Last on MOTD: Film 2011 with Steve Bruce

I DON’T think I’ll ever get over that sense of disorientation that comes with unexpectedly seeing someone I know on television. And that’s despite the fact that my grandparents, without explanation, once pitched up on a live Central TV magazine show in the late 1980s playing La Bamba on the maracas. (As far as I’m aware, it was a one-off, although I do feel Clive James missed a trick by not snapping them up.)

It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone I know that well. About 10 years ago, I was stunned into silence while watching an episode of Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned (fill in your own joke here) when a shot of the audience showed a chap, chuckling away at every attempted joke, who looked vaguely familiar. Turned out it was a bloke who lived on my corridor during my final year at university. I was disappointed in him.

And then there was the time, six or seven years ago, when I was in work on a Saturday afternoon, watching Score on the BBC’s interactive service, and out of nowhere a woman I was at journalism college with suddenly pitched up on screen reading the football results.

Even though my line of work means that I’m probably more likely than most to see people I know on the TV, I still get these ‘Oh my God, I know them’ moments. And it applies to places, too. Not football grounds, obviously – if it did, I’d spend the entire duration of the Football League Show pointing at the screen and yelling: “I’ve been there!” But other haunts; places I wouldn’t expect to see on the box.

Sometime around last Easter, I was wasting an afternoon or evening watching something forgettable on ITV (fill in your own joke here), when Barry Norman popped up in an advert for one of those personal injury claims services. And to my great shock, I discovered that it had been filmed at my local cinema. I pointed at the screen and yelled: “I’ve been there!” Even though there was no one else in the room at the time.

Once the initial shock had dissipated, I thought that I really should try to get to my local cinema more often. It’s a lovely, old-fashioned one-screen picture house, with those little card tickets on a roll, and big plush seats, and there’s someone who stands in the aisle with a tray of ice creams just before the film starts. With some of the longer movies, there’s even an intermission, as if it were the 1970s.

I don’t think the cinema makes an awful lot of money, because every so often the owner is quoted in my local paper threatening to turn it into a trendy wine bar, and then there’ll be a campaign to save it, and a few more people will starting going along, and everything will be all right for a while, until the whole cycle starts again a few months later.

My problem is that I always seem to be too busy to go there when they’re showing anything that I want to see. (They usually put on one film a week, and if it’s Kung Fu Panda, I’m probably going to give it a miss.) I don’t think I’m alone in this respect. I’m sure a lot of people struggle to find the time amid hectic lives for a trip to the movies. Sunderland manager Steve Bruce, though, managed it.

MOTD’s final match: Bolton 1 Sunderland 2
Commentator: Alistair Mann

On the first Saturday of February, a few days after the transfer window had closed, I was listening to Bruce being interviewed on Radio Five Live about the sale of Darren Bent to Aston Villa, among other things.

The interviewer asked Sunderland’s manager if he had been tempted to do any last-minute deals to get in a replacement. Bruce replied that there wasn’t really any chance for him to do that, so he took his wife to the pictures to watch The King’s Speech instead. (A film I still haven’t seen, by the way. But then I’m possibly the only person left in Britain who has never watched Trainspotting, so I’m in no position to judge.)

I don’t know why it struck me as odd that a Premier League football manager should spent transfer deadline day at the pictures. Everybody is entitled to a bit of time off, after all. And if there was no prospect of signing any players, why not call it quits for the day and do something a bit more enjoyable than spend hours on the phone to your chief executive?

Perhaps I found it odd because there is this idea that football managers never switch off; that they arrive at the training ground at 5am, sort out a load of admin, take training, go and check on a youth-team game in the afternoon, talk contracts with a couple of players, do some press interviews, head off to watch a League Two game at the other end of the country in the evening, get home to bed about 1am, then do it all again.

Some managers probably are like that. Maybe Bruce is sometimes one of them. But not on the last transfer deadline day, as it turned out. My theory is this: Football management is an insecure business, and Bruce – who is, don’t forget, a published novelist – was merely trying to add another string to his bow. I reckon he was trying to keep up with all the latest movie releases in case he was asked to take over as host of Film 2011. Let’s face it, that show has never been the same since Norman left.

“I went home at 4pm and I went to the pictures to watch The King’s Speech,” Bruce said. “When I came out, I nearly had a stutter as well.”

Actually, it was Sunderland who developed a stutter after that. They were sixth in the Premier League when the transfer window shut. One point from nine matches later, they were in danger of getting relegated. And they missed Bent badly.

The turning point was a 4-2 win over Wigan a fortnight ago, secured without any recognised strikers on the pitch. At Bolton yesterday, they had two midfielders in attack. But just like King George VI, Sunderland overcame their impediment, with a bit of help from a Knight. Sulley Muntari might have tried to claim their last-minute winner, but Bolton defender Zat Knight got the scoring touch for an own goal.

It was a victory that made absolutely sure of Sunderland’s Premier League survival. Somewhere in the background, Colin Firth heaved a sign of relief and Helena Bonham Carter smiled.

By the way, did I mention that I bumped into Steve Bruce in a pub in central Manchester once? That’s another story…


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

2L=On second last (Everton 2 Manchester City 1)
3L=On third last (Newcastle 2 Birmingham 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 at UCI Cineworld, hosted by Sepp Blatter, Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and Tony Gubba, with music from Pearl and Dean.)


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