Tag Archives: White Hart Lane

The Blackwood Redemption

11 Oct

The celebrity version of the game show Pointless that aired this week gave us a beautiful glimpse into the most important aspect of any narrative.  Redemption.  Watching the protagonist rise again, having withered the storm. 

Few people have withered more storms than Richard Blackwood.  They say success is getting up one more time than you fall over, and nobody’s fallen over more times than Richard Blackwood.  From a critically and commercially unsuccessful pop career, to a critically and commercially unsuccessful acting career, by way of a critically and commercially unsuccessful comedy career.  Blackwood has stared into the abyss so many times they’re practically on first name terms with each other.  But he keeps coming back.  He won’t die. Every dog has his day.  Fittingly, Celebrity Pointless was to be his.

Blackwood was pitted against an absolute titan.  Only Tim chuffing Rice.  Only an Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy winner.  The doyenne of the west end musical.  That Tim Rice.  No boxing board in the world would have sanctioned this fight but, sadists that they are, the British Broadcasting Corporation not only filmed it, they beamed it to a daytime television-watching public.

Blackwood had clearly had an apparition just before the lights went on, though.  He’d seen a chance to win back some of that lost respect.  All that was between him and a second bite at B-list celebrity was Tim Rice’s jugular.  And, my word, he absolutely went for it.

Much like his 2000 hit “1-2-3-4 Get with the wicked”, RB ran the show.  Rice was floundering from the off as Blackwood pulled out an impressive “unaware” when asked for an obscure word ending in “-are”.  A follow-up teaser on the land-locked countries of South America left Blackwood, the picture of concentration, unphased.  “Paraguay” put Rice into further trouble.  By the time a question on So Solid Crew came around, the Legend of the Musical knew he was on the ropes.  Of course Blackwood knew the bloody answer.  21 Seconds (To Go) was meat and drink to the big lad.

There’s something wonderful when, against all odds, the underdog stands up and says “you know what, I’m not having this anymore, not today”. Blackwood was up on his hind legs throwing punches like his career depended on it.

This was a man who, in May 2003, appeared on Channel 5’s Celebrity Detox Camp and self-administered a coffee enema, which involved him being filmed pumping 18 litres of coffee solution into his stomach via a non-traditional entrance.  Without ever achieving fame yourself, it’s difficult to imagine how far a star must fall before they feel compelled to appear on Channel 5.  Clearly, Blackwood was not enjoying a halcyon. 

Yet here he was, going to toe-to-toe with Tim Rice – an artist so successful he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999 and named a Disney Legend in 2002 – and besting him.  Allowing himself to dream for a minute, you could sense this critical moment would form the turning point in Blackwood’s as-yet-unwritten autobiography, “Blackwood Battling Back”.  The book could be ready for Christmas.  Britain’s answer to Will Smith on the cover, wearing that half-desperate, half-maniacal look of a man prepared to do anything, anything, to keep a career alive.

What Tim Rice made of being comprehensively beaten by a man wearing a skin-type muscle vest underneath a velvet blazer, we’ll never know.  All we know is he was helpless in the face of a Blackwood battering.

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I mention this warming tale because the big premiership teams are getting “Blackwood-ed” left, right and centre at the moment.  Davids everywhere are playing Goliaths off the park.  Not just a cheeky tweaking of the nose, either.  Some real whoopings.

West Ham United went to White Hart Lane on Sunday and pulled Tottenham’s trousers down.  They didn’t turn up and grab a plucky 0-1. They taught them a lesson.  While Spurs’ all-star cast and their gravel-voiced manager huffed and puffed, the team from the unfashionable end of London showed Tottenham  a clean pair of footballing heels.  Despite having not scored an away goal all season (nor having registered a win at the Lane in fourteen long years), the Irons put three past Spurs unanswered. 

And this is the point.  Upsets happen every year in football, but this season we are seeing unfancied sides also outplay their supposed superiors.  Everyone likes to watch an underdog prevail but it’s gratifying in the extreme when they do so in style.  West Ham were simply better than Tottenham.

Cardiff seemed to have Manchester City completely figured out when the teams met on Game Day 2.  They looked like they could soak up the pressure all day long and City continually over-exposed themselves trying to break the Bluebirds down.  As a result, getting caught repeatedly on the break led to corners being conceded and, consequently, goals scored. Pellegrini’s men looked like a ball of wool in the hands of a crafty Welsh kitten.

It was no better for Manchester United when West Brom came to visit. Having gone a goal down, United duly equalised and then a very strange thing happened – West Brom went back on the attack.  Rather than hang on to their precious point for dear life, as is customary for small teams at Old Trafford, the Baggies were having none of it.  They smelt blood in the water.  Here was a collection of rudderless yesterday’s men, they sensed, there for the taking.  West Brom duly took ’em.  It was as startling as it was heartening.

Before Arsenal became flavour of the month[1], Paul Lambert’s team of toddlers dismantled the Gunners 3-1 on the opening day of the season.  At the Emirates[2].  Gaby Agbonlohor tore them apart.  It was brutal enough for many members of the national press to start reading Arsene Wenger his last rites.

This was a Villa team whose courting of the drop-zone was last season’s biggest flirtation outside of Jose Mourinho’s unrequited ankle-flashing in the direction of the vacant Manchester United manager’s seat.  Yet, within six games of the new campaign, Villa had had already beaten Arsenal and followed it up with a victory against, you’ve guessed it, Manchester City. 

