And so we’re back. And after an eventful summer of rioting ruffians, dying divas and hack happy hacks it all boils down to one thing. Gary Neville has a big new pencil.
Having spent the best part of my summer attempting to write a sitcom pilot about a deviously immoral tabloid editor, but finding a dead eyed flame haired devil woman who beats up Grant Mitchell too hard to top, I’d resigned myself to superimposing Simpsons’ characters onto the heads of former News of The World Editors and making funny videos of David Starkey rapping.
The football transfer window had failed to interest me this year, perhaps partly due to my earnest focus on other pursuits or perhaps simply because of my endlessly dwindling respect for journalism, but as far as I could make out Wesley Sneijder signed for Manchester United 13 times, and once for Manchester City, but decided to stay in Milan 14 times, rendering the match a draw. Transfer muppetry has never interested me. It’s why I prefer PES to Football Manager.
Just as the summer looked like it had nothing more to offer, that joyous moment in the year arrived, when those long, painful weeks of pretending to be interested in Tennis and the news are brought to an end by the resumption of spoiled millionaires kicking an imitation pig bladder around grass for an hour and a half on Saturdays.
Except, not really, as the quaint and iconic notion of an exciting football Saturday has long been a relic of the past, and when it isn’t, it’s almost certainly not worth it unless you can wrench yourself out of bed before noon. And lets be honest, who can really be bothered to do that? (Ok, some of you. But I’ll bet you aren’t the cool ones.)
No, football is, and has increasingly been for sometime, a Sunday game. A Super Sunday game in fact. Or a Monday night game. Or a Tuesday and Wednesday game when the high-end, haute couture business of the Champions League rolls round. Or a Thursday game if your team is in the Europa Super Dooper Disco League. Or a Friday game if you’re glamour team in the Championship. In fact, if you’re not a loyal match going fan of a mid-to-lower-table club it’s pretty safe to say that watching football from an armchair of a week is pretty much an “every day but Saturday” pursuit (unless ESPN have a decent game on at tea time, but then they also have Kevin Keegan.) So as the richest and most watched league in the world geared up for lift off, it didn’t do so with it’s usual whoosh bang hullabaloo, and the Saturday passed without much fuss, the main talking points being the amount of diving and Joey Barton’s bizarre choice of hair.
The beardless wonder had already made an appearance as an uncomfortable spread legged pundit on Sunday, literally next to Jamie Redknapp, but on the Monday he was unleashed as the heir to Andy Gray, the D’Artagnan to Gray’s Porthos, set free to swashbuckle his way around the giant spaceship control room Sky broadcast from on MNF, his sword replaced, naturally, by the aforementioned giant pencil.
He started off with a hint of awkwardness, fiddling nervously with his big pencil (not a euphemism, though I’m sure it would’ve been had Richard Keys still been anchoring <insert joke about Richard Keys having lead in his pencil>) as Andy Gray no doubt bellowed at his television screen in frustration, his fingers twitching around a Ryman’s HP in empty, desperate longing, in the way an ex-smoker grasps a substitute in those early, will power testing days. But he soon picked up his stride and allayed any fears of partisanship by openly admiring the strengths of the Manchester City attack. He did this by moving some e-checkers around an e-Subbuteo pitch (with his e-pencil) and talked confidently and professionally of Swansea’s open attacking style despite his co-presenters erstwhile attempts to throw him off by comparing The Swans with Barcelona without cracking a smile.
By half time the Nevster was in full flight, abandoning the safety of his big pencil to massage a giant touch screen wall television that resembled some kind of microwave oven come iPad thing, and fiddled with a pointless looking rotating key with just the right amount of believability to convince us he was actually doing it, and not some bod-techs behind the scenes.
Full time brought his sternest test however, as he was charged with the task of interviewing Roberto Mancini and, still stranded literally meters from his desk and the comfort blanket of his big silly pencil, he was momentarily left all at sea as the words “Roberto, it’s Gary Neville” produced a baffled, unimpressed silence from the Italian. A hugely awkward pause and an embarrassing nervous laugh later and he regained his feet to ask some banal but serviceable questions about link up play before it was back to the desk to sign off, and fiddle some more with his inherited but now fully deserved giant pencil.
All in all it was a solid debut. No nonsense and straight to the point, and despite some dodgy periods here and there, he held it together to see out the win. Much like in his playing days. And after mulling over the potential of Gary Neville’s Big Pencil as both a pub team & prospective third album name, (and a mildly fruitful, but ultimately rather pathetic attempt to get #GaryNevillesBigPencil trending on Twitter) I relaxed in grateful reassurance that the football season was finally back, and in safe hands. And so was the giant pencil.
You can follow Oscar on Twitter here, Twitter/oscarpyejeary where you can ask him what his other album names are, or simply berate him for wasting your time.