Outside the Box – Football on TV: A prosperous week for Liverpool in the cups but off the field is a different story
The days leading up to the weekend’s FA Cup Fourth Round ties were not particularly pleasant for many football fans, a week in which the unseemly and murky face of football was glaringly apparent. Many column inches were devoted to the tax-evasion trial of Spurs manager Harry Redknapp, as well as the heated and uncomfortable build up to the games at Loftus Road and Anfield. The still on-going race rows surrounding both Luis Suarez and John Terry threatened to seriously derail the cuddly FA Cup image, and the news last Friday evening that a bullet had reportedly been sent to Anton Ferdinand did little to improve the feeling of trepidation as Saturday came around.
Fortunately, as it so often does, football saved the day and we were once again treated to a weekend of magical cup football. Despite the unease surrounding Liverpool, their defeat of Manchester United in front of the ITV cameras on FA Cup Fourth Round Live capped a wonderful week for the Reds – on the pitch at least. Before the game began though, chubby host Adrian Chiles was keen to remind us all of the fraught nature of the weekend’s highlight games. He informed us of the goings on down at QPR and that the customary pre-game handshakes and been cancelled completely because of the heightened tensions. I hear Fernando Torres was particularly relieved at the news, as he was worried about totally missing Ferdinand’s outstretched hand.
Chiles also gave us further information about the chilling package sent to Ferdinand, although he did confuse me when he called it a ‘malicious communication’; I wasn’t sure whether he was actually referring to a tweet Roy Keane had just sent – apparently it read: ‘Seriously tinking about laying Southgate out, I don’t like his tie #chileswillbenextifheisnotcareful’.
The hostility in the studio was thankfully not replicated too much out on the pitch, and it generally passed without serious incident. However, it should be said that the appalling treatment of Patrice Evra by sections of the Anfield crowd should be deplored. Whatever your thoughts on Evra and his own sketchy past, it is unfair for those fans to vilify him after an enquiry has exonerated him of any wrongdoing in the Suarez case.
It is fine to have the opinion that Suarez was harshly treated and didn’t deserve the length of ban he received, but to place the blame for that onto Evra’s shoulders is plainly wrong. What was worse was Kenny Dalglish’s utterly ridiculous stance after the game in which he blindly refused to show any sympathy to what Evra had endured and in fact berated a journalist for even bringing it up. Another reminder of how poorly this whole sorry episode has been handled by the Liverpool hierarchy.
Things were a whole lot more positive earlier in the week for Dalglish and the Reds when they booked their first appearance at the new Wembley Stadium after passing the sizeable obstacle that is Manchester City in the Carling Cup Live on Sky.
Craig Bellamy was the match-winner for Kenny’s men and it must have felt pretty pleasing after his acrimonious spell under Mancini at City. I did feel a little cheated though when it emerged before the game that Mario Balotelli was not going to contest his ban for trying to cave Scott Parker’s head in. I was eagerly awaiting a game involving both Balotelli and Bellamy, two such incendiary characters playing against each other would surely have provided everlasting entertainment.
I’d like to think that after about sixty minutes of kicking lumps out of each other, they would suddenly stop and deftly meet in the centre circle during a break in play, each of them creeping surreptitiously towards one another like a panther stalking it’s prey. The whole stadium falls silent as their daggered gazes meet, beads of sweat glisten in the moonlight as concerned parents in the crowd begin to shield their children’s eyes unsure of what unspeakable horrors are about to transpire.
And then the two finally come face-to-face. Andy Carroll begins to run towards the pair to intervene but trips over his own bootlaces; alas it is too late. Bellamy and Balotelli have set fire to the centre circle, tied Stefan Savic up and are performing a sort of sacrificial ritual with a copy of The Sun and Roberto Mancini’s scarf. Well, that’s what I think would have happened anyway.
Speaking of Andy Carroll, I wondered if he would feature in ITV’s 20 Football Transfers That Shocked The World last week. He wasn’t on the list as it happened but there were plenty of other instances of eye-watering wads of cash paid for complete tosh - Trevor Francis’ haircut for starters. The countdown comprised of many of the famous transfers you might expect – Rooney to United, Sol to Arsenal and Socrates to Garforth Town … no, me neither.
There were some fascinating stories to be told throughout this rundown of dodgy deals though; the tragic case of AC Milan star Gianluigi Lentini whose promising career was halted by a car accident he failed to recover from. Or Allan Simonsen, a former European footballer of the year who turned down Real Madrid and Spurs to sign for lowly Charlton – funnily enough, something that was repeated many years later with Amdy Faye. Or so he tells me.
All these transfer titbits and more were expertly brought to us by ITV’s real football star Gabriel Clarke, a genuinely witty and urbane highlight of all of their footy coverage. They could do a great deal worse than elbowing Chiles off presenting duties and letting Gabriel have a go, I’m sure Roy Keane can … ahem persuade Chiles to make way, just read his Twitter feed.