A SCHOOL friend of mine introduced me to a gambling/Pass The Parcel hybrid game called Corners a few years ago. It’s a great way of livening up a televised football match in which you have no interest whatsoever, without getting sucked into the incomprehensible world of spread betting.
Like Deal Or No Deal or The X Factor, the game requires no skill whatsoever, but can still earn you a few quid. It works like this: You get a group of mates together to watch a live game on TV, and everyone chips in with, say, £1. All the money is then given to one person. They hold on to it until there is a corner, at which point they pass it to the person next to them. The money keeps on being passed around the group at every corner. Whoever has the cash at full-time wins it.
It’s amazing how a one-sided European Championship qualifier on ITV4 or a scrappy Serie A goalless draw on ESPN can suddenly be imbued with all sorts of tension in the last few minutes when you’re willing one of the two teams to win a corner, while the bloke next to you is urging the players to keep the ball in the centre circle.
The game works because, assuming the group isn’t too large – no more than about six, I’d say – everyone has a decent chance of winning. You can guarantee that the money will change hands a few times, because there are always a few corners in any game. Well, nearly any game.
Fortunately, we didn’t play Corners on the day Chelsea beat Wigan 6-0 at the DW Stadium in August. Whoever started holding the money for that match would have ended up keeping it, as it was apparently the first Premier League game ever without a single corner.
I say apparently, because even Opta have only been keeping statistics on these things since 2003. But given the number of newspapers, local and national, that have done a corner count as part of their statistical accompaniment to match reports for donkey’s years, I think another cornerless Premier League game before then would have been flagged up.
Indeed, according to somewhat shaky research, there has only been one other game in Premier or Football League history with no corners – a goalless draw between Newcastle and Portsmouth in December 1931.
Chelsea and Wigan met again yesterday. Do you know how many corners there were? 15. That’s more like it.
MOTD’s final match: Chelsea 1 Wigan 0
Commentator: Steve Wilson
And inevitably, one of those 15 corners led to Chelsea’s winner. Florent Malouda half-volleyed in from close range after Wigan keeper Ali Al Habsi, attempting to palm away a Didier Drogba corner, was buffeted out of the way by Fernando Torres.
It was a foul so obvious that even Alan Shearer, not known for his sympathy towards keepers, said the goal should have been ruled out. Wigan manager Roberto Martinez described the goal afterwards as “a crime”. Well, call Hetty Wainthropp then.
Torres may have claimed an assist of sorts, but he still can’t score. He’s played 10 times for Chelsea since making his £50million move from Liverpool, and scored none. The reliably excellent Steve Wilson couldn’t resist a dig over a close-up of Torres on the touchline waiting to appear as a second-half substitute, taking instructions from one of the Chelsea coaching staff.
“A couple of white posts with a net in the middle,” Wilson said. “That’s what you’re looking for.”
He could have said the same about Wigan, who will be relegated from the Premier League if they don’t improve their abysmal scoring record over the next half-dozen matches. They are the only team in the top flight to have averaged less than a goal a game this season.
Like Portsmouth last season, and like Derby in 2008, Wigan may yet be relegated as Gubbometer champions, though. Having been last on Match of the Day two weeks running, the Latics have pulled level on points with Fulham at the top of the table.
With just a handful of MOTD editions remaining this season, the fourth Gubbometer title has come down to a straight fight between those two sides. It promises to be an exciting finish. Almost as exciting as a game of Corners, in fact.
1. Fulham: 10 (2L: 5, 3L: 1)
2. Wigan: 10 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
3. Stoke: 5 (2L: 6, 3L: 8)
4. Bolton: 5 (2L: 2, 3L: 5)
5. Everton: 4 (2L: 6, 3L: 4)
6. West Brom: 4 (2L: 6, 3L: 1)
7. Blackburn: 4 (2L: 4, 3L: 8)
8. Birmingham: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 4)
9. Newcastle: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
10. West Ham: 3 (2L: 3, 3L: 4)
11. Wolves: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
12. Sunderland: 2 (2L: 6, 3L: 1)
13. Tottenham: 2 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
14. Blackpool: 1 (2L: 4, 3L: 3)
15. Aston Villa: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
16. Chelsea: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 1)
17. Manchester City: 1 (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 (Blackburn 1 Birmingham 1)
3L=On third last (Tottenham 3 Stoke 2)
(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 at Aintree, hosted by Des Lynam, Desert Orchid, Sepp Blatter and Tony Gubba, with music from The Adventures Of Black Beauty.)