By Martin Kelner To sponsor this column, see foot of page
18 April 2016
Does God support a Premier League football team? I’m not a religious man, I only ask because there has been an uncommon amount of talk this week about divine intervention.
I was otherwise engaged during Liverpool’s stunning Europa League comeback against Borussia Dortmund, but got back in the car in time to hear BBC Radio Five Live summariser Mark Lawrenson explaining the turnaround thus: “Maybe there was somebody up there saying ‘Let Liverpool win’.”
I mean, I don’t want to take too prescriptive a view of the pundit’s role, but “It was God wot dun it,” does seem to me to be something of a cop out for a former international defender hired to explain what had just happened to those of us unable to be among those present.
We know, of course, that there’s a deal of religiosity in the air in Liverpool – the city boasts two cathedrals, for goodness sake – but I will need more than the word of the Rev Lawrenson to convince me that there is a deity for whom Liverpool’s progress in Europe’s secondary competition is worthy of His intervention. Especially when one considers the many matters He – the deity, not Lawrenson – decides to let ride.
Lawrenson’s point, enthusiastically taken up by many of the Liverpool fans who ‘phoned the radio station, was that the match was played on the eve of a commemoration at Anfield honouring the memories of the 96 fans who died in the Hillsborough disaster, and therefore the “miraculous” victory was somehow apt.
In fact, The Times headline the morning after, “The miracle of Anfield,” bought into the scenario, quoting Trevor Hicks, who lost two daughters at Hillsborough, saying the victory had given the bereaved “an uplift.”
“I think there was some divine intervention,” he said.
The fact that Mr Hicks retains faith in the face of his terrible loss does, I suppose, provide a counter to the argument of we sceptics who tend to think of reversals of fortune in football matches as determined by the width of a post, a referee’s decision, or canny substitutions by a manager, rather than extramundane factors.
And anyway, if there is a Supreme Being – and Screen Break is currently unable to make any firm pronouncement on the matter – could he be a Leicester fan?
In the opening moments of the match against West Ham yesterday, a header by the Hammers’ Kouyate hit both posts, and the goalkeeper’s hand, and still failed to go in, prompting Sky commentator Martin Tyler to say: “There does seem to be some guiding force taking Leicester to where they are.”
Pundit Emile Heskey, meanwhile, in what I like to think of as a nod to the gender fluid age in which we live, saw the football-loving celestial being as female. When Leicester’s Robert Huth escaped punishment for a blatant first-half foul on West Ham’s Winston Reid in his penalty area, Heskey, ex-Leicester, interpreted it as “Lady Luck shining down on us.”
Those of us on the agnostic wing of the Sky Sports audience saw it more as indicative of referee Jon Moss having difficulty coping with an overly combative match.
If there is a guiding force influencing Leicester’s remarkable feats this season, it seems unfair to take any of the credit away from the very earthly presence of Claudio Ranieri. No matter how frantic yesterday’s match became, Ranieri did not succumb to histrionics. But you sense his players know instinctively what he wants.
Over a shot of the manager, still impassive after Vardy’s opening goal, Tyler commented: “He can see it (the title), but he can’t put it in his pocket. That’s the kind of expression he uses with his wonderful command of our language.”
All right, it was the veteran commentator’s folksy epigram rather than the Italian’s, and it was mildly patronising, but you kind of know what Tyler is getting at.
There’s a refreshingly level-headed thread to Ranieri’s management, displayed in an excellent half-hour interview with BT Sport’s Darrell Currie.
Of the Leicester fans, he said: “They can dream, we must work.” And with his, er, “wonderful command of our language,” he managed to quote one of our great poets, sort of. “There is a good poem from Kipling,” said Ranieri, “When he said ‘victory and defeat, it’s the same.’ It’s not so good or bad. You have to stay in the middle.”
Finally, Trevor Sinclair, one of the Match Of The Day pundits, appears to be channelling Finbarr Saunders (and his double entendres), a character from Viz Comic.
After referring to Southampton’s Dusan Tadic’s facility for “getting in those little holes,” Sinclair moved on to footage of some fine hold-up play by the midfielder, commenting, “He’s comfortable there with the ball at his feet, and a man up his backside.” Presenter Gary Lineker showed great restraint, refraining from a Frankie Howerd-style “Ooh matron.”
Screen Break ran in The Guardian for 16 years, and then in the Racing Post. The first two episodes in its current incarnation can be found here, and here. Week three, now better know as ‘The Screen Break that cost Steve McClaren his job’, can be found here. Week four featured the wacky world of Jonny Wilkinson. Week five came witha money-back guarantee on laughs. (It was so funny that nobody at all asked for their money back). Week six was all about managing with an iron bar (and the boat race). Week seven was the Windies winning wonderfully. Week eight was all about Willett’s Masters and a win for England. Also well worth a read is the most amusing ‘My celebrity death match‘. This piece is also a MUST READ. And so is this one.
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