TO paraphrase George Bernard Shaw: History repeats itself, blah blah blah. If you’d timed your TV viewing right this weekend, you could have started and finished your Saturday by watching Terry Connor fight a losing battle against relegation.
Let’s start with the past. ITV4 are again showing The Big Match Revisited – a series consisting of more or less complete versions of their highlights shows from the spring of 1983. Usually, it’s LWT’s The Big Match, featuring an avuncular Brian Moore – in front of a beige background beside a beige-suited Jim Rosenthal – gently encouraging us to watch Malcolm Macdonald’s Fulham chuck away promotion to the First Division.
Occasionally, it’s Granada’s Match Time, with a shiny young Elton Welsby – in front of an even shinier set beside a beige-suited Denis Law – enthusiastically encouraging us to watch Manchester City plummet towards relegation from the First Division.
Yesterday, though, we got Fred Dinenage – in a beige jacket and possibly the largest pair of spectacles this side of Dame Edna Everage – dramatically telling us that George Best had gone missing, before throwing over to highlights from Brighton.
This was an Easter edition of The Saturday Match from TVS – the company that brought us No. 73, Catchphrase, the seminal C.A.T.S Eyes and years and years of Fred Dinenage. Despite this being 1983, the opening titles ended with a shot of a old brown leather football, before Dinenage informed us that Best, by this stage playing for Bournemouth and doing punditry for The Saturday Match (presumably in a beige suit), had failed to turn up for either gig.
With no Best, Dinenage was left alone to tell us about “one of the most dramatic games of the season” – the First Division game between Brighton and Tottenham, described in a curiously muted, almost dismissive manner by Gerald Sinstadt.
Brighton were, at Easter 1983, heading for the FA Cup final but slipping out of the top flight – and have yet to return. In the line-up that day was a young striker brought in from Leeds.
“Since we were last at the Goldstone, Brighton have acquired Terry Connor from Leeds United, in a straight swap for Andy Ritchie,” Sinstadt told us. “Connor has yet to score for his new club.”
Connor didn’t score for Brighton that day either, putting his best chance wide in the second half. But his team came from a goal down to win 2-1 in a match that saw both sides have a player sent off.
There were highlights of a couple of other games, before Dinenage informed us that the show had been cut short to make space for showjumping highlights. (Showjumping! On ITV! On a Saturday night!) Then came the closing theme tune which, unforgivably, had a middle eight played on a saxophone.
Missing from the Tottenham side that day was a young striker called Garth Crooks, whose early success at White Hart Lane had halted due to a succession of injuries.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Everyone knows that Dinenage is still presenting shows for ITV in the south of England today. Indeed, just this week, wearing much smaller spectacles, he has been sharing his family memories of the Titanic disaster, which took place 100 years ago today. (Contrary to popular belief, Dinenage was not on the Titanic himself, but his great uncle was a steward on the ship and drowned.
So Dinenage’s whereabouts today are common knowledge. And even Sinstadt is easy to track down. These days, aged 82, he writes a weekly column on football for the Stoke Sentinel.
But, I hear you ask, whatever happened to those two hopeful young strikers, Connor and Crooks, trying to live up to their early promise as the 1980s started to bite? Funnily enough, I can help you there.
Last on MOTD: Sunderland 0 Wolves 0
Commentator: Gerald Sinstadt. Er, Steve Bower, rather
On to the present – and from Saturday morning on ITV4 to Saturday night on BBC One. Connor has, for much of the last 13 years, chugged along happily in a series of coaching jobs at Wolves, eventually becoming assistant to Mick McCarthy. Then, sometime around the turn of the year, everything at Molineux started to implode, McCarthy was eventually sacked, no one else seemed to want to replace him and so Connor was thrust centre stage.
It has been a painful experience. Connor has had eight games in charge and collected two points. A relegation that was a possibility when he took over has become a certainty. At times, Connor has sounded close to tears, yet he has attempted to maintain a brave face.
After his team lost at Stoke last Saturday, their sixth of seven consecutive defeats, he was asked if his family’s support had been helpful.
“The family have been great, thanks,” he said, his voice wobbling. “They see this as an opportunity, as I do, and I’m enjoying every moment of it.”
“Are you really enjoying it?” asked a surprised reporter from the back of the room.
“Yep, it’s been great,” said Connor, with a flatness that suggested it hasn’t been that great, really.
Connor at least avoided defeat at the Stadium of Light yesterday, in a game so dull that the Match of the Day edit devoted an inordinate amount of time to an Anthony Forde corner taken from outside the quadrant.
“If you are to go down, it would be good to go out with a bit of dignity and pride,” commentator Steve Bower said to Connor afterwards, possibly winning a bet with someone to shoehorn a Chesney Hawkes lyric into his post-match interview.
Connor’s response, calling for good performances in the season’s final four games, was delivered with noticeably less wobble than his thoughts after the Stoke defeat.
It will all be to no avail, though, according to Crooks, making a very rare appearance on the MOTD punditry bench alongside Alan Shearer (neither man, incidentally, wearing a beige suit). Had Hansen, Lawrenson or Dixon done a Best and failed to show up? I think they were all down in London for the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Everton, and unable to make it back to Salford Quays to watch and pass judgement on the afternoon’s Premier League football.
Crooks has a tendency towards bold statements that don’t always make much sense, rather in the manner of Peter O’Hanraha-Hanrahan from The Day Today. In conversation with Gabby Logan during an edition of Final Score two seasons ago, he somehow tricked himself into predicting that five English teams would qualify for the Champions League.
His punditry on West Brom’s 1-0 win over QPR – a match decided by a long-range shot by midfielder Graham Dorrans – suggested that the game was a tale of the contrasting fortunes of two strikers; Marc-Antoine Fortune, who didn’t score, and Bobby Zamora, who didn’t score either.
Crooks played it safer when it came to passing judgement on Connor. “Wolverhampton Wanderers are doomed,” he pronounced, and more or less left it at that. Shearer and Gary Lineker were temporarily speechless.
To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw: Bloody hell, Garth, what are you on about now?
1. Fulham: 8 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
2. Aston Villa: 7 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
3. Sunderland: 6 (2L: 7, 3L: 0)
4. Norwich: 6 (2L: 3, 3L: 4)
5. Stoke: 6 (2L: 2, 3L: 8)
6. Wigan: 5 (2L: 8, 3L: 5)
7. West Brom: 5 (2L: 6, 3L: 4)
8. Swansea: 4 (2L: 7, 3L: 6)
9. QPR: 4 (2L: 4, 3L: 3)
10: Wolves: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 7)
11. Blackburn: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 6)
12: Liverpool: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 4)
13. Tottenham: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
14. Chelsea: 3 (2L: 0, 3L: 6)
15. Newcastle: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
16. Everton: 1 (2L: 10, 3L: 4)
17. Bolton: 1 (2L: 4, 3L: 6)
18. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 4, 3L: 1)
19. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
20. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2L = On second last (West Brom 1 QPR 0)
3L = On third last (Swansea 3 Blackburn 0)
(Teams receive one point every time they are last on Match of the Day. Teams level are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. MOTD2 not included.)