Category Archives: Media

Kicking Television


Whilst debate continues to rumble on amongst United fans about whether Wayne Rooney should be dropped in light of his ongoing lack of form, tv viewers were recently treated to an “unprecedented”, behind-the-scenes profile of the man courtesy of the Beeb in Rooney: The Man Behind the Goals. As far as titles go, I might have plumped for ‘Wayne’s World’, personally.

The programme was commissioned to mark the fact that Rooney has now reached 50 international goals – a landmark haul that Gary Lineker was careful to remind us of at least a dozen times. The footage shown of a teenage Rooney served as a reminder of what an utterly devastating player he was in his youth, completely at odds with the waning Wayne we see toiling away in 2015.

Disappointingly, despite promising much more, there was very little revealed about “the man behind the goals”. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about this documentary was how little about Wayne Rooney we managed to learn over the course of an hour. Instead we were treated to about 20 minutes footage of Wazza playing with his kids, 10 minutes of him driving round Croxteth, 20 minutes of vox-pop plaudits from his fellow pros and 10 minutes of non-insightful musings from the man himself.

Rather than giving us stunning revelations such as “fatherhood has matured him” and “he’s a great captain”, I couldn’t help feeling the whole thing was a giant missed opportunity. It would have been so much more illuminating if instead, Lineker had gone off-piste and started rummaging round his house ‘Come Dine With Me’-style. Rather than simply teasing us with mentions of Wayne’s love of live music and flair for writing poetry, it would have proved far more entertaining if they’d cracked open a couple of bottles of wine and got the karaoke machine out whilst Lineker went delving into Colleen’s knicker drawer in search of said poems. Maybe next time.

It’s been a been a while since there’s been a reverential documentary detailing the life and times of Sir Alex Ferguson, so hot on the heels of exposing what makes Wayne Rooney tick, BBC1 followed up this up with Sir Alex Ferguson: Secrets of Success. This programme decided to forgo the already done-to-death biography format and instead went with the premise of Fergie’s new-found status as one of the world’s foremost thinkers in the field of management in business.

Fergie Harvard

Post-retirement, Fergie has managed to swerve the £500 a night after-dinner speaking circuit so beloved of ex-pros. Instead, he finds himself invited to speak at educational institutions alongside Harvard professors. The format seems to be that the academics start the ball rolling by presenting their theories in lecture theatres full of graduate trainees, before Fergie takes to the mic and dismisses all conventional wisdom with his inimitable brand of icumfigovaness.

It’s an incredible (and no doubt very lucrative) gig that Fergie has got for himself, and it doesn’t seem to matter a jot that his pearls of wisdom are simply common sense methods familiar to any manager in any workplace the world over. Nevertheless, the sway that Fergie has in these circles shows no sign of abating any time soon. Everyone sits there totally enrapt in the presence of such a legendary figure, collectively ignoring the fact that his experiences in charge of a football club aren’t in any way related to their own career aspirations of managing a team of 30 stockbrokers.

Out of all the usual faces lined up to pay homage to Ferguson and his greatness, only Tony Blair had the balls to admit that Fergie’s “just get rid of them” mantra doesn’t actually translate to a normal (not that 10 Downing Street can be considered normal) workplace. How utterly bizarre though, that the former Prime Minister actually sought out the opinions of a footballer manager whilst agonising over a proposed cabinet restructuring.

One of the comedic highlights of 2014 was BBC3’s Football Fight Club, a ‘hard-hitting’ documentary exploring “some of the most active youth firms in the country.” As far as hoolie porn goes, last year’s effort was stone cold classic. We met Dante from Spurs, attempting to kick his habit by fighting trees in a forest pretending they were Chelsea; there was a chubby lad from Bury retiring from active service at 18 to become a sensitive singer-songwriter; and of course there was Carl, leader of City’s ‘infamous’ Blazing Squad, memorably driving round Stockport with his 16 year old accomplices trying to arrange a “4 on 4” with West Ham.

Blazing squad

The producers of Football Fight Club don’t try to innovate, they instead stick rigidly with the tried and tested ‘Danny Dyer format’ that’s become the standard for the hoolimentary genre. There are numerous shots of dogs roaming bleak-looking council estates, gangs of kids stood on street corners with their hoods pulled up and a voiceover from a sociology and media studies graduate, explaining in hushed tones about ‘meets’ and ‘top boys’ and ‘banning orders’.