Scalps are going to be piled high this year and that’s a great thing.  Football thrives on its unpredictability, in both passages of play and results.  And it’s currently more unpredictable than it has been in quite some time.  Competition has replaced procession.  Big teams stumbling is not indicative of a league losing its talent; it means that the division is strong. 

Whisper it quietly, but this season we might even witness the majesty of a record low winning points total in the modern era[3].  Maybe it’s fanciful to conceive that Manchester United’s 75 point haul of 1996/97 will be “bettered”, but it’s pretty exciting to think we could dip below 80 – something that hasn’t yet happened this century.  The team that wins the league loses an average of 4½ games en route.  Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have lost six between them already.

Diversity isn’t just a dance troupe.  It’s a concept, too.  One that is alive and well in the top flight of English football.  There’s strength and variety throughout the division.  We are all richer for it.

Blackers knows I’m just playin’.


[1] They’re now bookmaker’s 3rd favourites for the title, having leap-frogged Manchester United.

[2] It’s interesting to note that all three of the above-mentioned victories were masterminded by Scottish managers (Steve Clarke, Malky Mackay and Paul Lambert). 

[3] Since the inception of the Premiership in 1992/93.

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The Drop

8 May

As a former Fugees vocalist found to her cost this week, only death and taxes are inevitable.  Nobody’s told Wigan this, though.  Roberto Martinez’s men have been cheating fate for years.  Three seasons running the master escapologists have smiled gaily into the jaws of the Championship.  Three times they lived to fight another day.  Is this the year that Wigan, like the miseducated Lauryn Hill, finally pay the piper?

A place in the relegation party remains up for grabs.  Three is the tragic number.  One more team will join the (not so) super-hoops of QPR and Reading in the Championship.  One more set of fans must brew the coffee extra-strong and brace themselves for 9 long months watching Manish Bhasin’s witching hour of Football League highlights.

Who will it be?  It’s a testimony to how tight it is that anyone up to Stoke in 11th could still drop.   The bottom half of the table is messier than a toddler after an ice-cream.  For the first time in a decade, a team could be relegated despite having reached the psychologically important 40 points barrier.  Too Good for the English Game asked Editor-in-Chief, Sonny Pike, for his scouting report on the teams a-teetering…

Newcastle.  It beggars belief that we are even discussing Newcastle.  Despite the mid-season loss of Demba Ba to Chelsea, Newcastle still have some of the most talented players in the Premiership.  How the hell are they down there?  Alan Pardew won’t be the first person to win Manager of the Year one season and be relegated the next (George Burley saw to that when his Ipswich team were found floating face down in the water in 2002), but it’s a rather ignominious list to join.  Surely a team that boasts the class of Hatem Ben Arfa, Fabricio Collocini, Yohann Cabaye and Papisse Cisse has enough to survive.

By contrast, Aston Villa and their tedious brand of football have been bothering and boring me in equal measure for years.  While most seasons I would be baying for their execution with all the fervour of a Daily Mail reader, I just can’t summon the anger this year.  Playing a team of sub-23 year olds has too much derring-do about it to wish them any ill-will.  Paul Lambert, himself a babe in arms in coaching terms, has also shown enough in his nascent managerial career to promise more.  It would be good to see his penniless Midlands project continue in the top-flight.

Heavy-spending Martin O’Neill has recently been at the helm of both Villa and fellow strugglers Sunderland.  Relegation for either won’t do his legacy a great deal of good.  The Black Cats play a not-yet-out-of-the woods Southampton at the weekend.  Then it’s on to White Hart Lane, against a Spurs side gunning for the Champions League.  Goal difference is Sunderland’s friend, though.  If Wigan pull off a fourth Houdini act, this buffer should still be enough for the Wearsiders to avoid playing games on a Friday night next year.

Wigan are huge sporting overachievers.  Their town has a top-flight football team and a Rugby League power-house.  Not bad for a populace half the size of Camden.  More so, given the yearly ritual for the Lancastrians to be fleeced of their best players.  Antonio Valencia.  Victor Moses.  Hugo Rodallega.  Mohammed Diame.  Charles N’Zogbia.  Lee Cattermole.  Wilson Palacios.  Every summer, teams with more of the folding stuff have rifled through the Latic’s squad like a box of Quality Street.  Eventually, you’re left with nothing but those odd-tasting green triangle ones.  Or, in Wigan’s case, Franco di Santo.  In theory, a solitary win on the final day against Villa could do it.  In reality, something at the Emirates is likely to be necessary.  Fingers crossed the Wiganers take it easy in the Cup Final so that they’re fresh…

Which leaves us with Norwich.  Norwich weren’t meant to play a part in this sorry tale.  But ever since Christmas, Delia’s lot have looked like they, too, have been at the sherry, dropping from 7th to 16th.  Failure to pick up points against West Brom puts the boozy pan-wielder’s boys in critical danger.  They play Manchester City on the final day, a team who have averaged 5 goals a game against the green and golds since their return to the Premiership.  I expect Wigan to get a result against Villa in Game 38 (who, by then, should be safe).  The Toon must also, surely, somehow beat a path to safety.  So when the bookmaker comes a-knocking, Too Good’s hard-earned/ill-gotten is going on the Canaries to fall down the mine-shaft.

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Norwich could do with a 12th man round about now.