The Anatomy of a Protracted Transfer Saga

   Despite some weary protestations, the media absolutely adore a protracted transfer saga. The newspapers chart a player's on-off move, Twitter provides up-to-the-minute updates, and the increasingly bloodthirsty Sky Sports News plonk a poor reporter in front of either clubs' training ground at 11pm, hoping for a scoop. The advent of the January transfer window should mean that a protracted transfer saga (henceforth referred to as a PTS) can now only really take place in the summer months. Several clubs and players are then unwittingly forced to do battle for the dubious and unofficial honour of PTS of the Summer. Of course, the Bosman ruling has ensured a theoretical exception - moves can now have a lengthy prologue that involves the thrashing out of personal terms between player and prospective new employers, without the need for a pesky transfer fee. Now, while these negotiations can go on a bit, a PTS without drawn-out haggling over the transfer fee is simply not a PTS at all.
Gareth Bale, star of the Protracted Transfer Saga of the Year, sits proudly in the centre of this Venn diagram of the transfer window.

   Years of study into the annual phenomenon of the PTS can now be concluded definitively, in The Ten Chapters of a Protracted Transfer Saga:

Chapter I - The Honeytrap

   A player reportedly begins to attract interest from several clubs and it emerges that there's no shortage of suitors. If the target is considered good enough in these early stages, this elite group of clubs will automatically include Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United, all of whom will supposedly be mulling over a bid. This, I'm sure you will agree, is a very cunning way for the as-yet relatively uninformed media to hedge their bets for the outcome of an embryonic PTS.

Chapter II - The Montage Magnifier

   Once a player's marketability has been established, the football industry has an unspoken and unwritten agreement with its broadcasters. The terms of this deal mean that, when appropriate, the player in question will be the subject of a post-highlights video montage on Match of the Day. Alan Hansen, or whoever his co-pundit may be that night, will analyse fairly unspectacular footage of the player's performance, concluding with the claim that the player has "a bright future". If the player is a defender, for example, several clips of him making routine interceptions will be interpreted as early signs of a superstar in the making.

   A similar pact exists with Sky Sports. In this case, the player will receive the full attention of the ever-eager Jamie Redknapp (who has emerged as a useful marketing tool in these early stages of the PTS) during the course of the pre-match warm-up. Complete with helpful stats at the bottom of the screen, it is a spectacle that PTS experts describe as akin to watching kitchenware being hawked on QVC.

Chapter III - The "Hands-Off" Warning

   Never be fooled by its dismissive nature - the "hands-off" warning signals a gear-change for the PTS which, in hindsight, proves to be the beginning of the (albeit distant) end. A stalwart of the football vernacular, the "hands-off" warning is invariably issued by the player's manager. Unequivocal in his defiance, the naive boss tells the media:
"We've had no bids for [Player X] and, to be honest, we wouldn't welcome any. We're not in a position where we need to sell players and it would take silly money for him to leave this football club."
The manager is careful not to specify an exact hypothetical figure for this "silly money", because to do so would constitute slapping a price tag on the player, hastening his departure considerably.

   Unfortunately, the "hands-off" warning is inevitably subject to Isaac Newton's Third Law of Motion: for every action there is an equal - but opposite - reaction, which in this case can be found lurking in Chapter VI.

Chapter IV - The Loyalty Pledge

Having obtained the manager's inadvertent assurance that the player will be leaving, the media then hunt down a statement from the player themselves. Influenced no doubt by their agent and, more heavily, by thousands of similar player statements in the past, the in-demand ace will, very probably, utter the following:
"I'm happy to stay at the club. I'm flattered by the interest, but it's all speculation. I'm a [Club X] player until told otherwise."
A sigh of relief for the fans, then, but this statement still leaves open all possibilities. Again, a PTS veteran should interpret this as a warning sign for the acceleration of the eventual deal - all pledges of loyalty are at risk of dramatic U-turns.

Chapter V - The Bid

   Finally, contact is made and a bid lodged. At this stage, it is not uncommon for the bidding club to remain officially anonymous, but not essential. One near-guarantee is the reaction of the manager (and often the chairman) of the player's club - the bid will almost always be dismissed as "derisory". One of those words that you strongly sense those involved in football only know because of its use by those involved in football, "derisory" is the put-down of choice when it comes to opening bids. It also serves as a minor ego-boost for the smaller clubs, as a rare opportunity to look down their noses at the big boys.