As well as catching up with Carl and Dante, this year’s follow up film introduced some new aspiring Cass Pennants. First we met with Brogan (17) from Lanarkshire, unique due to being a girl and for having seen Nick Love’s adaptation of ‘The Firm’ and taken it seriously. Unusually for a teenage wannabe hoolie, Brogan eschewed the pub as part of her pre-match routine. Instead she met up with her Hamilton Academical’s youth firm cohorts (ages ranging from 9-16) on a piece of waste ground, where they jumped up and down singing songs in their impenetrable accent sharing a small bottle of Buckfast. I’m not making any of this up by the way.

Then we met Denny from Wolverhampton, invited by Dante to travel down to London to ‘mob up’ with Spurs in order to fulfil his long-held ambition of taking on a “top continental firm”. Unfortunately, the game selected was Fiorentina at home, where clearly, nothing was ever likely to happen. By way of consolation, Denny travelled back home on the last train out of Euston gazing wistfully at footage of Feyenoord getting a kicking off the Italian plod the same night. What a pity the programme’s meagre budget didn’t extend to buying the lad a passport and sending him and the film crew out to Rome instead.

Blazing Squad Carl, meanwhile, was still holed up in his Bury flat bemoaning his misfortune of being off the scene due to serving a football banning order. Not really a surprising development when you consider he went on national television last year incriminating himself for an hour. Still, the end was in sight and Carl’s ban was soon due to expire – his preparations for which, we discovered, comprised of getting a new tattoo and buying an Ellesse tracksuit top. Apparently, he was also “looking forward to Derby Day”. Gulp. Be careful out there, reds.

Copyright Red News – October 2015

All Things Must Pass

new red issue

A few years ago some ‘scientists’ discovered that the 3rd Monday in January, ‘Blue Monday’ in tabloid-speak, is apparently the most depressing day of the year. It’s all to do with dark nights, credit card bills and the bleak sense of can’t be arsedness that descends once you’re back in work after the Christmas holidays. In truth, it’s a load of made-up nonsense that gets repeated on an annual basis with no actual science behind it whatsoever. It was recently proven that the most depressing day of the year was actually the 2nd Monday in January, the root cause being United losing at home to Southampton the day before.

That game proved we’re still a mile away from becoming the finished article and LVG is fighting a losing battle if he still thinks certain individuals reared on playing in an orthodox back four possess the wit and gumption to adapt to a 3-5-2 philozophee. As the man himself explained, “I have twitched my ass on the bench because we were out of balance.” Me too, pal. The theory that his players should be comfortable in possession and build from the back is fine in principle, but the brutal truth is most of our defenders lack the requisite technical skills to play that system. Evans, Jones and Smalling can’t be viewed as budding liberos whilst they continue to struggle with the basics of passing, heading and tackling with any degree of consistency or authority.

Since Christmas, the last few weeks of football have seen United turn in some utterly turgid performances. The first half at Loftus Road saw us struggling to string 3 passes together, Valencia forgetting how to take a throw in and the depressing spectacle of Phil Jones on corner duty. As someone noted sagely on one of the forums, “I wouldn’t trust him to collect a trolley.” Calls of “4-4-2” and “attack attack attack” from the away end were the first sign of discontent from fans, understandable perhaps given the month-long entertainment drought being witnessed. This led to a 2nd half switch to 4-4-2 and a slightly improved performance, but it was still grim viewing up against relegation fodder like QPR.

Van Gaal is currently facing something of a dilemma. He’s attempting to introduce a new style of play and despite the £150M transfer outlay, he’s still looks short of the personnel to successfully accomplish this. So he’s presented with a choice: persevere with his favoured 3-5-2 with players struggling to adapt or abandon that and revert to the tried and tested 4-4-2 at the expense of his long term vision. It doesn’t take a genius to work out how this one will ultimately pan out. Van Gaal hasn’t been successful in his career due to compromising or abandoning his beliefs when players (or fans) aren’t happy with his methods. Whether people like 3-5-2 or not, the system isn’t going anywhere. If any changes are going to be made, it’ll likely be a further influx of new faces in the summer who he’s identified as an improvement to what we have in place now.

