It was Football’s TV double act of the eighties and early 90s ‘Saint and Greavsie’ who coined the phrase “It’s a funny old game,” and the memories came flooding back today courtesy of former England manager Roy Hodgson.
When the Crystal Palace boss turned on Watford mascot Harry the Hornet at today’s pre-match press conference it was a comedy classic of epic proportions, as weird a soundbyte as you will ever hear. Not least because Hodgson delivered his rant with a straight face and and was clearly deadly serious.
“If you are asking me if Harry the Hornet, whom I presume is the mascot, should dive in that way, I think it’s disgraceful. You Know. Because that’s not what football matches are about,” is a quote that instantly went viral. And no wonder.
“It should be stopped,” fumed Hodgson, adding “Wilf Zaha does not dive for penalties” and there was the clue to what this was all about.
Roy Hodgson has a warning for the Watford mascot ahead of Wilfried Zaha's return to Vicarage Road…
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) August 24, 2018
The truth is that Harry the Hornet performed his act of alleged simulation after Watford’s match against Palace at Vicarage Road in December 2016, mocking an incident involving Zaha.
But Hodgson clearly did not see the funny side, when he warned Harry the Hornet not to “provoke the crowd” urging the mascot not to reignite claims that Palace’s most valuable player dived during their previous encounter.
You can bet there will be some hilarious banter inside the stadium when the two sides meet on Sunday. And that brings me back to the golden days of Saint and Greavsie, who made a second career out of highlighting the crazy things that happen in football. They would have been all over this, including the back story.
At the time, Zaha reacted angrily as he left the pitch. But he saw the funny side later on when he tweeted Gareth Evans, who plays Harry the Hornet, a message with a thumbs up and a picture of diving judges holding up scorecards.
The 80s were full of famous comedic double acts… Morecambe and Wise, Cannon and Ball, Little and Large… but there were none better than Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves, who struck TV Gold with their lunchtime football show on ITV that ran from 1985 to 1992.
It was Greaves, scorer of 44 goals in 57 England appearances and many more for Chelsea, Spurs and AC Milan, who made the catchphrase his own when he regularly concluded: “It’s a funny old game.” His Scottish pal St John, a star of Bill Shankly’s Liverpool team in the 60s, would chuckle in his distinctive way and we loved them both for making football fun.
In the modern world where big money has taken a lot of the fun out of the game, there are millions of fans around the world who will love this madcap moment involving Hodgson.
Diving is something we want to stamp out of the game, and we are not labelling Zaha a diver by highlighting this story. What we are rejoicing is that it’s still possible to say “It’s a funny old game” when we are able to have a laugh and not take things too seriously.
On a day when Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho drained all the life out his pre-match press conference before Monday night’s match with Spurs, this was manor from heaven.
Mourinho spoke for just four minutes and 19 seconds and many journalists missed it altogether after Jose brought his press conference forward by 30 minutes and then refused to engage in any meaningful discussion when he gave one line answers to most of the questions.
Hodgson may not see the funny side of his exchange with the journalists at his press conference. But the rest of us loved every word. And I’m sure there will be huge smiles on the faces of Saint and Greavsie because they were the kings of football’s slapstick comedy.
After all football is supposed to be entertainment.