New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick — whose name autocorrect sagely swaps for ‘bellicose’ — cut to the heart of the essential difficulty facing sports media this week.
Never known for his patience, Belichick dismissed one question he didn’t like thus: “I could Xerox you a copy of the game-plan and you could send it over to Kansas City, might be easier for all of us.”
The essential truth; if a coach or player has anything relevant to say before a game, they don’t want to say it, a problem for an industry increasingly reliant on pre-game press briefings for copy.
But while sportswriters mostly have to make do with “under no illusions about the size of the task” and a meaningless diet of similar platitudes, at least the Premier League had controvassy, this ingenious ability to generate storylines out of mind games and feuds and an endless cycle of who slammed who.
Or had, anyway. With Mourinho gone, pulling so many vitriolic threads with him, you feared for the entire tapestry.
Fortunately, Kloppo has arrived to take the bait of men like Big Sam and Tony Pulis, whose wiles the likes of Wenger had become immune to.
And we may now, thanks to LVG and Nigel ‘the Ostrich’ Pearson before him, have the makings of a new genre; sport’s contempt for media being vocalised in contempt for its journalists.
This time, Sun journalist Neil Custis had to take the hit, but being called ‘fat man’ would be small sacrifice for a rich new diet of controvassy.
The sad, jilted people of St Louis must figure strongly in our thoughts this week. When the NFL landed back in their laps 20 years ago, they gamely shoved the bandwagon back on the road, inventing overnight an identity, passion and tradition for their borrowed franchise.
Now it has all been snatched away again. The Rams will pack up and return to the bright lights of LA. And the fans left behind turn hopefully to the courts, pleading that false promises and fine words of Rams owner Stan Kroenke — a man Arsenal fans know for his lack of promises and words — were in breach of Missouri’s Merchandising Practices Act.
We wish them luck in their fruitless rage and we could reflect on the ephemeral nature of sporting devotion, and the casual contempt for loyalty endemic in a sport that chews and spits young athletes the moment they miss a tackle or ship a heavy knock.
But there are far greater hardships on our doorstep. More acutely-felt displacement. Where once, the fine words of Michael Hutchence seemed to capture the unbreakable rugby bond between Cork and Limerick — Two worlds collided and they could never tear us apart — we now hear that ties have become dangerously soluble, as the much-debated decision to locate all Munster training Shannonside begins to bite with a people familiar with the concept of inventing overnight an identity, passion and tradition for a franchise.
“If Munster is ever viewed as ‘a Limerick team’, then you’re in trouble,” warned ROG yesterday. A bad run of results was already testing the patience of the Cork fanbase, asked to make the gruelling trip to Thomond for matches. But the inability to people-watch their heroes enjoying life in the coffee shops of the Real Capital may just prove too big an ask. This could yet go to the Supreme Court.
By all accounts, David Bowie hadn’t that much interest in sport, which is probably what gave him the time for the brilliance in other areas. Not even Dunphy’s Only a Game made his top 100 books list, though the Beano made the cut alright.
But whether he liked it or not, sport took over ‘Heroes’, for its own purposes, so sport owed Bowie a tribute or two this week, in return.
As you’d expect, Arsene Wenger, who should be appointed sport’s spokesman on everything, stepped up to the mark: “I must say, the message he gave to my generation was very important and it was basically; be strong enough to be yourself.” When they get round to appointing someone to distill the essence of every life for Twitter, that job should probably go to Arsene too.
Things went less smoothly in Meath, where attempts to mark Bowie’s passing at a county Board meeting produced that most Meath of outcomes; a bit of a sneer. And this immortal statement from board vice-chairman Peter O’Halloran: “I am sure Mr Bowie is entitled to a vote of sympathy but by the correct body and in the correct manner.”
On behalf of sport, I can’t offer much in compensation for that botch job, except to confirm that ‘Space Oddity’ was once the most played tune in the UCC snooker room.
Though that testimony would probably mean more if the other firm favourite wasn’t Toto’s ‘Africa’.
Some Premier League narratives tend to be more resilient than others.
For example, Joe Allen’s late equaliser at Anfield confirmed the storyline, long set in stone, that Arsenal are terrible bottlers.
But Petr Cech’s less than convincing roles in two of Liverpool’s goals will do nothing to derail the pre-written narrative that Cech is the 14-points-a-season man keeping the shaky Arsenal vessel afloat.
Perhaps Wojciech Szczesny, looking on with interest from Rome, will belatedly see the value in at least feigning the possession of a little cop-on.
Arsenal gloom was lifted a touch when they saw Man City denied ‘a stonewall’ in the last minute at home to Everton, a reminder that one key part of the narrative has shifted since Arsenal regularly took on Manchester in title tussles. No ref would have denied Fergie that one.
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
The Oscar nominees:
Credit to Tiernan McCann for getting the ball rolling, but things have kicked on a level now. Just as an official national rebrand from Rugby Country to UFC Country was on the cards, we now have a shot at the more palatable Acting Country. Or Simulation Country, if you prefer.
A winner in the long game; the second-hand car salesman bought the domain losangelesrams.com two years after the franchise first packed up for St Louis. In Brian’s line of work, they’ve seen, heard, and said enough not to rely on the law to protect them from false statements.
HELL IN A HANDCART
Match of the Day:
James Corden, Tim Lovejoy, Tubes, Nick Hancock, Paddy Power, Fenners, Fletch & Sav, can you hear me Fletch & Sav, your boys took a hell of a beating. When Lineker and Shearer start talking tommy tank, we have reached peak bantz.
Del Amitri have some experience in the sports anthem game, having recorded ‘Don’t Come Home Too Soon’, Scotland’s 1998 World Cup squad anthem. Perhaps Seb, for future engagements, might avail of another number from their back catalogue for his walk-on music: Always The Last To Know.
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