In the meantime then, we need to brace ourselves for more of the same. Although the last month has seen football as dire as anything witnessed over the last 3-4 years, I’d still argue that overall we’re moving in the right direction and progress has been made. It was never going to happen overnight, so people just need to get their heads around that fact and have a little bit of patience. If we finish top four this season then that should be seen as mission accomplished considering the mess we were in when Moyes left… plus an FA Cup win has now become a very realistic possibility following the high-profile casualties witnessed last weekend.

new red issue

The Southampton result was also compounded by the news that after 26 years of fighting the good fight, Red Issue had published their final edition and were vacating the United fanzine sphere. The sense of loss this leaves their loyal readership is difficult to sum up in a few words, indeed it’s impossible to understate the importance of the mag and the effect they’ve had on United fan culture over the last two and a half decades.

I first picked up a Red Issue back in 1989 having been completely unaware of their existence up until issue 3. From the moment I read my first copy, however, I was instantly smitten. The mag back then was nothing like the professionally produced, articulate beast it developed into a few years later – for the most part I was initially drawn to the mix of cartoons and toilet humour that perfectly suited my then Viz-fuelled teenage brain.

Those early editions were pretty outrageous in tone and they quickly made as many enemies as friends. The late-80’s fanzine boom led to an early incarnation of what is referred to these days by the twitterati as the ‘football family’. To be considered a member you had to have your mag listed in When Saturday Comes, the nationally available, self-styled Grand Master of the ‘zine scene – which always promised a good read but was invariably full of 4000 word pieces droning on about non-league ground hopping and women’s football in Botswana. WSC unsurprisingly took umbrage with Red Issue’s less cerebral content and took the petty step of barring them from their listings, a move which pleased RI immeasurably and was proudly adopted as a badge of honour.

Although the mag never fully shook off the unjust reputation it gained during those early years, it slowly became something much more than cartoons ripping the piss out of players and references to Leeds fans’ penchant for shagging sheep. As the football landscape changed beyond recognition, so did Red Issue. The mag had better writers and started to publish some of best pieces I’ve ever seen written about football, never mind Manchester United. By the mid-90’s it was instrumental in the formation of IMUSA and a couple of years further on SUAM, who months later were successful in fending off the despised Murdoch takeover bid.

Having grown up reading the mag and it having helped shape pretty much all my opinions on football, it feels very much like the end of an era. Personally speaking, Red Issue will always be the ultimate United fanzine and remains the main reason I’m writing here now. It was sad to read their final editorial where reasons for the decision were explained, but it made perfect sense considering everything they’ve warned against over the years has now come to pass. Railing against the world for 25 years takes a lot of effort and energy, so if their heart isn’t in it anymore and they no longer feel their words are having the desired effect, then maximum respect to all concerned for bowing out whilst still at the top of their game. They’ll be missed.

Copyright Red News – January 2015

Tell It Like It Is

prawn sandwich

Whilst the esteemed editor of this organ donned his #5 cap to mix it up with the D-list shitterati at Rio Ferdinand’s book launch (see last month’s issue), I was handed the task of reporting back from Roy Keane’s gig at LCCC where he was appearing ‘in conversation’ with ghostwriter Roddy Doyle and Jim White of The Telegraph to promote his latest opus, The Second Half (Orion Publishing, £20).

The last one of these things I attended was Fergie’s appearance at The Lowry a year ago where he was publicising his recently released autobiography. This promised to be a similar setup – a free signed copy of the book was on offer alongside the possibility of picking up some interesting tidbits that hadn’t previously been made public. Unfortunately that night at the Lowry didn’t really deviate from the carefully managed script, as Fergie didn’t let his guard drop once under a very gentle grilling from the BBC’s Dan Walker. An evening with Roy Keane, I was pleased to discover, proved to be far more interesting and enlightening.

Shortly after the publicised start time of 7pm, there he was. Looking as trim as he did in his playing days, with no discernible middle-aged paunch and remarkably fresh faced since the terrifying beard he’d been sporting in recent months had been removed. Jim White then did the introductions, throwing in the somewhat outlandish claim that Keane and Doyle were the authors of “not only the finest football book, but the finest book you’ll read this year.”

White then proceeded to ask the first question, “what was your motive for writing the book?”, which in truth was his last meaningful input all evening as Keane needed little encouragement to talk….and talk and talk. He’s passionate, forthright and a great storyteller – one was left with the impression that Roddy Doyle’s task of transcribing Keane’s thoughts into written form was fairly straightforward one, given the fact he’s such a relaxed and candid interviewee.

