FUNNY how hindsight alters perspective. Take, for instance, an episode of The Premiership, ITV’s U2-infested Match of the Day tribute, from February 28, 2004.
It was a fairly run-of-the-mill edition, even allowing for Louis Saha’s return to Fulham with Manchester United, a month after completing a drawn-out, fractious transfer. (Saha scored, but Fulham got a point.)
Towards the end of the programme – perhaps to try to inject some Newsnight-style gravitas, or perhaps just to show it was live – Des Lynam reviewed the early-edition back pages of a couple of Sunday papers. The News of the World’s big sports story that weekend suggested that Sven-Goran Eriksson was being lined up to replace Claudio Ranieri as Chelsea manager.
“Apparently, he’s had a telephone call with Pavel Nedved, the Juventus player, who’s blown the news,” said Des. “But Sven’s denied it, and so has his agent.”
Blimey. Sven made a phone call and the details ended up in the News of the World? Penny for your thoughts, Andy Coulson…
The other paper featured in the review, by the way, was the Sunday Express, which linked Kenny Dalglish with a return to Liverpool.
“I don’t know,” said Des. “I think he might have had enough of that.” Ha.
The odd newspaper preview aside, The Premiership pretty much stuck to highlights and analysis during 2003/04, the last of its three seasons. Once it had ditched all of its silly early gimmicks – the 7pm start time, the Prozone stuff, the Tactics Truck – it quickly evolved into just about the only thing it ever really could have been on ITV: Match of the Day with adverts.
Yet even so, I remember there were grumblings from the public. During the 2003/04 season, I worked on the sports desk at the Bolton Evening News. And it was hard not to speak to a Bolton fan without them moaning that their team were always shifted to the goals round-up at the end of the show.
This complaint was, I think, the early prototype for: “Why are we always last on Match of the Day?” And with ITV’s show, it had some basis in fact.
ITV had paid a fortune for the Premier League highlights rights in 2000 – too much, really. And so, perhaps in attempt to chase ratings and make some of their money back from advertisers, the main games pretty much always featured the most glamorous teams – Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool.
As a result, The Premiership was presented almost as a Champions League highlights show: Three or four main commentary games featuring the big teams, and the rest of the Premier League cast to the round-up as if they were Borussia Dortmund, Basel or BATE Borisov, rather than Bolton or Blackburn.
But were Bolton really always shoved away at the end of the show? I got thinking about this after making an unexpected appearance on the ESPN Soccernet website’s Ask The Anorak page last Tuesday.
Norman very kindly credited my blog as the authority on the subject. Which it is. However, my statistics only go back to 2007. (If you want to know: Wigan have been last on MOTD more often than anyone else over the last four-and-a-bit seasons, with 32 appearances, one ahead of Fulham.)
“As for the entire Premier League era, Everton may be in with a chance, simply because they are one of only seven ever-presents in the division, but I don’t believe anyone has the statistics to prove it,” Norman wrote. “However, it is worth remembering that ITV had the rights to the highlights for some of that time, so whoever was on last then, the BBC should not be blamed.”
Even I can’t go all the way back to 1992. However, I can go back to 2003/04.
And now it’s time for a confession.
I’m not particularly proud of the fact that I have every episode of The Premiership from 2003/04 on tape. I’d like to say that there was some Bolton-related reason for recording them all; that I needed them for work. But that would be a disingenuous explanation, really. I could have done my job just as well without those recordings. And it still doesn’t explain why, almost seven years after I left the Bolton Evening News, I’ve still got them.
It does, though, mean I can whizz through the shows to find out who was on last most often. So I have.
Watching these shows – or, to be more accurate, bits of these shows – back in recent days has been an odd experience. There are players I had completely forgotten about, such as Leeds striker Lamine Sakho, last seen at Wrexham; or Mbulelo Mabizela, scoring a belter for Tottenham at Leicester and doing almost nothing else before being released for breaching club discipline and disappearing off to Norway to join Valerenga.
There’s Des looking a little tense in front of camera, still not comfortable with timing his links into ad breaks after almost five years at ITV. (No wonder he was quick to speak up in support of poor Ortis Deley in both the Guardian and the Telegraph following his flounderings at the World Athletics Championships in the last week.)
There’s Ron Atkinson, his career about to disappear, insisting that Arsenal’s soon-to-be Invincibles have no chance of winning the title. “They haven’t got the back-up,” Ron says. “If they’d got back-up, they’d have won it last year.”
There are Graeme Souness’ increasingly bizarre post-match interviews at Blackburn. “To win games at this level, you need to have everything right in the garden,” he says after a home defeat against Aston Villa. “It was lashing with rain in our garden today.”
