LARRY RYAN: Top comedy hits funny bone again

It was a notable week in comedy. The Office screened for the last time in the USA. The first trailer emerged of America’s take on Gavin & Stacey. It was the 15th anniversary of the final Seinfeld.

But overshadowing all of that was the long-running sitcom that is English football, as all of our favourite characters got together for a dramatic season finale.

Every comedy eventually runs out of things to say. Seinfeld acknowledged this reality in its own finale, when it went out debating the top button placement on George Costanza’s shirt, the same way it introduced itself, nine years earlier.

Football, too, might be running short of gags, but certain jokes never get old. So Brave JT changed into full kit one more time and climbed another set of steps to collect a trophy.

After a year in which he gate-crashed hundreds, maybe thousands, of celebrations courtesy of Photoshop and idle hands, there was something almost beautiful about the gusto with which he reprised the role for which he has now become most famous.

There may have been no shinpads this year, but then why would a man with the thickest skin in Britain need them? JT’s familiar punchline also provided a bittersweet resolution to a more inventive scenario than we have seen from any recent comedy; Rafa Benitez defying the mob who hate him by delivering them victory. Victims of their own success. Laminate that, suckers.

Rafa’s personal style has always owed something to the great Costanza. He certainly observes one of George’s key workplace maxims; when you look annoyed all the time, people think that you’re busy.

But if George had ever truly known success, this is how he would have wanted it served; sticking in people’s craws.

It was a rebuke too to the type of fan who has grand notions about his own key role in the drama. No show was ever saved by its laughing track.

Elsewhere, the theme of the week’s episode was retirement, as an impressionable industry jostled for a slice of the Fergie love action.

To be fair to Scholesy, he handled things in the only dignified way possible for second exits, shuffling sheepishly off stage.

But a colleague who has provided ample amusement over the years was not so reticent — Rio Ferdinand officially announced his retirement from holidaying in the Middle East during England games. That he wishes not to stand in the way of the next generation is some compensation for Gulf economies.

The game’s leading purveyor of unintentional comedy quickly followed suit. Twitter’s greatest — maybe only — service this season has been its role as a conductor for Joey Barton’s rage.

Joey also announced he was stepping away from the international game — after one cap — presumably as a dig at Rio. But when some punters failed to see the funny side, Joey’s day slipped away from him like so many others, in a spiral of abuse and furious boasting about his wealth.

Twitter is the safest place for him.

Abuse and fury are not uncommon when the wealth of another of the week’s rumoured retirees is considered. But when we examine the six figures on Alan Hansen’s monthly payslip, it is better for the blood pressure to regard it as belated recognition of his defensive elegance, rather than fair reward for randomly blurting words like ‘pace’, ‘power’, and ‘diabolical’ in vague response to Gary Lineker’s half-hearted probings. And at least Al always left the ‘comedy’ to Lawro.

Of course if football truly was a sitcom, it would hardly be granted another season, now that its leading man has departed.

Have we just seen the dissolution of the Cult of Becks? Can an empire stand on underpants modelling alone? Fergie once attributed to Becks the second-cleanest right foot in football, after John Giles’s.

This week, Gilesy provided his own tribute. “The best self-promotion I’ve ever seen from a professional footballer.”

You can’t help but wonder what JT — the man who operates at the other end of the PR spectrum — could have achieved, if he had been sprinkled with a fraction of the great ambassador’s magic dust.

England might still not have been awarded the World Cup, but they would probably go ahead and host it anyway. Fear not, people still take notice of Championship

Just as we say goodbye to the year-round skit across the water, the altogether more serious business of GAA championship is upon us in earnest.

Each year you wonder if the day will come when nobody really notices. If the arcane competitive structures and complacent efforts to sell it to us will eventually leave the games skulking apologetically on the margins in the way, say, rugby league now does in England.

But, for now, we know everything is okay, because there are still people out there willing to devote their time and ingenuity to freeing men like Barry Gilleran — in the process, throwing open the gates for Lar and JJ.

While we are still pulling strokes and finding loopholes, we know these are truly the games that define us.

The cold, hopefully distant, day when we begin to meekly accept the spirit of law and order — when a reasonable man puts down his copy of the rule book and says ‘Hold on a second guys, is a fella lining out at the edge of the Longford square really the be-all-and-end-all?’ — that is the day when county grounds across the land will empty for good.

Of course, there were a few critical noises this week about the elasticity of that rule book. But nobody in the GAA need berate themselves.

Remember, the all-powerful Premier League in England operates under a system where miscreants are able to escape sanction because a referee didn’t spot them, then escape sanction again because the referee kind of spotted them, but at the time didn’t really realise what they were at.

That law is an ass. GAA law is just a test.

Wigan will look back with pride

If Rafa Benitez will soon depart Chelsea with the last laugh, Roberto Mancini completed the clearout of last year’s trophy winners — proving that, if your glum face no longer fits, backing from supporters is ultimately as futile as their hate.

Mancini will not be forgotten easily in Manchester for delivering a title to City, no matter how heavily the odds were stacked in his favour.

But equally last Saturday’s pallid cup-final effort was the work of a team which had already forgotten the decades of pain their fans have endured. The fans should remember that betrayal too.

The few supporters Wigan have not felt much in the way of pain or joy in recent times, just the queasy release of escape.

Owner Dave Whelan — who would give Becks a run for his money in the PR stakes — has often been on record to state his sole ambition was 17th place each season.

Even for a small-town club in a place where they still care about rugby league, it made for rather forgettable teams.

Finally, in failure, the fans have something to remember. Eventually, Whelan will surely come to regard this as a good week, even if he has to wait for the first parachute payment to land.

HEROES & VILLAINS

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

Wayne Rooney: Just hours after sportsdirect.com had linked him to Newcastle, the site published a retraction and an apology. Still, if that doomsday prospect doesn’t shake him back into life, you suspect nothing will.

Viktor Troiki: The classic tennis meltdown has been a somewhat neglected art in recent times. Viktor’s epic, four-minute ‘Come on, you know you’re wrong’ protest at the Italian Open is handsome addition to the genre. Watch it here: bit.ly/viktorrant.

HELL IN A HANDCART

Paolo di Canio: Even after Wigan’s misfortune bailed him out, the ‘Not My Fault’ campaign continues apace. Continues to find new and ingenious ways to lambast his players in public. Next season should be fun.


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