The fantasy of football

IN THE WORLD of street entertainment, if there is one thing worse than a fella mangling Bob Dylan — and in the world of street entertainment, there’s always a fella mangling Bob Dylan — it’s someone pretending to be trapped in an invisible box or, how droll, passing themselves off as the Statue of Liberty.

So here’s a handy tip for really messing with the minds of the self-styled mime artists — mime putting money in their hat. And why not give them a great, big wink while you’re at it? This happy thought is prompted by the sad passing of Marcel Marceau who can no more be blamed for a grown man acting the maggot on Grafton Street than Zimmy can be held responsible for someone desecrating ‘Mr Tambourine Man’.

And what a pity that football didn’t mark the passing of the grand old man with a minute’s noise before kick off. Frankly, I have no idea if Marcel Marceau had any interest in the footie but, as the undisputed master of simulation, his influence on the modern game can only be judged profound.

Think Louis Saha at Old Trafford last week when, at the merest hint of an expression of interest by Tal Ben-Haim — the equivalent of a passer-by dropping a small coin in the street performer’s hat — the Man United man sprang into action and executed such a convincing impression of a dying swan that Mike Dean rewarded his efforts with a penalty.

Of course, there are other types of simulation, like pretending a game of football is a game of football when it really isn’t. Which brings me to the theme of the day: the bonkers but perversely watchable show which has been running nightly on Sky all week called ‘Premier League All-Stars’.

The idea here is that 20 teams comprising of football legends, celebrities and fans contest a seven-a-side tournament in an indoor facility in London, the whole thing swathed in smoke and lasers and music, and hyped to the gills by presenters Helen Chamberlain and Ian Wright.

And, tell you wot, Jeff, Rodders is back. Sort of. Rodney Marsh, you might recall, was given the bum’s rush by Sky Sports when, not long after the natural disaster which had shocked the world, he said on air that David Beckham had turned down a move to Newcastle United because of the havoc wreaked by the Toon Army in Asia. By Rodder’s usual naff standards, this was actually quite a good joke but, like a badly-timed but scarcely malicious tackle as seen by Mike Dean, was deemed by the authorities to be worthy of a red card.

But, lo and behold, there was Rodney smuggled back onto the box via ‘Premier League All Stars’, sparring with Wrighty and desperately trying to convince the viewing public that, as well as being a bit of entertainment, the ‘Premier League All Stars Action’ was actually worth taking seriously as a competition. “Tell you wot, Wrighty, people who think the pros don’t care should have been watching this one.”

The one in question was a 3-3 draw between Liverpool and Derby in which the football legends included Ray Houghton and Jason McAteer. While Houghton did a slightly chunkier version of the Razor of yore, Trigger certainly seemed to take the whole thing to heart, getting lippy with the ref and the opposition and seeing out the game with a scowl.

Or maybe it was just simulation.

Much more entertaining is to see celebrities covering themselves in ignominy. The radio dj Colin Murray, seemingly convinced that he was taking part in a massive game, talked it up big time beforehand, kissed the badge (oh dear) — and then proceeded to get his feet all in a knot when he got his one clear sight of goal.

Of course, for the fans who take part — two on each side — getting to play football with genuine heroes probably really is, as the programme bills it, “the chance of a lifetime”, no matter that the tournament sponsor could be Michael Mouse.

Exhibit A: the Pompey supporter who has actually changed his name by deed poll to John Portsmouth FC Westwood and who the other night found himself lining out against Birmingham alongside Paul Walsh. Being somewhat on the large side and covered in tattoos, John was very much the crowd favourite but, sadly, nerves got the better of him when, like Murray, he found himself with the ball at his feet in front of the goal but could only manage a feeble stab at the keeper. “Gutted,” was the poor man’s post-match reaction.

But then, as we know, the game can be hard enough on the fan who never even gets to cross the white line. From the current issue of ‘When Saturday Comes’ we have the testimony of one Howard Borrell, who found himself submerged beneath one of those gigantic stand-sized supporters’ flags when it was unfurled just before kick off in a first leg UEFA Cup tie in Cyprus between Ominia Nicosia and CSKA Sofia.

“The flag moved on and blinking from the sunlight, I realised I’d missed something special,” says Howard. “It seems Brazilian striker Claudinei scored one of the quickest goals in UEFA Cup history when his lob after 16 seconds caught everyone unawares — two sides of the ground were underneath giant flags and missed the wonder strike.”

Well, now, there’s an idea. A flag draped over the screen sounds to me like the ideal way to experience the Premier League All Stars. (And with Marshy and Wrighty on board, you might want to turn the sound down as well, just to be sure).

And, by the way, if any of our own ultras have a giant flag to spare, you know what to do. “Oh look, mummy, there’s a man pretending to be trapped under a big flag. I think you’ll find he’s not pretending, dear.”

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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