There’s endless U2. Beautiful Day is all over the show like a rash – over the opening titles, the break bumpers, any graphic that Des has to talk over. Even Bono must have been sick of hearing it by the end of The Premiership’s run. ITV weren’t, though: they went on to use it as the theme to The Championship for the next five years.
There’s Kevin Keegan, bouncing one moment, forlorn the next. And most extraordinarily of all, there’s some brief footage of Steve Kean looking happy and relaxed.
It comes in October during a feature on Fulham’s Chris Coleman, the Premier League’s youngest manager at 33. During one sequence, Coleman is shown at a desk with Kean, his No. 2, discussing tactics and having a laugh. It’s hard to tell from five seconds of film, but as he moves counters around on a tactics board and glances at Coleman, Kean has the deferential look of a man who was born to be an assistant manager.
Fulham were last on The Premiership a few times that season. But the team who were on last more than anyone else? No.
Theidentity of that team? Bolton. And that’s despite the fact that they finished eighth – which was, at the time, their highest final league placing since 1960.
Those Wanderers fans I used to speak to when I worked at the Bolton Evening News were, it seems, on to something.
Here are the stats. With it being ITV-related, I don’t really feel I can call this table the Gubbometer, but it works along the same principles. Because The Premiership often lumped the final two games together, I’ve separated teams level on points by the number of times they were on second last. I’d like to think Des would approve. That’s why I’ve named the table after him.
The Lynam Index 2003/04
1. Bolton: 11 (2L: 5)
2. Southampton 8 (2L: 3)
2. Portsmouth: 8 (2L: 3)
4. Middlesbrough: 7 (2L: 7)
5. Everton: 5 (2L: 7)
6. Blackburn: 5 (2L: 6)
7. Tottenham: 5 (2L: 3)
8. Fulham: 4 (2L: 9)
9. Aston Villa: 4 (2L: 5)
10. Birmingham: 4 (2L: 4)
10. Leicester: 4 (2L: 4)
12. Wolves: 3 (2L: 8)
13. Leeds: 3 (2L: 3)
14. Charlton: 2 (2L: 4)
15. Newcastle: 1 (2L: 2)
16. Liverpool: 1 (2L: 1)
16. Man City: 1 (2L: 1)
18. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 1)
19. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 0)
19. Man United: 0 (2L: 0)
(Teams receive one point for every time they were last on The Premiership. 2L = on second last.)
Last on The Premiership 2003/04
Aug 16: Birmingham 1 Tottenham 0
Aug 23: Southampton 0 Birmingham 0
Aug 27: Leeds 0 Southampton 0
Aug 30: Bolton 0 Charlton 0
Sep 13: Bolton 2 Middlesbrough 0
Sep 20: Newcastle 0 Bolton 0
Sep 27: Birmingham 2 Portsmouth 0
Oct 4: Leeds 2 Blackburn 1
Oct 18: Fulham 0 Wolves 0
Oct 25: Aston Villa 0 Everton 0
Nov 1: Middlesbrough 2 Wolves 0
Nov 8: Bolton 0 Southampton 0
Nov 22: Middlesbrough 0 Liverpool 0
Nov 29: Blackburn 1 Tottenham 0
Dec 6: Middlesbrough 0 Portsmouth 0
Dec 13: Middlesbrough 0 Charlton 0
Dec 20: Blackburn 0 Aston Villa 2
Dec 26: Leeds 0 Aston Villa 0
Dec 28: Bolton 2 Leicester 2
Jan 7: Aston Villa 2 Portsmouth 1
Jan 10: Fulham 2 Everton 1
Jan 17: Bolton 1 Portsmouth 0
Jan 31: Porstmouth 0 Wolves 0
Feb 7: Southampton 0 Fulham 0
Feb 11: Leicester 1 Bolton 1
Feb 21: Bolton 1 Manchester City 3
Feb 28: Blackburn 1 Southampton 1
Mar 13: Everton 1 Portsmouth 0
Mar 20: Leicester 1 Everton 1
Mar 27: Southampton 1 Tottenham 0
Apr 3: Middlesbrough 2 Bolton 0
Apr 10: Everton 3 Tottenham 1
Apr 12: Middlesbrough 3 Southampton 1
Apr 17: Bolton 2 Tottenham 0
Apr 24: Southampton 1 Bolton 2
May 1: Portsmouth 1 Fulham 1
May 8: Leicester 3 Portsmouth 1
May 15: Blackburn 1 Birmingham 1