Saturday, 23 May 2009

Survival Sunday blazes a trail for football TV analogies

'Survival Sunday’. It may sound like the producers of Lost have taken control of English football for the weekend but, for idlers familiar with Sky Sports News, the phrase has become synonymous with 24.

Before any ‘exclusive’ with, say, Gareth Southgate regarding the fight for Premier League survival, we are faced with the flickering digital graphics and beeping soundtrack of the long-running action series’ opening credits.

In a week where tension has risen like Michael Martin’s blood pressure, the severity of Sky’s tone suggests that the strain of the Premier League’s final match day would overwhelm even Jack Bauer himself.

Jack Bauer: Taking aim at Alan Shearer. Maybe.

Conveniently, tomorrow will be the 24th of May, but I think the parallels should be drawn beyond this coincidence.

There should be split-screens throughout Sky’s coverage; switching from Sunderland to Hull and other relegation-threatened teams with the sound of a ticking bomb lingering in the background.

Tension will reach unbearable levels not as our protagonists look to thwart attempts on a presidential candidate’s life, but as they strive to retain Premier League status.

Hearts will miss a beat not at the sight of flying bullets but of Newcastle defenders flinging their bodies to block a scuffed shot from Emile Heskey. Jeff Stelling could even narrate.

Personnel will play an important role in replicating 24’s relentless action. Elisha Cuthbert may not be present at any of the stadia, but the Villa Park crowd will at least have the eye candy of Iain Dowie, at whom they can gaze lustily amid the chaos.

The role of sinister, serially-telephoning nemesis would be amply fulfilled by the agent Kia Joorabchian, as he plots Carlos Tevez’s next move from the directors’ box at Hull’s KC Stadium.
With 24 potentially so well represented, it’s a shame TV analogies aren’t encouraged more in football coverage.

With the bottom half bursting with adrenaline, it seems the more predictable top four would be best represented by the steadier entertainment of a cartoon. Wacky Races, which invariably begins with an exciting exchange of the lead before ending with the same victors, seems a fair illustration of a season at the Premier League’s summit.

Perhaps the struggle for mid-table bragging rights could borrow from the battle for gang supremacy in the projects of The Wire. Appointing Stringer Bell as Wigan Athletic’s chairman would certainly liven up a Monday night fixture against Bolton.

Giving teams fictional alter-egos could attract new fans as well as appease current followers. West Brom? Think of them as football’s answer to the O.C. or 90210 – aesthetically pleasing but with little beyond the attractive surface.

Fulham, meanwhile, could bolster their modest attendances by rebranding themselves as the sport’s Channel 4 News; friendly, middle class and steadily growing in stature and popularity.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Capital capitulation

I had hoped to wake up on Monday morning to find that the previous day had all just been a bad dream.

Unfortunately, Cardiff City’s seventh place in the Championship’s final league table stared blankly at me from my computer screen, an unforgiving reminder of Sunday’s monumental collapse.

With four games left in the season, the Bluebirds had automatic promotion in their sights but wilted under the pressure to succeed like a daffodil in a blast furnace.

They mustered just one point from a possible twelve, conceded twelve goals and threw away a golden chance of becoming a Premier League club.

Dave Jones' expression is rumoured not to have changed since May the 3rd.

As I searched desperately for reasons to be cheerful – well, a possible trip to Hull next season – I tried consoling myself by thinking of sport’s other spectacular capitulations.

“I would love it!” is the infamous Kevin Keegan quote which will forever be synonymous with the 1995-96 Premier League season and, in particular, dramatic self-destruction.

Despite being 12 points clear at the top in January, a jittery run-in saw Newcastle surrender the title to Manchester United.

The Magpies never truly recovered, and now face the ignominy of joining the legion of underachievers in English football’s second tier.

Eclipsing Newcastle’s capacity to crumble under pressure is quite a feat, and one that the English cricket team has repeated on numerous occasions.

Most memorably, the second test of the 2006-07 Ashes at Adelaide signalled not only the turning point of the series but also the end of the briefest of golden eras, ‘The Class of 2005’.

Having declared on a mammoth 551-6 in the first innings, the tourists were poised to level the series at 1-1 when they were 69-1 in their second innings.

Once Andrew Strauss fell to England’s perennial tormentor Shane Warne, however, they imploded to gift Australia an unexpected win and, with it, a platform for a crushing 5-0 series triumph.

When the Ashes start in July, I’ll be in Cardiff hoping that the England and Wales Cricket Board XI can upset Australia and, in the process, spark a collapse that I can actually enjoy.

As written for Leeds Student