Grand Slam Sunday
Sky TV got so excited that Hunter Davies noticed saliva on the rug in front of his telly
Last Sunday, Sky TV got awfully overexcited at the thought of Grand Slam Sunday, its name for Chelsea-Liverpool followed by Man United-Arsenal. Before kick-off, I noticed saliva on the rug in front of my telly. Had a Herdwick sheep got in from the field outside? DNA testing later proved it to be from Richard Keys, Sky's well-shaven presenter.
Sky gave the impression that it was all its own doing, as if it had invented football, thought up the idea of shin-pads, nets and corner kicks. Yet all it has done is spend money, with the luck of the fixture list giving it our top four teams on the same afternoon.
Naturally, I was dead excited at the prospect, if not the timing. By starting one game at 1.30 and the other at 4, it left a gap of only half an hour. I do like to have a snooze between games or a walk around the fields. I felt sorry for those thousands of fans with paid-up Sky subscriptions and also season tickets for Chelsea or Man United, who by going to one match were not able to see the other on TV, unless they videoed it, which is never as much fun.
Often on a Sunday morning, my wife hears distraught screams from the bath and fears I have drowned or had a heart attack. It's because someone on the radio has let out some of the scores before I've had time to watch the tape of Match of the Day.
The games themselves threw up some interesting points. I distinctly heard the Man United crowd singing "There's only one Keano". I do hope this means they will give up their pathetic "Oooh ahh, Can-ton-ah". About time a more recent legend took over.
Roy Keane himself was in the studio, and being handled with caution and reverence. He still has his aura, which not all star players retain once their career is over. Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton became mere mortals when they retired. Keano might no longer give you a kicking, but he could still manage a tongue-lashing. The awe in which he is still held partly explains his success at Sunderland.
During the Chelsea game, Michael Ballack got red-carded and the Liverpool fans were yelling, "Dirty German bastard." Was this racist? I couldn't work up the energy to be outraged.
Then, in the Man United match, when Paul Scholes committed a foul, the Arsenal fans shouted, "Dirty northern bastard." If it had happened the other way round, the Man United fans would have yelled, "Dirty cockney bastard" - although every Arsenal player is foreign. I suppose such taunts are regionalist, which is not yet banned. But the Man United fans who shouted "Sit down, you paedophile" at Arsène Wenger should definitely have been ejected.
The crowd at Old Trafford, so Sky exclaimed, was a record for the Premiership of 75,595. I wondered if it was near their all-time record. Afterwards, instead of sleeping or walking, I got out my football books. I have only a hundred up here, as opposed to a thousand in London. Sometimes I don't know how I manage.
Old Trafford's best ever was 76,962 in 1939 against Wolves, so they were near to breaking it, but most clubs these days get only about half of what they once did. Chelsea's record is 82,905 in 1935 against Arsenal. Even at Arsenal's new and wonderful ground, they won't beat Highbury's record of 73,295 against Sunderland in 1935.
The explanation is that almost all fans stood, in ye olden days, on open terraces. Now we only stand to shout at Sky commentators when they start slobbering . . .