to that.

It’s luck, though, really. For one thing, my choice of match on a Saturday is governed by those who pay me to report for them. It’s their money, so it’s their decision where I go. But even if I had a free hand, I wouldn’t know where the entertainment might lie. Given Wigan’s largely-dreadful scoring record and Blackburn’s poor away form, I was convinced they would play out a 0-0 draw last weekend.

Only rarely do I find myself at the game that happens to be last on MOTD. Due partly to luck, and partly to the fact that I spend a lot of my Saturdays covering football outside the Premier League, I have been managed it only five times in the three-and-a-half-year history of the Gubbometer. The last occasion was in October 2008. That was at Ewood Park too – a 1-1 draw between Blackburn and Middlesbrough, since you ask. Oh, you didn’t.

MOTD’s final match: Blackburn 0 Newcastle 0
Commentator: Dan O’Hagan

I was beginning to think that Paolo di Canio had cornered the market when it came to footballers with tiramisu recipes. Then along came a feature on Vince Grella in Blackburn’s match programme.

Di Canio’s 2001 autobiography (entitled Paolo di Canio: The Autobiography) contains a recipe for the popular Italian cake thing. It was never made clear if the former West Ham striker ran out of things to say about his life and decided to stick in some cookery tips to meet his word count – or if he started out intending to write a recipe book, realised he only knew how to make tiramisu and thought: “I’d better fill this out with some anecdotes.”

Either way, it made Di Canio’s book stand out. Grella, though, has the potential to match him, with a little help from Blackburn’s club chef Simon Cooper.

Australian midfielder Grella was the subject of a feature in the Rovers programme called Come Dine With…, based loosely on the popular Channel Four culinary bitchfest. The idea is that a Blackburn player comes up with their ideal dinner party, complete with guests and menu, and then Cooper gives a recipe for one of the dishes.

Grella’s choices were very heavily influenced by the 10 years he spent playing in Italy. “Silvio Berlusconi seems like quite a character, so I would like to meet him,” said Grella, making the biggest understatement of 2011 so far, before adding Al Pacino to the guest list.

Billy Connolly was Grella’s choice to provide the comedy entertainment. “But I doubt whether Berlusconi would be able to understand him,” the midfielder added. Well, Connolly is a man and over 20, so probably not.

Picking some tunes for the party was a bit tougher. “I’m not really a big music lover,” Grella said. No? Never mind, Vince, I guess you could always get a job hosting the Radio 1 breakfast show.

The menu, by the way, consisted of Italian hams for starters, lasagne for main course and an Italian red wine to drink. Tiramisu was a shoo-in for the dessert, really. Cooper’s recipe looked delicious, but it involved chilling the dish overnight, and I haven’t got that kind of patience, so I’ll probably just nip to Tesco instead.

Grella is on the fringes at Blackburn these days, and he was an unused substitute against Newcastle this afternoon. We might have expected goals, given that there were seven in Rovers’ last game and eight in Newcastle’s.

Football doesn’t work like that, though. Steve Kean decided to tighten up Blackburn in central midfield, having pinpointed that as a problem at Wigan. Newcastle were a little more adventurous, but were also conscious of the need to be less generous at the back.

It was not a good game. Roque Santa Cruz, whose injuries have outnumbered his goals over the last 12 months, headed against the post for Blackburn 10 minutes in. Five minutes after that, Newcastle’s Peter Lovenkrands latched on to a ball over the top from the excellent Jose Enrique, and lobbed against the bar when he might have done better by blasting it.

Otherwise, it was largely scrappy. David Dunn and Kevin Nolan almost came to blows as a midfield tussle got out of hand, and Joey Barton was left moaning to the referee after Blackburn left-back Martin Olsson’s forearm accidentally caught him in the face.

Blackburn were dogged, less open that in recent weeks under Kean’s management. After three straight defeats, this was a must-not-lose performance. At times, it almost felt as if Sam Allardyce had never left.

Half-time came, and a Blackburn fan in the seats near the press box asked how much I had to write for my newspaper report. I told him: 400 words. “Just write ‘crap’ 400 times,” he said.

Newcastle had more possession after the break, but few clear chances, with Paul Robinson making the only significant save of the second half when he pushed over Fabricio Coloccini’s juggle and volley from a Barton corner. Meanwhile, the near-5,000 travelling support kept themselves amused by singing “Blackburn’s a shithole, I wanna go home” to the tune of Sloop John B.

The Blackburn fans weren’t happy at full-time, with boos ringing out from the stands. Kean acknowledged it was an awful game, and a poor performance, but suggested a clean sheet and a draw would go some way to restoring morale.

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew wasn’t too unhappy with a point, either. “Perhaps we should have worked the goalie a little bit harder, “ he said. “But I’m genuinely pleased with that performance – especially after Arsenal.

“We’ve had enough excitement for one week, so a dull game like that was the perfect tonic.”

Gubbometer

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

2L=On second last (Blackpool 1 Aston Villa 1)
3L=On third last (Birmingham 1 Stoke 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 Rome, hosted by Sepp Blatter, Silvio Berlusconi, Arianna Huffington and Tony Gubba, with music from Frankie Goes To Hollywood.)

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