Chapter VI - The "Come-And-Get-Me" Plea

   As outlined in Chapter III, the "hands-off" warning has an evil twin. It arrives in the form of the "come-and-get-me" plea. An even more awkardly-named cliché, the "come-and-get-me" plea is the clear declaration from the player that, after the derisory opening bid, he now wants to leave the club, despite his earlier pledge of loyalty. Perhaps rather a tabloid device, it's often a precursor for slapping in a written transfer request - verbal, emailed, texted, tweeted or carrier-pigeoned transfer requests are, regrettably, few and far between. While the bid rejection succeeds in at least stalling the inevitable, the club's reaction to their player's request to leave matters not a jot. For the record, though, the written transfer request is turned down.

   In extreme cases, the selling club (for that is what they will surely be) banishes the player to train with the reserves or the youth team, an fate universally known as being "frozen out". After this spectacular act of face-spite-induced nose removal, the club then prepares itself for the player's departure. Such a decision may indicate that the chairman/manager is a learned student of the PTS, and recognises that resistance is futile. 

   As a side note, it must be added that this is a precarious, pivotal stage for the player. If they get injured and the deal collapses, the already frozen-out player will find themselves in the terrifying-sounding transfer limbo. The only viable way of escaping transfer limbo is to humbly withdraw the written transfer request request and knuckle down once more. 

Chapter VII - The Negotiation

   Now the two clubs are finally in dialogue over a possible deal (this may involve one or two further bids, which would be immune from the label derisory), the PTS would appear to be in full swing. 

Charting the progress of transfer talks
The two clubs must progress from low-level talks to advanced talks, at which point they become locked in talks. It may then emerge that both parties are miles apart over the size of the fee, which constitutes a delay formally known as an impasseAs with any true saga, a potential twist is always on the horizon. It is at the impasse stage that the media begin to meddle. Reports of bid hijacks are rife, as other clubs are drawn in to the melee. Whether such interventions materialise is an unpredictable matter, but Sky Sports News remain on red alert anyway.

Chapter VIII - Personal Terms

    With the fee agreed, the player is then liberated to discuss personal terms. Sky Sports News' persistence pays off, and a video of the player leaving the training ground in his car is looped endlessly. Despite this modern era of the greedy footballer, personal terms are still widely regarded as a formality, unless they prove to be a stumbling block. The same also usually applies to the medical that the player must undergo. At this stage, the deal can be sealed - pending any unexpected, miscellaneous snag.

Chapter IX - The Parade

   At a press conference, the player is at last unveiled (although unveiling is more often associated with new managers) and subsequently paraded. The absence of any veils or marching bands does little to take away from these events, and the new signing's ability to juggle a ball or hold up a replica shirt the right way round are given a severe test.

   It is usually the first opportunity for the player to break his silence about the transfer, and the tried-and-tested statement is always worth the wait:

"I'm delighted to be here. As soon as I heard of [Club X's] interest, there was only one place I wanted to go. This is a massive club."

More brazen new signings go one step further and shamelessly try to profess boyhood support for their new club. Other variations include a player who has signed for a Championship club (particularly if he has left the top-flight to do so) describing his new employers as having "everything geared towards Premier League football". This is a curious statement which seems to ignore the fact that the reason that the club looks like it is geared towards Premier League football is because it once was in the Premier League, but got relegated in pitiful fashion, crippled by debt and lumbered with a half-empty, albeit pristine, Lego stadium.

Chapter X - "It Was Always In the Script, Wasn't It?"

   The PTS reaches its conclusion (for strikers at least) with the player's return for a match against his previous club. Depending on how acrimonious his departure was, the player will be sought out pre-match to comment on the reception he may face on the day. In the history of the PTS, however, no player has ever expressed slight concern at the reception he may face on the day.

Anyway, egged on by script-wielding commentators, the player inevitably will get on the scoresheet on his return to his old stomping ground. This is, of course, followed by the melodramatic, look-at-me-aren't-I-honourable übercliché that is the muted celebration, a nice touch designed to impress the sort of emotional knife-edge fans that bring A4-size banners to football matches.

   Finally, the whole dreadful story draws to a close but at what point during its evolution does a PTS become recognised as such? A protracted transfer arguably emerges at Chapter V, when the stand-off over a rejected bid threatens to hold up the process. It's not enough to warrant being called a "saga", however;  that requires Chapter VI - the point at which everyone genuinely starts to get a bit fed up.

