Joey Barton, the philosopher footballer
Ahh, Twitter - a most welcome addition to football's multimedia mix, thanks in no small part to @joe
The woman at the other end of the ESPN upgrade line sounded genuinely pleased to get the call. The muzak- and promotions-suffused wait suggested that I wasn't alone among football addicts paying for an eve-of-season fix and, therefore, that the voice that would finally greet me would be weary. Yet it was eager, perhaps a little too eager.
“The first three months are free . . . there's no contract . . . You can cancel before the promotional period is up." I was even given the specific date on which I should terminate my contract so as not to incur a cost, and got the distinct impression that I should mark 11 October firmly in my diary, and underline it twice.
Good customer relations, but arguably not the best advert for a channel that boasts "23 Premier League games, 25 FA Cup matches . . . 30 Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League matches, 27 Uefa Europa League matches, multiple weekly German Bundesliga matches". Who would want to cancel?
Not to worry, ESPN. If the delights of long Thursday nights spent watching the interminable Europa League don't get me, inertia will - I'm there for the season.
As ever, the 2011/2012 season will be a meeting of the old and the new. For Manchester United fans, that means the novelty of Wayne Rooney's hairline, but also the reality of Rio Ferdinand's dodgy old hamstrings, for which a transplant operation would seem elusive. For Chelsea, it is a new Portuguese in charge but the same old whinge about penalties not given. For Arsenal fans, it is the same sub-Barcelona tiki-taka, but a tricky winger-cum-striker who's either the new Thierry Henry or the new Glenn Helder.
For ESPN, familiarity comes in the shape of the presenter Ray "Stubbsy" Stubbs, a one-time Match of the Day understudy to Gary Lineker, and Kevin Keegan, who has been part of the punditry scene since the 1970s, when he would appear alongside Elton John (yes, really) on Christmas specials for London Weekend's The Big Match.
The new? We're not talking player-cam or similar Sky Sports innovations. Instead, ESPN has decided to send its pitchside reporter Rebecca Lowe to the tunnel - with players and match officials behind her - to deliver a piece to camera minutes before kick-off. Lowe signs off by name-checking the referee and nods in his direction. Taking his cue, the ref leads the teams out. Entirely pointless, but when you've paid millions for broadcast rights you can do that kind of thing.
Meanwhile, over on the BBC, Match of the Day showcases the same old pundits and the same old theme tune (now 41 years old) but with a shiny new opening montage (so good that the Telegraph's chief football writer, Henry Winter, was moved to remark on Twitter: "Worth the licence fee alone").
Ahh, Twitter - a most welcome addition to football's multimedia mix, thanks in no small part to @joey7barton, aka the Newcastle United midfielder Joey Barton. That Barton has anger issues is well known to TV and CCTV viewers alike. But he can also be smart and funny and fancies himself as a philosopher. Twitter allows him to express all the parts of his (complex) personality. Follow him, and you'll get words from the wise (mainly Nietzsche and Morrissey, in truth), rows with journalists and regular banter with his sporting mates.
It was thanks to Twitter that I learned Barton's haircut was modelled not on a German dictator of the 1930s (as some commentators have dared
to suggest), but on the lead character from Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, played by Robert De Niro. When @swannyg66 (the England spin bowler Graeme Swann) suggested that Newcastle's number 7 had a "ropey lid", Barton tweeted back: "Travis Bickle its known as Swanny."
In the interests of factual accuracy, I headed straight for Google Images. De Niro's ropey lid hardly matches Barton's 2011 barnet, but I haven't had the time to share that news with @joey7barton. After all, there are the week's Bundesliga matches to get through.
Hunter Davies returns next week