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‘Villa and Newcastle, once bright lights, now Dim and Dimmer’


Martin KelnerBy Martin Kelner         

9 May 2016

The final few shirt-sleeved weeks of the season are tough for the teams at the foot of the Premier League, but there was no call for what Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce did when Matic put Chelsea 2-1 ahead just before half time at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. He spun round, took his wad of chewing gum out of his mouth, and threw it to the ground.

One of his many colleagues on the coaching staff – Sam has always favoured a hefty backroom presence; fitness conditioners, psychologists, food tasters, necromancers, and the like (actually, I’m not sure about the food tasters) – will step on that and later have to remove it from the ridges in the soles of his or her training shoe with a small knife or similar implement, possibly having first unsuspectingly trodden it into the interior carpeting of their car.  My advice is to send the car-valeting bill to Sam to pay out of his Premier League survival bonus. 

Big Sam

Sam: Big

Discarded chewing gum is a menace. In Singapore or somewhere they sentence you to death or something for throwing away chewing gum in the street. In truth, it might not be Singapore, and it might not be death, but on a fine afternoon like this I really can’t be expected to put down the Harlen Coben and the Ambre Solaire to go Googling.   

The way I see it, if we’ve reached that stage of the season where Aston Villa fans can’t even be bothered to stage an angry protest, preferring instead to kick beach balls onto the pitch, and for all the lethargy of the teams, they might as well have played with them, my normally meticulous fact-checking can get itself a Diet Coke and take the rest of the afternoon off. 

To see Villa floundering was no particular surprise. They have helped redefine the word ‘abject’ this season. But you might have expected Newcastle United, reputedly fighting for survival, not to succumb to end-of-season ennui. Commentator Steve Wilson summed it up memorably on the BBC’s Match Of The Day: “These teams are two former bright lights of the top division,” he said. “But today they’re Dim and Dimmer.”

Ian Wright in the pundit’s chair was less poetic: “Newcastle look to me like they’ve resignated (sic) themselves to going down,” he said. In fairness to them, I find it difficult to take football seriously myself once spectators decide it’s time for summer leisure wear, a style we’re about as successful in getting right in Britain as we are in choosing a decent song for the Eurovision Song Contest these days. 

My view is that if climate change or whatever it is demands football be played in warm sunshine, spectators should be refused admission unless they’re wearing traditional British Saturday afternoon clothing, a parka at least or preferably a duffel coat. I mean, how can players be expected to concentrate if they look up and it looks like happy hour in Benidorm? 

Now that Leicester have won the league and we more or less know who’s going down, Sky, of course, had to find some kind of narrative to sell yesterday afternoon’s football. “Could Arsenal pounce, and take second place from Spurs?” was presenter Ed Chamberlin’s stentorian come-on to the Manchester City versus Arsenal match, a question unlikely to evince a huge response outside North London.

The doyen of manager interviewers Geoff Shreeves tried to ramp it up a little more with one of his trademark tortuous questions, to Manuel Pellegrini: “Because of the crucial potential points for a top four finish, what will that add to the game today?”

We have to remember he’s speaking English as a second language (and so is Pellegrini), but the unfailingly polite Chilean gave it his best shot, saying, ‘is very important for the fans’ or something like that. Geoff persisted with a typically unanswerable supplementary: “Do you think all of those things put together are all the motivation your players need?” 

Yes, motivation. A problem for your reviewer too. I must be fully focused for West Ham against Manchester United tomorrow, the last match at West Ham’s Boleyn Ground. Sky Sports helped with a show called Farewell Boleyn in which Hammers’ greats remembered the old ground. 

Geoff Hurst recalled his early days there when his wife watched from the so-called chicken run and threw peanuts at spectators who were abusing her old man, which reminded me, in my current semi-torpor, of an old joke, not germane to any of this.

A mother takes her child to the zoo to see the chimpanzees, and is disappointed by their absence from their cage. “They’re inside mating,” says their keeper. 

“If I threw them some peanuts would they come out?” she asks. 

“I don’t know,” answers the keeper, “Would you?” 

Apologies, but that’s the kind of nonsense that runs through my mind in the heat. I’ve become kind of resignated to it.


(This column is written out of the goodness of my heart, for light entertainment. So far we have failed to find a sponsor. If you wish to remedy that, do get in touch with me at


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. Then we considered God’s team, followed by people going Leicester gaga, including Emily Maitlis, and the anti-Semitism debate. 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.


And you can follow Martin Kelner on Twitter @MartinKelner


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