THERE are, as any legal expert knows, three defences against a charge of Doing Something Really Bad. (For those who are interested, please see the Absurd Mitigation Act 1986. It’s bound to be on Wikipedia somewhere.)
1. The Banter Defence (also known as the Richard Keys defence). Popularised by school bullies caught after several months of flushing some poor kid’s head down the toilet and/or stealing their lunch and/or kicking them around the playground during every single break time while the teacher who was supposed to be supervising them is in the staff room searching for valium.
When said bullies are marched to the head’s offence to be threatened with suspension or, even worse, litter picking duties, they defend themselves by claiming that the whole campaign of terror was just a bit of horseplay misinterpreted by an over-sensitive victim.
Intriguingly, this was the first defence Richard Keys used as he finally faced up to the consequences of 20 years of dangling terrified Super Sunday producers from windows by their feet and shouting: “Who is your hairy handed God?” (Allegedly.) Sadly for Keys, a jury of radio listeners found him guilty of Doing Something Really Bad, and he was sentenced to his own show on TalkSport.
2. The Consequence Amnesia Defence. This one is favoured by the sort of person who ends up on page seven of the Daily Mail after embezzling £20-odd million out of some company or other to fund a lavish lifestyle of mansions, yachts, flash cars, champagne and unlimited supplies of Cadbury’s Mini Eggs.
When the embezzler is finally brought before a court, any newspaper, radio or TV station covering the case is legally obliged to describe them as “a Walter Mitty character” or, if a woman, “a female Walter Mitty”, even though it would be simpler just to describe them as a fantasist. It must not be explained at any stage who Walter Mitty was.
Any such news item should also always contain a quote from the defence barrister, which will basically boil down to something along the lines of: “The defendant is sorry for the trouble caused. They just weren’t thinking.”
Generally, unless the defence barrister is very good at spinning a sob story on top of this, such a defence will end in a jail term. Though the defendant may be allowed to keep the Mini Eggs if they ask nicely.
3. The Skeleton defence. A relatively new defence, which seems to have been coined some time around the middle of the last decade to explain away any hideously dangerous challenge by a no-nonsense centre-half on a willowy midfielder. (Or vice versa.)
The assailant can usually rely on Jamie Redknapp as a character witness. Redknapp will, if not booking Thomas Cook holidays with his wife or playing Wii Party with one of his children, be only too happy to declare from a glass-fronted box in the corner of some Premier League ground or other that: “He’s just not that sort of player.”
MOTD’s final match: Newcastle 1 Bolton 1
Commentator: Martin Fisher
I’m hoping you’ve already figured out why the third defence is known as the Skeleton. If not, I’ll let Newcastle manager Alan Pardew explain.
After Danny Sturridge had equalised former Bolton captain Kevin Nolan’s opener for Newcastle, Ryan Taylor was sent off for a two-footed lunge on Johan Elmander. It’s the sort of challenge that automatically brings a red card.
Pardew, though, did offer a defence of Taylor’s character. Or, more accurately, a defence of his skeleton.
“I feel sorry for Ryan,” Pardew said. “He hasn’t got a malicious bone in his body.”
I’ve checked with a team of top scientists at the Institute of Dubious Surveys That Fill Up Radio Five Live On Slow News Days, and Pardew is absolutely right. The human skeleton serves several purposes – protecting vital organs, producing blood cells, that kind of thing – but malice is definitely not one of them.
(Well, OK, when it comes to malicious bones, I think the jury’s out on the pelvis, but if you’re using that to tackle, you probably shouldn’t be playing football in the first place.)
Pardew’s expert use of the Skeleton defence won’t save Taylor from a suspension. But it should ensure he doesn’t end up swapping stilted 11am banter with Andy Gray on TalkSport. And for that, he has a lot to thank his manager for.
1. Fulham: 9 (2L: 5, 3L: 1)
2. Wigan: 7 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
3. Stoke: 5 (2L: 6, 3L: 5)
4. Bolton: 5 (2L: 2, 3L: 4)
5. West Brom: 4 (2L: 6, 3L: 1)
6. Blackburn: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 8)
7. Birmingham: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
8. Newcastle: 4 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
9. Everton: 3 (2L: 5, 3L: 4)
10. West Ham: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
11. Wolves: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 3)
12. Sunderland: 2 (2L: 6, 3L: 1)
13. Blackpool: 1 (2L: 4, 3L: 3)
14. Aston Villa: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
15. Tottenham: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
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)
20. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2L=On second last (Everton 2 Sunderland 0)
3L=On third last (Aston Villa 4 Blackburn 1)
(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 Los Angeles, hosted by Sepp Blatter, Colin Firth, Tony Gubba and Lionel Logue, with music from Paul Hardcastle.)