The reason the book was so newsworthy, of course, was that it presented Keane with the opportunity to give a full and frank account of the events leading up to his departure from United. As anticipated, he doesn’t shy away from giving his version of the facts. There were disagreements with Carlos Queiroz along the way, but things came to a head with the infamous, never aired MUTV interview and the subsequent ‘airing of the grievances’ meeting with the entire first team squad and coaching staff in attendance. Keane (sort of) accepts that he played a part in his own downfall, his main beef is that “stuff said afterwards irritated me” and his belief that Ferguson and David Gill “should have done better by me.”

If Keane is bitter about anything, it’s about the way he was portrayed as a single-minded, loose cannon who needed reining in. If he was so unprofessional and unapproachable, he argues, how could he have survived at a club like United for over 12 years? “Yes, there were personality clashes like in any workplace, but it was no big deal.” It’s hard not to have sympathy with his reasoning here. United/Ferguson, after all, were the beneficiaries of Keane’s insane-level drive and will-to-win for many years. Put it this way: I very much doubt he’d have seen his contract terminated if the post-Boro blow-up had happened a few years earlier when he was in his prime as a player, and not the battle scarred veteran he’d become by 2005.

In spite of the acrimonious ending to his United career, Keane spoke very fondly about his time at the club and still has a lot of respect for Ferguson, describing him as a “great manager”. He clearly has a lot of time for his former teammates, “top quality players”, sharing a dressing room ethos where “there was no messing about… we wanted to win the match and to train properly”. Understated, perhaps… but from the mouth of Roy Keane, this is high praise indeed.

roy keane roddy doyle

Keane conceded that he made numerous mistakes during his time at the club, admitting when he first arrived in Manchester he was anything but the über-serious professional he was renowned as later in his career. He recalled a big fall out with Brian Kidd in the days between winning the league at Middlesborough and the ’96 Cup Final, partaking in a week-long bender which resulted in him reporting for training each morning still suffering the effects of the night before. Then, after being named MOTM on the Saturday, greeting a disbelieving Kiddo at the bar during the post match celebrations whilst getting stuck into the Bacardi.

There are regrets too, particularly some of the things he said in the heat of the moment. “Maybe this team needs to be broken up” post-Bayern in 2001 was, on reflection, a misguided attempt to elicit a response from the team following another disappointing defeat. The ‘prawn sandwich’ comment too, a dig against United fans that was manna from heaven for the ABU nation was merely him sounding off, “looking for an angle, to get a response off people… trying to get Old Trafford rocking.”

After an hour of listening to Keane, and a few minutes worth of Roddy Doyle who described his reasons for getting involved and the process of writing the book, the microphone was then passed to the floor as the audience were invited to ask questions. This led to another hour of recollections as Keane (now fully warmed up) answered everything thrown at him with complete candour and a total disregard for the fact there were a few hundred people present.

Some of his comments led to a couple of news stories later in the week after details reached journalists’ hands, but in truth nothing was said that was particularly inflammatory when taken in context. There were a slight digs at Bryan Robson and Paddy Crerand, as Keane made the point that club employees don’t make the most unbiased of pundits – he jokingly described the MUTV ex-players cabal as “like the Mafia or something.”

Another question led to a telling insight to how United approached games under Ferguson, or more to the point, how we didn’t approach them. “We wouldn’t be analysing teams too much. That was one of our strengths… we kept it unbelievably simple.” He only recalled Fergie getting senior players together for a pre-match meeting on a handful of occasions. Once, when the subject of dealing with the specific threat of Steve McManaman arose, Keane’s surprise and confusion about even being asked for his input was priceless, “umm… we’ll deal with him… he’s not Pele!”

All in all it was a great night. Keane was on top form and anything but the scowling, embittered figure he’s often portrayed as in the media. The book itself? Even if it’s not, as Jim White claims, the finest thing you’ll read this year, it’s still worth a couple of hours of your time ploughing through it. The motivation behind doing it, he explained, was simply “giving my opinion”, rather than “slagging everybody off” as has been claimed.

That’s essentially the crux of Roy Keane – it’s what made him a great leader on the pitch, and latterly, great value as a studio pundit. If someone asks him a question, he will answer it. Truthfully. Football is full of anodyne, media trained monkeys trotting out bland platitudes which you just know don’t truly reflect their private thoughts. Keane is different in that he actually says what he thinks. There’s no agenda there, everything he says is packed with truthiness. You don’t agree with him? That’s no problem, you’re entitled to your opinion too.

Copyright Red News – November 2014