Anorak News | Focus Group

Focus Group

by | 7th, November 2005

‘SAT on the sofa between John “Motty” Motson and “Mark “Lawro” Lawrenson, Tony “Tony” Blair was talking football on Football Focus, the BBC’s pre-match Saturday afternoon sports show.

Tony relives the moment when Jackie passed for that touchdown

“Let’s get the serious stuff out of the way first,” said Manish, the show’s anchor. “Michael Owen. Good signing, bad signing?” “Great signing,” said Tony, whose Newcastle United have only recently signed the England striker.

Manish sensed nerves. “You looked worried just there, didn’t you,” he said. “Yeah,” said Tony. “I was worried what you were going to ask me.”

Why worry? This is the BBC, and after Andrew Gilligan’s jinking run had fallen flat, the Corporation isn’t going to take on Tony again in a hurry. They are on his side, keen to support the front man and never leave him isolated in attack.

MUTV, Manchester United’s in-house propaganda channel, is not the only football broadcaster playing it safe. (MUTV had pulled club captain Roy Keane’s views on its Play the Pundit show for being too contentious and, in turn, too interesting for public viewing.)

Make the questions too tricky and viewers at home could find themselves suddenly watching a short film about football in the community.

The technical staff did stop short of splicing in footage of Tony playing headers with Kevin Keegan to make it look like the PM was scoring with his every touch before a packed house at a new Wembley Stadium. But things were, nonetheless, going Tony’s way.

And nicely warmed up, Manish was keen to set Tony up for another shot at an open goal. Legend had it that Tony once claimed he’d spent his early years watching Jackie Milburn from a seat behind the goal at Newcastle. If true, Tony would have been about four years old at the time and the only one sitting down on the all-standing terraces.

The BBC saw its chance. A BBC radio interview with Tony was duly unearthed, and we all listened in. Tony had said something about Milburn. He had mentioned being young when first seeing Newcastle. And..? And nothing. Tony had been misquoted. The captain’s footballing credibility was restored. Lord Hutton could put his tracksuit back on and resume his place on the bench.

But Motty didn’t climb the greasy pole to football’s top gantry without being forthright. He pulled up his white socks, and fearlessly wanted to know how Tony wound down after a kick about in the Commons. “It’s like everything else,” said Tony. “If you can’t stand the heat don’t come into the kitchen.”

Tony was talking sense. If the week had left him feeling sick as a parrot with bird flu, he’d pulled himself up by his bootstraps and come out fighting. He was on top of his game.

But football is as much about talking with your feet as your mouth. And with no ball to kick, Tony was forced to do his shooting from the lip. He wanted to speak up for some of those players who don’t get the plaudits they deserve. In their own way, they are “incredibly good”, said Tony, playing to the crowd.

Steed Malbranque was good. Tony said Fulham’s French attacker was just so strong. And Arjan De Zeeuw was good. Tony liked him because he was really strong – “he never gives up at all”. And Teddy Sheringham, the 39-year-old West Ham striker, was also good. He was a “natural”. Tony liked how Teddy ran off the ball and never took his eye off it.

Talk about picking a team in your own dreamy image. Overweight middle–aged men who live with their mums talk about the beautiful game – Tony talks about being good, strong and never quitting.

The life of football fan is indeed a vicarious one. You live your dreams through your heroes.

And, unlike the BBC’s spine of Motty, Lawro and Manish, Tony was tough and slippery in the tackle. Tony was also a great admirer of Alan Shearer – a “talisman” for his side.

And if Tony could chose one current Premiership manager for his Cabinet? Alex Ferguson, said Tony. “Because he’s so tough.” Even if, like Tony, it looks as if he’s about to be substituted…’

Posted: 7th, November 2005 | In: Celebrities Comment | TrackBack | Permalink