LARRY RYAN: The need to strip football of bantz

“He has something really big going on now,” Quinny warned us, as Big Sam gyrated provocatively across the Stadium of Light pitch, yanking off his jacket and threatening, for a terrifying moment, a celebratory full monty.

How big? Big, big.

We were spared, this time, like the Black Cats themselves. But the exhibitionists won’t be deterred for long.

It is 20 years since Fifa first banned players taking their shirts off during matches. It is now time to extend the law to pundits.

We have already had to contend with too much underbantz - Gary Lineker and his naked ambition to insert himself into the Leicester story at every waking moment. David Cameron and the lads have taken great interest in this Carry On, in parliament, proof positive how wrong it is.

And behind the scenes, doubtless dozens of high-level production meetings have already taken place across all the TV networks, investigating how best to build a ‘fun’ system of forfeits around their football coverage, in a bid to ‘leverage social’.

Action points: call Piers Morgan.

This week, drawing on all the gravitas gained through breaking America, James Corden made an impassioned speech, pleading the case for the future of the BBC.

But we will know the BBC is finished on the opening night of next season, if Lineker isn’t handed his trousers and a yellow card, on which his P45 has been printed, and told to take his pick.

Corden himself, meanwhile, loomed large this week over all Sky’s live football, which incessantly promoted his A League of Their Own US Road Trip.

This festival of thirdwittery brings Jamie Redknapp, Jack Whitehall and Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff to Vegas and California in search of that magic formula of bantz, forfeits and stripping.

A series of ‘sporting challenges’ is promised, the overall loser of which will ‘strip with the Chippendales’. Not many viewers can have made it past the first event, ten-pin bowling, which Flintoff won, and during which Corden cackled manically about ‘fingering balls’.

As Ed Chamberlain gave it one more plug during West Ham-Man U, beside him Graeme Souness’s face suggested he’d rather take his chances planting another Gala flag in the Fenerbahce centre circle, naked if necessary. With all of this going on, it is just about possible to feel a little sympathy for Fletch and Sav.

Not long ago, BT Sport seemed to be in the business of screening football matches purely as a means of advertising Fletch and Sav.

They were always promising us more Fletch and Sav very soon and after evening games, they would even let Fletch and Sav handle the analysis, to trick us into watching Fletch and Sav.

But now they have given up the ghost and parked the ‘Banter Bus’ wherever ITV’s Tactics Truck was scrapped. Last Saturday’s was the final ever Fletch and Sav.

Ordinarily, we would know for certain this was a very good move because Piers Morgan was appalled, tweeting: “Love that show. Don’t understand this decision”.

The need to strip football of bantz

The regular reliance on Morgan’s ‘strong opinions’ sat near the top of the charge sheet against Fletch and Sav.

And yet it is possible to identify other victims, of this setup, besides the viewer.

Darren Fletcher, certainly. And maybe even Robbie Savage. Fletcher, a decent football commentator by day, pulled on the tight-trousered superhero costume of Fletch by morning, his superpower the ability to organise for retired footballers the one thing they profess to miss about the game, the banter. Which he achieves by egging on Sav. Eh, Sav?

Sav requires little egging on, yet you sometimes — sometimes — get the impression there is more to Sav than gets out, or that they want to get out.

A recent Fletch and Sav comes to mind, when Sav badgered Howard Webb about refereeing inconsistency, a topic that is often touched upon, without anyone really getting to the meat of things.

Webb tried to explain why a tackle in the first minute mightn’t earn the yellow card the same tackle would in the 50th minute. “So, I get one free whack,” probed Sav, in the pro’s parlance.

Agitated, Howard drew on that air of superiority which is essential to all referees and is essentially where many referees eventually come unstuck; insisting on the need for game management and so forth.

Sav simply insisted that if it’s a yellow card in the 50th minute, it’s a yellow card in the first minute. And for the briefest of moments, you could almost hear John Giles, reminding us to take things on their merits.

Still, Sav is but collateral damage in the war on bantz. And Webb, in fairness, has been an authoritative success as BT’s resident pundit ref, and is arguably in contention for pundit of the season, behind Jamie Carragher.

Carra began the season in dangerous territory, sucked into some forfeit nonsense with Gary Neville that would require him to wear a Man United shirt on TV.

The sad death of Neville’s father intervened, and Carra was saved, and went from strength to strength, a seething recipe of enthusiasm and frustration, coming to the boil again on Wednesday in his disgust at Everton’s efforts. “Lukaku kept himself quiet. Jesus Christ!”

In a week of goodbyes, we also said farewell to Upton Park, in a cringy live spectacle that evoked memories of Joe Duffy welcoming back the Ireland team in 2002.

Forty years ago, in Only a Game?, Eamon Dunphy told us of a friendly between Millwall and West Ham, four days before the league season, which Bobby Moore missed because he was at Crystal Palace Sports Centre for a celebrity pentathlon alongside Tony Jacklin, Jackie Stewart and Barry John.

To Eamon, it proved how West Ham weren’t serious, how they would never win a title, how they were ‘con artists’.

For a modern moment that encapsulates a club’s underachievement since, we may not have to look much further than Bianca Westwood saying goodbye to the Boleyn by shouting at ‘club legends’ Marlon Harewood and Carlton Cole.

Elsewhere, Dunphy was voted the most popular sports pundit of all by Sportsjoe.ie readers, in a week when he warned us we are “seeing the beginning of the end of soccer as a sport”.

While other broadcasters continue with their high-level meetings, dividing up responsibility for the analysis and the bantz, for punditry and pantomime; Eamo continues to gamely take all the workload onto one man’s shoulders.

And he hasn’t yet had to strip.

GAA will never go for the hard sell

As we say goodbye to Premier League theatre, the pantomime horses on The Sunday Game trot onto centre stage. Alas, the opening bill of fare isn’t enticing enough to tempt Montrose’s prize show ponies out of stables for a live game on Sunday.

The GAA’s approach to selling their wares remains resolutely low-key. From ‘only the league’ seamlessly into ‘it’s only Offaly-Longford’.

If GAA top brass were in charge of the Beatles, they’d have faced down Paul, John and the lads until Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da led off the White Album.

In a way, there is a refreshing honesty about it, a play the ball the way it lands integrity to this aisy-going approach to fixture scheduling.

No airs. No graces. In a job interview, GAA top brass would give it to you straight up.

“Yeah, I went off the rails for a few years after the Leaving. The 2011 minor final was a tough one to take I suppose. I arsed around at home for a few years after that helping out the brother. You know yourself.”

Maybe ‘it’s the treat em mean, keep em keen’ approach, a legacy of the ‘what else will they watch, the Sunday Matinee days?’.

Or maybe it would just be reckless to go straight in with Cork-Tipp.

Where do you go from there?

Heroes & Villians             

Stairway to Heaven

Super Furry Animals: Euro build-up getting serious now, the songs are in. And in the Welsh offerings, the Furries have taken apart the Manics.

Steph Curry: If the lack of great players is finishing football, Charles ‘Dunphy’ Barkley reckons Curry’s colossal superiority shows the NBA is gone too.

Hell in a Handcart

Jesse Lingard: Trying to picture Fergie on a Man United coach where players are lying on the floor screaming ‘mummy’ and broadcasting this to the internet, but the image just won’t come.

Rugby Country: At a standstill again today for the big one.

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