Outside the Box – Football on TV: Mancini’s Manchester magicians spoil the party… and this column
Why always me? This week I was going to talk to you about the light-hearted Sky Sports knockabout quiz Take It Like a Fan. I was armed with reams of faint praise for the show and was readying my keyboard for a glittering review and even a possible recommendation for you all to check it out. But all of that went soaring out of the window when the clock swung round to 3.30pm on Sunday.
For the second time this season, a heavyweight clash on Sky’s Live Super Sunday has produced a genuinely jaw-dropping scoreline. Back in August, we all sat in front of our TV screens, our faces tempered with astonishment, as the marauding Manchester United annihilated a crestfallen Arsenal team with an 8-2 spanking, a result that drew widespread disbelief (and a healthy number of humorous Wenger-related jokes, a favourite being “Gary Cahill has just handed in a transfer request and it read ‘Owen, please don’t answer the phone when Wenger calls'”). However, when you look back over that game and put it into the context of the relative teams’ strengths you find that although the scoreline itself was jarring, the ease with which United cast the Gunners aside was less of a surprise in light of Arsenal’s spluttering start to the season.
Things were different here though as the same United that put Arsenal to the sword that day were this time the recipients of Sunday’s mauling, as they were set upon by the their “noisy neighbours” Manchester City and the 6-1 trouncing certainly lurched to the forefront of football fans thoughts up and down the land. The unyielding tension was being ramped up way before the match had even begun in the Sky Sports studio though, with Gary Neville and Jamie Redknapp trying to outdo each other with as many synonyms for ‘exciting’ as possible. Red Nev was leafing through his thesaurus during the ads to come up with “massive” and “crucial” while Grey Jay plumped for his iPhone dictionary to go with the classic “two great counter-attacking teams”. Nice.
Redknapp continued to talk about United’s counter-attacking prowess and the perils that it brings at Old Trafford; “It sounds silly” he confessed, “but you always felt you were most vulnerable when you had the ball”. No Jamie, that isn’t silly; it’s everything else that spews out your mouth that is silly.
Talking of people sounding silly, Sir Alex Ferguson was his usual belligerent self before the match, although there was a major shift of attitude when he admitted that “they know their players better than me”. No I couldn’t believe he said it either. After the match, as you might expect, Fergie was very downbeat and confessed to it being the "worst day of his football life"; it was quite alarming to see him so disconsolate and I’m sure that you, like me, took no enjoyment in it whatsoever. No enjoyment at all. No overwhelmingly joyous ecstasy at all. None.
The zealous build-up to the game also saw the producers try their hand at a sort of 70s northern comedy sketch involving United veteran Paddy Crerand and City legend Mike Summerbee as a couple of wait for it: "noisy neighbours". Now it goes without saying that ex-footballers acting always turns out well, Stan Collymore in Basic Instinct 2 is a particularly memorable performance. But when you throw a couple of old-timers onto the set of Coronation Street and ask them to argue a bit, you are going to be lucky if it doesn’t induce a collected coma amongst the viewers. I would have preferred that they had given the pair of them a football and a bottle of gin each and filmed them playing a bit of one-on-one on the cobbles, now that would have been entertaining.
Watching football can sometimes feel a little like watching the early rounds of the X-Factor; a dashing mix of individual brilliance, Godzilla-like egos, Cheryl Cole crying, maniacal crowds and even the odd nutter. This can result in an engaging yet sometimes repetitive spectacle. But every now and then a game comes along that really grabs the attention and gets everybody talking, and the exploits of Mario, Mancini and Man City certainly did that on Sunday and it reminded us once again what a special game it is that we love.
So, my thoughts on Take It Like A Fan will have to wait one more week, although as I write this Sky Sports News are revealing details of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s sacking by Leicester City, so it is perfectly possible that this column next week will simply read “WHY, WHY, WHY, WHY…”. Why always me?
Chris Pettitt will be back here next Tuesday, and every Tuesday, with his latest views of the beautiful game on television.