Managers prove game for a laugh

A break from the norm for a bit of light relief this week, if only to mark David Moyes’ sudden change in fortunes on Wednesday night.

Certainly, the Manchester United manager’s relief at the final whistle in Old Trafford was palpable but then that was before he learned yesterday that the light involved is an oncoming train, clothed in the livery of Bayern Munich. That’s one way to wipe the smile off a chap’s face, right enough.

Given that, up until the win over Olympiacos, Moyes had spent his first season in Manchester almost permanently cast in the famous Private Eye role of “ashen-faced supremo”, it was no real surprise that the Scot failed to make the line-up for BBC 4’s ‘Some Football Managers Telling Jokes’ this week.

Though consciously ripping off the ‘Old Jews Telling Jokes’ TV format — itself based on an original web series turned book turned play — it’s fair to say that the gaffer tapes were never likely to rival the riches of the great Jewish-American comedy tradition, from Groucho Marx to Jerry Seinfeld.

Still, that can’t excuse the fact that former Northern Ireland player and manager Iain Dowie and former Republic of Ireland international John Sheridan both somehow thought it was kosher to still be spinning ‘Paddy and Murphy’ yarns in 2014.

Sheridan’s at least had the modest virtue of brevity whereas Dowie’s laboured efforts went all the way through normal time, extra time and into a penalty shoot-out.

And last time I checked it was still 0-0.

But, hey, all the bosses and ex-bosses were turning out in the name of charity fundraising for BBC Sport Relief so at least their hearts, if not always their punchlines, were in the right places.

And it wasn’t all bad either.

Former Hull and now Southend boss Phil Brown who, with his mahogany veneer, even looks like a stand-up comedian — albeit if this was still the 1970s and the programme was called ‘New Faces’ — told a nice one about a guy being interrogated at the gates of heaven.

“Tell me something brave you’ve done in your life,” instructs St Peter. The man replies: “Well, as a matter of fact, I’m a referee by trade and I was refereeing a game between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield when I awarded a penalty to Everton in front of the Kop right on the stroke of full-time.”

St Peter says: “Good lord, that was brave. How long ago was this?”

And the guy replies: “About three minutes ago.”

And Graeme Taylor — who, let’s face it, gave us plenty of unintentionally funny moments as England manager — related how one day he met a fairy who said she’d grant him one wish. Graeme takes up the story: “I said, ‘Great, I want to live forever.’ But the fairy said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to grant wishes like that.’ ‘Fine,’ I said, ‘I want to die when Scunthorpe United win the Premier League.’ And the fairy said, ‘You crafty sod…’”

Peter Reid might want to give Old Trafford a wide berth after this cheap shot: “Breaking news! Wayne Rooney has asked Manchester United for a transfer. David Moyes has told him to put the request in writing — so that’s the end of that then.”

United legend Bryan Robson’s contribution wasn’t football-related but had, I thought, a pleasing hint of his own combative playing style about it...

“A man goes for an interview and he’s asked what his worst quality is. He thinks for a minute and then he goes, ‘I’m too honest’. The interviewer says, ‘Honesty? Actually, I think that’s a good quality.’ And the man says, ‘I couldn’t give a shit what you think’.”

And while I can’t now remember which of the guffawing gaffers delivered this one, those wise people who regard the much-maligned pun as one of life’s enduring little pleasures will enjoy: “My dad was a road worker all his life and when they told me he was stealing on the job, I couldn’t believe it. But when I went home, the signs were all there.”

From another source comes this cautionary tale. The Devil calls up God with the suggestion that Heaven and Hell do battle for ultimate supremacy in the form of a football match. God is amused by the proposition.

“The heat must be melting your brain down there,” he scoffs. “Your side wouldn’t stand a prayer. Don’t you know that all good players go to heaven?”

“That’s true,” says the devil, smiling. “But we’ve got all the refs.”

Not included either was one of my favourite ever football yarns, one usually attributed to Anfield boot room legend Ronnie Moran.

The story goes that, in one of Jan Molby’s final appearances for Liverpool, the by now somewhat portly and increasingly pedestrian Great Dane was not exactly putting in the hard yards.

The laser-guided passing was still present and correct but nearly all of it originated within the centre-circle, outside of which Molby was showing no great inclination to stray.

Eventually, coach Moran recognised that action needed to be taken and, stepping out of the dugout, roared in broad Scouse: “Jan! Jan! Get warmed up lad, you’re coming off.” And, do you know, it’s so good, it might even be true.

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