Epic stuff indeed, but don't get too comfortable - the managerial sack race now begins in earnest.


"Before you say anything, could you turn your radio down for us?"

In the infancy of Radio 5, someone had an idea. They were sick of the proliferation of the "what do you think of Barnsley's chances this year” and decided to create a show that mined the rich seam of stories that come from the Sunday League and lower division football. We had stories of insane goalkeepers smashing goal kicks against the underside of their own crossbar, yellow cards for retrieving a ball by running across a cricket square and a man ejected from a Leyton Orient game because his Borussia Dortmund short clashed with the linesman's flag.

However, someone had forgot to pay homage to the Gods of Sports Broadcasting - not enough banalities, clichés and lazy observations. The presenter was smote and replaced by someone who would worship at his feet. Either that or it was Danny Baker pleading with the public to hound referee Mike Reed in the street for awarding a penalty for Erland Johnsen's dive against Leicester in the Cup. What a thing to be sacked for!

We now have 6-0-6 and it's chavvier, more stupid cousin 5-0-5 on TalkDrivel. It gives us, the hoi polloi, our platform to be pundits for a few minutes. With the Great British public, with all its diversity, we anticipated a rich tapestry of styles of caller. We were disappointed. We now examine the basic rules & character traits of those of calling Alan Green, Ray Stubbs or, god forbid, Spoony…

The Pre-Amble

If you want to make the most of your air time you need to follow some basic rules. NEVER declare that you wish to “make two or three points” as you will only get time for one of your inane comments. If you do wish to talk about more than one thing then it is essential to do the following;

DON'T say hello to the presenter or ask about his health
DO immediately say "Before I go on to my main point…." This makes it clear that you're a someone with something to say!
DO fill the gap between Pre-Amble and Main Point with "…but that's not the main reason I phoned" to prevent being cut off.
DON'T be too critical of another team, even if they are your greatest rivals. I did this once and was chastised by Lawrie McMenemy!

The Regular Caller

How these people get through week after week is beyond me. Undeterred by minutes and minutes of hearing the engaged tone, they WILL be heard by the nation. You hear a name and a location and the heart sinks, as you realise a deranged five-minute tirade will follow. Normally on a one-man crusade to see the back of a manager, player or group of players - these men (it's always men) will stop at nothing until the board see sense and follow his advice and live in the false hope that the manager is actually listening to his "main point". These people are invariably totally unrepresentative of the opinion of the broad fan base. Martin from Chigwell, the Spurs fan especially.

The Unfortunate

This bloke has been waiting patiently on the phone for about an hour. His time has come. He is about to solve all his club's problems in his allotted three minutes, he hears his calling "and now we have Clive on the M6.." - and all the nation hears is "…ls…" Disaster has struck for Clive on the M6 - his phone as let him down when he needed it most. The presenter humours him by promising to call him back. He's lying. Clive has blown it.

The Mini-Bus Full of Non-League Supporters

It's been their big day out in the 2nd round of the Cup. They've managed a 0-0 away at Coventry. They are drunk. The least drunk one tries to be sensible. He is drowned out by cheering and shouting.

Depressed & Resigned To Relegation

These are my favourite types of call, enough to enliven even the dullest of journeys. They normally surface mid-to-late March when supporters of teams who have been in the relegation zone all season, after one 3-0 defeat too many have finally thrown in the towel. The players are still vowing to fight on, the manager refuses to give up until it's mathematically possible, but the fans have realised it's all over. They are going down. The unexpected draws away from home, the 2-1 home defeat of the league leaders are now distant memories and all that is left is defeat after defeat as their team just makes up the numbers. There will be no rage against the dying of the light - just them slipping silently away.

I laugh at their misery!

That covers the 95% of your post match entertainment on a Saturday. We also have honourable mentions for Token But Sadly Clueless Woman, The Qualified Referee and the hated Only Supporter Who Believes Their Captain Deserved To Be Sent Off.

I salute you all.


"Shall We Sing A Song For You?"

Nowhere in football is the meeting of modern, nouveau football and traditional values more apparent than in the stands and terraces around the country on a Saturday afternoon, as rival fans goad each other in a battle of basic (and rather limited) wit.

