Outside the Box – Football on TV: A tough week of watching tough men taking tough action; and then there was Gary Neville on Super Sunday
There are many boulevards open to footballers when the time finally comes for them to hang up their boots, delete Sir Alex’s number from their Blackberry and say goodbye to the pantomime-drudgery of the Premier League. Obviously, the twin favourites for many pros are either a cushy job coaching the Stoke under-12s or the even cushier role of sitting in a television studio punditing the hell out of Andy Carroll’s farcical attempts to play football.
However, there are other directions to pursue, and a chosen few enter the exciting, pantomime-drudgery of Hollywood and the acting world. The first name that springs to mind when you consider footballing thespians has to be erm… Pele in ‘Escape to Victory’? No, of course not. It’s Vinnie Jones, whose acting career is going so well that he’s turned up on ITV4 recently presenting a programme about police officers from around the world. Being such a fan of Jones’ post-football CV (those Guy Ritchie films, his cameo in Extras and that Nicolas Cage film where he didn’t say anything), it was with great anticipation that I tuned into Vinnie Jones’ Toughest Cops last week.
He opened the show in typically brutish fashion: “Welcome to a world where shootings, kidnapping and gang warfare are just part of the job!” or Stamford Bridge to the rest of us. No in fact he was talking about the mean streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil where gang culture and violent crime are rife – a situation surely not helped by chucking a notoriously violent member of the ‘Crazy Gang’ in there to mumble monosyllabically and look dead ‘ard. I was worried early on as Vinnie was doing his introduction, there were the obligatory shots of young Brazilian boys playing football majestically in the slums; would Vinnie be able to resist the urge to sprint over and hurl himself into a late challenge from behind? Well he did, but I’ll wait for the DVD of the show to look for a deleted scene in which he throws out his elbow to put down an 8-year old wonder kid, breaking his jaw in three places. You know as well as I do, that definitely happened.
You will have seen these kind of shows a thousand times before; lots of shaky camera footage following burly and often unpleasant men around as they rough up criminals and speak loudly into their radios. Strangely, there were times when the producers had English subtitles for the Brazilian cops – even when they spoke the language perfectly clearly. Indeed, it would have been more beneficial for them to provide details of what Vinnie was saying, what with that ridiculously Lock-Stock cockney twang that he peddles out.
So, both Vinnie and the show had limitations, but these kind of docu-dramas always provide an entertaining half-hour at a kind of base-level, bottom of the barrel, ‘well it’s better than watching Britain’s Got Talent I suppose’ kind of thing. But it did spark something in me; I would love for other members of the Crazy Gang to have a go at presenting some of these shows. There could be Dennis Wise’s Toughest Geordies, or what about Dave Beasant’s Toughest Pasties, or best of all John Fashanu’s Toughest Days In The Company Of John Fashanu – even Vinnie would struggle with that one.
Another player who could soon find himself presenting a rubbish crime documentary, or perhaps even being the focus of one, is Mario Balotelli. His manager, Roberto Mancini, seems to have reached the end of his tether with the irrational Italian forward after yet another self-destructive performance on Sunday as City’s title hopes became as distant as Vinnie Jones’ aspirations to play Hamlet. The excitement of City’s cataclysmic capitulation was all too much for United mole Gary Neville on Live Ford Super Sunday. Nev momentarily lost control of himself as Balotelli was dismissed late on in the game at the Emirates, and he came over all Eric Cantona on us by spouting out a preposterous metaphor: “It’s a circus, and every time I’ve been to a circus there’s always been some clowns” he bizarrely admitted. This led me to draw only two conclusions; firstly, Neville has categorised City’s fractious squad as an accident waiting to happen, and believes Balotelli is, and always has been, the chief architect in their coming downfall. And secondly, a night out with the Neville brothers will invariably include a trip to the Big Top – small things amuse small minds and all of that I suppose.
If yesterday was to be Mario Balotelli’s final curtain call in City colours, I would like to articulate my own feelings of bliss that that senseless and deranged individual has brought to me over the past eighteen months or so. The Premier League has been made far more exciting and fraught with danger since the Italian’s arrival and I for one, will miss whatever hi-jinks he was bound to conjure up in the future. They’ll now be no naked striptease when he scores the winner in the Champions’ League final; they’ll be no 20-man brawl at the Britannia Stadium sparked by Balotelli’s decision to set up a small fruit and veg stall on the halfway line during the game, and they’ll be no number one duet from Balotelli and Tevez covering ‘Lean On Me’. More’s the pity if you ask me. So Neville, Redknapp and all the other naysayers bemoaning Balotelli will have their way and we’ll be stuck with hoards of featureless robots like Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick. I can’t wait.