This ain’t as easy as it looks, y’know

WRITING up an Ian Turner interview this week ahead of today’s EA Sports Cup final between Cork City and Derry, I had a rare moment of inspiration.

Ian’s a defender, see, but he’s also played right side of midfield, see, and his speed up the flanks has been matched by the acceleration in his progress up through the Cork City ranks, right? So, suddenly, the perfect headline seemed to present itself: “Back Man Turner In Overdrive”.

Unfortunately, the man to whom I presented this gem on the sports desk reacted somewhat in the manner of a dog which has been shown a card trick, a sobering reminder for myself that not everyone in this business is (a) the wrong side of 50 and (b) prone to nostalgia for mid-70s Canadian rock. Happily, however, there are a few greybeards still left on the premises, which was why the headline did actually make it into yesterday’s paper where it doubtless perplexed the majority but hopefully provided a moment of light relief for some of the country’s other senior citizens before they’re reduced to setting fire to their old Prog Rock album covers to provide heat against the cruel winter ahead.

Meantime, here’s a few more good footie headers to keep the blues at bay.

We all know the classic one about Inverness Caledonian Thistle shocking Celtic in the Scottish Cup in 2000 — ‘Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious’. Less well-known perhaps is that the original of the species dates from a much earlier era and specifically a game in the 1970s when Liverpool legend Ian Callaghan had almost single-handedly taken Queens Park Rangers apart. So credit where it’s due to the Liverpool Echo of the day for: “Super Cally goes ballistic, QPR atrocious.”

There’s also a Liverpool connection to a personal favourite, one inspired by reports that then Red Steve Harkness might be on his way to Ipswich. Boringly, this could have been treated as a run of the mill variant of the already wearily familiar “linked to/close to/set to/on verge of” but some genius saved the day by coming up with the boss headline: ‘Harkness on the edge of town’. In the end, Harkness didn’t make the move but, no matter, thanks to the newspaper version of David Fairclough — that’s a super sub to you — immortality was guaranteed.

For all together different reasons, coverage of John Harkes’ signing for Sheffield Wednesday back in 1990 is also fondly recalled. With football’s profile in the United States at the time so low that you’d have to get down on your hands and knees to see it, the New York Post might have been forgiven for confusing time and place when, in classic Americanese, they scrupulously inserted a comma to report: ‘Harkes to sign for Sheffield, Wednesday’.

As a rule, newspapers are reluctant to put swear words in headlines but, just occasionally, the temptation is simply too overwhelming to resist. So, when Eric Cantona infamously kung-fu kicked a supporter at Selhurst Park, there could only ever be one headline: ‘The sh*t hits the fan’.

Even more rare is the appearance of the unadulterated four-letter word in a headline but can legitimately claim they were guilty of presenting nothing but the facts, ma’am, when they topped a story about a move for Brazilian defender Argelico Fucks with the legend: ‘Fucks off to Benfica’.

Just as there was nothing remotely below board about how treated the news that Italian aristocrats Juventus had been held to a scoreless Champions League draw by Belarus champions BATE Borislov (look away now, missus): ‘Old Lady unable to master BATE at home’. I suspect the individual responsible for that one was promptly carried shoulder-high to the Frog and Firkin for his evening draught.

A more elegant take on the scoreless draw theme was The Guardian’s famous headline about a much-hyped match which ended in stalemate: ‘Much Ado about nothing-nothing’.

There is a related story, too, about a hack who ended his match report with the same line, only to find next morning that a conscientious sub-editor had amended it to “much ado about nil-nil”. And, while I think of it, there’s also the one from the time before lap-tops when a journalist, barking his Liverpool match report over a phone line, encountered a snooty and non-sporty copytaker who took him to task for appalling grammar: “I think you’ll find, sir, it’s ‘a field’ not ‘an field’.”

Back at the headlines, a mooted swap deal — Gabriel Heinze for Leighton Baines — produced the memorable ‘Heinze means Baines’. Like a lot of what footballers call ‘paper-talk’, there might never have been anything in it, but who cares when the header is as good as that? And speaking of different class, room always has to be made for my favourite newspaper headline in the world ever, even if it is only vaguely related to sport.

This was the tabloid classic over a story about a male jockey who had undergone a sex change operation, the whole lurid saga, summed up in just two, perfectly chosen, little words: “They’re off”.

Let’s hope there’s more where they came from and that, as yer men at the start of all this might have put it, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

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