The pre-match and half-time entertainment now involves sights such as a myriad of dancing, pre-pubescent, cheerleading girls (and occasionally boys), the parading of past ‘legends’ (such as Espen Baardsen, who walked out in front of the Spurs fans recently as they struggled to remember who he was. When asked “what was it like playing with Jurgen Klinsmann?”, he replied: “I can’t remember, I didn’t play much and when I did it was in goal”). Overly-jubilant competition winners get introduced to a crowd who are far more interested in reading their programme or queuing for a pie or a piss than half-heartedly clapping the fat idiot who was sad enough to enter the sponsor’s quiz in last week’s programme.

Most fans appreciate that, other than the match itself, the only other way that they will get real entertainment is in ripping the piss out of the other team’s relative ambitions, geographical positioning and employing some stereotypical regionalisation. There is a general acceptance that some grounds are more hostileor livelythan others and it generally appears that the smaller the ground, the closer to the pitch the fans are and the more regional their accents – the more difficult to go tothe stadium is for the opposition.
The generic pattern for opposing fans trading insults and following an almost scripted procedure of chant and counter-chant is an odd mix of modern influences and deep-rooted, almost sentimental, ritual. Here are some classic and, indeed, more modern examples of non-team-specific chants traded by supporters across the country:

“You’re Not Singing Anymore”
Belted out, often with real vitriol, following either an equaliser or when taking the lead in order to mock the opposition’s misery or shock at the turn around in fortunes. Can be fuelled either by relief, sheer joy or with revenge, depending on the situation in the match up until that point. Hardly a witty verse and occasionally sung out of habit rather than as an actual put-down.

“Who The Fucking Hell Are You?”
A tricky one. There needs to be a general acceptance that this chant is appropriate for the opposition before it is used, yet most fans will always agree on its suitability. Clearly reserved for more obscure or even unfashionable clubs, it is a perfect example of a traditional swearing chant still in use today - even though it always elicits the same strong response of the opposition’s textbook team-name chant (e.g. “United!”) . It is, therefore, a clear indication of an underlying mutual respect for the chant and counter-chant culture.

“Shall We Sing A Song For You?”
One of a small collection of chants that also includes “Your Support Is Fucking Shit”, whose clear intention is to suggest to the rival fans that they are pathetic and half-hearted supporters of their team. One of the biggest insults you can deliver to a man who is paying more money than he can probably afford (and that his wife is aware of) to follow his team week-in-week-out. Again – this goading will predictably galvanise the said fans into a vociferous reply.

“Are You [insert winning team’s rival] In Disguise?”
A chant with a strange self-satisfaction. Although being directed at a typically poor-performing opposition’s fans, it acts as a double-edged sword as it manages to mock both the opposition and the chanters’ rivals in the same breath. The efficiency of this chant often leads to detectable smugness in the tone of the chant itself and is one of a group of the mildly more witty attempts that can be tinged with laughter from fans who only go once or twice a season and find such ‘clever’ goading as laugh-out-loud funny.

“We Can See You Sneaking Out”
Delivered as the final nail in the coffin/dagger through the heart for fans who have often travelled long distances on usually cold weeknights to see their team get battered. It can be fun to watch the hunched over and hurriedly scurrying fans disappear down the stairs, knowing that they can hear you rubber-stamping their misery.

“You’re Just A Small Town In [Insert rival team name]
This ridiculous chant does the geographical knowledge of your average football fan no favours. Particularly, it appears that every fan travelling to London for matches believes that every stop on the Underground is a different county or even principality. Examples include “You’re Just A Small Town In Arsenal/Chelsea/Fulham”. The more intelligent and wicked fan may be confused into believing that this is faked ignorance in order to frustrate you even more. It’s not. It’s stupidity.

“In-ger-lund, In-ger-lund, In-ger-lund”
Another embarrassing and nonsensical chant that is utilised for matches with Wrexham, Cardiff or Swansea or for teams that have a entirely foreign XI, as opposed to your team of 1, maybe 2, “British” players.

[Insert competition]? You’re Having A Laugh”
One of an unfortunate and increasingly popular selection of modern chants that attempts to ridicule the ambitions of the opposition club and yet appears to be most often delivered by fans of clubs so mid-table and unimportant that the equivalent reply would be to involve every possible tournament available. Utilised for nearly every conceivable award or trophy that a club could aspire to, I have always wondered whether the chant of “LDV Vans Trophy? You’re having a laugh” has ever been attempted.

“Eas-eh, Eas-eh, Eas-eh”
Not just one of the most abhorrent chants in football, but the most unimaginative occurrences in football. The chant is derived from the undoubtedly entertaining Soccer AM and the initially amusing sketch featuring two wrestlers. The victory chant has, unfortunately, been adopted by all football fans who are too young to be suffering from severe hangovers on Saturday mornings (i.e. under 12’s) and the most witless of adult fans who can barely keep their arms out-stretched and clapping as they chant this moronic mantra, due to their sheer joy at the opportunity to do it and the gut-wrenching guffawing they are stifling behind their shouts. However, although the real fans (and, one would now hope, the likes of Tim Lovejoy) will often look on with a feeling of embarrassment – they can feel a strange appreciation of what is being attempted in this most blatant of mocking acts, however wrong and sad it looks.

It is essential that the modern fan retains this love affair with the classic chant and continues to apply surprisingly well judged wit to new and opportunist verse, to ensure that the fans have something to concentrate on and enjoy. This is especially true when the match you’ve paid an exorbitant amount of money to watch is utter shite, it turns out none of the cheerleaders would be ‘worth one’ and the fat twat has somehow managed to dribble a ball round 4 deckchairs and tap the ball past a hapless mascot in twice the time you’d manage it and win an all-expenses paid trip to the Seychelles.



News In Brief...

The anorak's choice for football coverage, a pixellated wonderland of space-saving football clichés and, best of all, the most nerve-wracking place to follow your team over 90 minutes.

Yes, it's Ceefax.

Born on September 23rd 1974, Ceefax still holds its own. More reliable and accessible (if a tad slower) than the internet, it remains for many the easiest way of checking the scores at a glance. But if you're simply using Ceefax as a convenient score service, you are rather spectacularly missing out.

After years of consulting Ceefax as a matter of course, my fingers now effortlessly and instinctively punch out 3....0....2. As iconic a figure to me as my birthdate, my PIN code or my phone number, page 302 of Ceefax has come to mean many things. A trustworthy footballing companion, whose reporting and facts I can trust implicitly; a safe-haven of interest on a Sunday afternoon when the only other option is the Antiques Roadshow ("I think, at auction, this item, if it was in perfect condition, would be looking at around......"); and, as a more guilty pleasure perhaps, a treasure trove of lower-league miscellany (more of which later).

My lengthy experience of Ceefax has ensured I am fully versed in its unique and skilled use of language. Limited in the amount of space they can fill, the headlines and articles are forced to employ a simple code of efficient words and phrases; a detailed and alphabetised (if not all-encompassing) list is as follows:

Ace – A Ceefax writer’s dream (a three letter word), ace should signify a highly-regarded player. In fact, it is a label attributed to any Tom, Dick or Jose in the news.

Example: Blues Close In On Deportivo Ace

Axe – A very popular way of describing the sacking of a manager. Is also used, less frequently, to report the dropping of a high-profile player from a squad.

Example: Macclesfield Axe Ince

Bid – Normally associated with proposed transfer deals, bid actually often appears as a synonym for a team’s efforts to achieve a season-long goal.

Example: Henry Strikes To Boost Gunners Title Bid

Blast – A vitriolic burst of criticism, with various possible sources or targets.

Example: Warnock Blasts Referee Rennie

Blow – A disappointing event, invariably associated with injuries.

Example: Spurs Suffer Mido Injury Blow

Boost – The polar opposite of a blow.

Example: Mido Injury Boost For Spurs

Dent – A type of blow, but one that only affects a bid.

Example: United Title Bid Dented By Stalemate

Joy – Exploiting its three-letter status to the full, joy is the weapon of choice to describe a manager’s/player’s happiness.

Example: Coppell Joy At Reading Comeback

Raid – Used specifically to describe the act of signing a player from a club who are neither rich nor high-profile enough to prevent his departure.

Example: Newcastle In Reo-Coker Raid

Rap – A cult favourite, this diminutive word is far catchier than “disciplinary proceedings”.

Example: Allardyce Faces FA Rap Over Bung Allegations

Set for – With dramatic effect, this cliffhanger of a word pre-empts a confirmed transfer.

Example: Hargreaves Set For United Move

Sorry – Quite simply, a shorter version of the word “pathetic”.

Example: Barcelona Crush Sorry Liverpool

Switch – A swiftly-completed move, usually not hampered by technicalities or haggling.

Example: Lauren Completes Pompey Switch

Swoop – Similar to a raid, if rather less exciting, it again refers to a bigger club signing a player from a smaller club.

Example: Arsenal Linked With Harewood Swoop

However, it is not just the above that secures Ceefax its anorak status. Hidden away towards the bottom of page 302 is the ultimate in football geek ammunition. Modestly titled “News In Brief”, this multi-page section was found for many years on page 312. Serving as a sort of Sir-Trevor-McDonald–and-finally-style offering after the viewer had digested the meatier news stories above it, it has subsequently moved to the less glamorous page 323.

Thankfully, its output, a swift journey through the transfer dealings and hard luck stories of the lower leagues and abroad, remains as fascinating as ever. Only thanks to page 312/323 will I rest assured at night knowing that Blackpool winger Rory Prendergast has completed his switch to League Two strugglers Rochdale, that Burton Albion midfielder Lee Fowler is set to leave after being placed on the transfer list at the Pirelli Stadium, or that West Ham striker Hogan Ephraim has extended his loan spell at Colchester United until the end of the season.

Horrifyingly, a BBC Ceefax overlord has also seen fit to create a “gossip” page, which cherry-picks the raciest football rumours from the tabloids. It is not for the purists however, and this 302 devotee has thus far steered clear of its heresy.

I welcome the internet, the suave male and attractive female presenter partnerships on Sky Sports News, and even the modest sports round-ups on the radio, but Ceefax was, is, and always will be the place where I will find out if Barnet’s appeal against the two red cards shown to Dean Sinclair and Ian Hendon has been successful.

The following images encapsulate the delights of Ceefax. From the main page (Kettering, what are you doing?) to the delights of the underworld of page 323 (nee 312) - the only place on the planet where you'll see "Ronaldinho" and "Walton & Hersham" share the same page. Brilliant.

Ceefax, I salute you.



The Managerial Merry-Go-Round

"Good evening everybody..."
David Pleat

One of the most exciting spectacles of modern football is undoubtedly the Managerial Merry-Go-Round (the MMGR). A constantly rotating showcase of the game's most talented and enduring bosses, the MMGR serves the game (and, indeed, the media) with a reliable gauge of the available and unemployed, who proclaim themselves as "itching to get back into the game".
As it stands, the current set of hopefuls riding the MMGR are as follows*:

  • David O'Leary: Destined for frequent visits to the MMGR, thanks to a near-apocalyptic end to his Leeds reign and an underwhelming stint at the talent black hole that is Villa Park, O'Leary has wrested control of the biggest and most spectacular seat on the MMGR.
  • Peter Reid: Although perhaps becoming rather bored of the MMGR, Reid remains a prominent figure. There are signs that he is pursuing alternative thrills, including getting paid for watching football on television (on television) - a role which he manages to fulfil with a cringeworthy amount of self-deprecation that only former midfield hardmen are seemingly allowed to display as pundits.
  • Les Reed: Graduating from the perhaps rather less thrilling Technical Director Merry-Go-Round (Howard Wilkinson now enjoys exclusive use, by the way), Reed cut a, quite frankly, pathetic figure at Charlton Athletic in his 41 days in charge (The over-precise unit of days is reserved for short managerial stints and measuring the age of extremely young debutant players). Although his record in that time was unequivocally appalling, Reed claims a place on the MMGR purely on the basis of having “managed” in the Premiership. He will, in the future, have to make do with a position in the Championship. Where he will, in all probability, fail again.
  • George Graham: The MMGR’s equivalent of the drunk bloke in the corner of the pub, Graham (if it can be proven that he is, in fact, job-hunting) surely deserves to have the MMGR named after him. Having enjoyed its thrills, on-and-off, since around 1995, Graham has been bogged down by his reputation for bung-taking and defensively-watertight tactics. He has taken Reid’s media side-project to another level, securing a permanent position on Premiership Plus pay-per-view broadcasts. Every Sunday afternoon, he and Marcus Buckland half-heartedly cover a mediocre-looking clash of the midtable middleweights while simultaneously looking like a couple on their first date in Wetherspoons who haven’t been able to find some seats. An MMGR legend, who, if not riding it, is certainly the bloke in the Perspex box operating it
  • Glenn Roeder: A rare sight, being actually employed, but a seat is reserved nonetheless for the Chinless Wonder. Short-terms signs that he is turning around the unturnaroundable Newcastle United are a fallacy, and Roeder will be returning to the MMGR before too long. A contender to step into George Graham’s well-worn shoes, perhaps
  • Micky Adams: Operating one level below the top flight (sorry, that means The Championship) Adams has enjoyed reassuringly unproductive spells at Brighton, Leicester and, until very recently, Coventry. Still a novice, Adams made the schoolboy error of going out fighting at the Ricoh Arena. A true MMGR regular accepts his inevitable fate (and the handsome pay-off) and retakes his seat on the ride
  • Claudio Ranieri: Proving that the MMGR is not merely a British domestic affair, Ranieri enjoys the most linkage of any of its riders. Linked with a position almost on a weekly basis, Ranieri’s eventual command of the English language means he is a viable candidate for positions across Europe. But doesn’t he look happy?
  • Walter Smith: Another exceptional case. Unless he finally retires, Smith will yo-yo between the Rangers and Scotland roles for eternity, while of course being strongly linked with whichever of the two jobs he isn’t in.
  • Tony Pulis: Drafted in only when the MMGR is at its most fallow, Pulis is, for all intents and purposes, a poor man’s Micky Adams. Doing OK at Stoke City though, thank you very much.
  • Joe Royle: No longer participating, but perhaps looking on misty-eyed from afar, Royle’s MMGR days are over, and he must now make do with flirting with John Helm on Five’s hilarious and brilliant coverage of no-mark away-leg European ties.
  • Kevin Keegan: Missing in (in)action.
  • Kenny Dalglish: Happy and content with having pioneered the act of “moving upstairs”, Dalglish now lets his super-successful offspring carry on the family name.
  • Jean Tigana: Single-handedly supporting the toothpick industry seems to take up most of his time. Only an occasional holiday-visit rider of the MMGR.
  • Dr Jozef Venglos: A curious figure, who retains interest in a position on the MMGR because he is intelligent enough to realise that, one day, a desperate chairman will be drawn in by his PhD, which I believe he bought through mail-order in the 1970s.


*This is not an exhaustive list, but the main protagonists have been accounted for. The MMGR is a dynamic environment, and the list is subject to change, ie. trigger-happy club “supremos”.


Cup Exits

If you've read the back pages of the papers this morning, you will be aware
of the hilarious match at St. James' Park last night, when "The Best
Supporters In The World" decided to stay in and watch Big Brother instead - not a bad decision as it turned out.

You will know that Newcastle scored a goal and that Birmingham got five, Taylor was sent off and that Glenn Roeder was sorry. But how did the Geordies go out? Yes, I know their back four seem to have had a row and decided not to speak to each other and I know that Shay Given must have left his cape at White Hart Lane on Sunday, leaving him unable to do his normal Superhero impression. But those all answer "why" Newcastle are free to concentrate on the league.

The "how" is, in my eyes, a straight choice. Were they dumped out or did they crash out? I think we can certainly agree on one thing - that it was unceremonious. Despite nearly the whole of the pre- and post-match activities being a ceremony of sorts (the warm ups, the toss, shaking hands, swapping shirts), Cup exits, whether dumping or crashing, have been deemed by whatever power decides these things, always, always unceremonious. I don't make the rules mate - it's a fact.

It is my belief that Newcastle crashed out of the cup. Dumpings are for when two supposedly equally-matched sides face each other and one hands the other their arse on a platter. 3-0 is the perfect score for this sort of dumping. The second sort is when a team from a lower league manage, for some reason, to click, the ball bounces their way and they genuinely, for the key moments in the game, manage to outplay the better side and fluke a win. This team will also have their arse felt up at some stage later on in the competition and a part of me is glad when they do. The big side also have to be away from home to be dumped out!

Sides crashing out are much more fun. Who cares that Birmingham scored five, or even cares that they were playing? Not me. The important fact is Newcastle let in five largely avoidable goals. A joke club, a joke team, playing like jokers. Did anyone send a text last night to a mate saying "are you watching this - Birmingham are quite a good team"? Course you didn't. It was all: "Look how shit Newcastle are" and "is there time for ten?"

And that's the real magic of the Cup. We've got Ronnie Radford for our misty-eyed reminiscing of players who, let's face it, aren't very good. That's his job in history. Can you recall who scored the winner for Wrexham vs Arsenal? Not straight away, I bet, unless you're a Wrexham fan. Just as in years to come you won't remember DJ Campbell and Cameron Jerome - you'll just remember Newcastle crashing unceremoniously out of the cup.