There I was on Friday afternoon, responsibly planning the weekend. Watch some Masters, listen to Radio Norfolk commentary from the Macron, and chip away at that growing list of outstanding chores.
Then it popped up: the tweet announcing that tickets would on sale at the gate. A casual check of train times – not so bad really, and a hefty discount for online booking. It’s a deal too good to miss! And there’s always Sunday for those chores, isn’t there?
Yes, this had to be done. So I headed for Bolton, more and more yellow shirts and scarves in evidence at each stage, culminating with the rail replacement bus from Manchester (the things we do for our team).
Another fine new stadium, and this time with a special microclimate: the upper tier of the South Stand must be 15 degrees colder than anywhere else in the country. But heartened by a dominant first 20 minutes, with JonnyHowson and Graham Dorrans running the show, City take an early lead.
Then out of the blue – ‘against the run of play’ would be a serious understatement – Bolton equalise.
Goals do change games. Suddenly Bolton had belief and a spring in their step and we all remembered there was a home crowd.
We pressed but never regained our early fluency. With the officials seemingly deciding they should give Bolton a hand in the second half, it looked to be one of those days.
Then we produced our 93rd minute blow to the nether regions of Watford and Middlesbrough. No sympathy for them, though I hope no cats got seriously kicked in the households of their fans.
A word about two things: Alex Neil’s substitutions, and the winning goal.
The subs were positive in nature and timing, and smart. I’m sure many think Whittaker was taken off for mistakes. Yes, he made a couple – but I reckon that move had another reason.
Heskey made little all-round impact but was a source of potential danger by winning everything in the air against Russ. The change brought on Ryan Bennett to fix that, while releasing Russ as yet another attacking force.
By the way, if you see film of the winning goal, look out for Russ. His reaction, trying to see if Hooper’s shot would go in then realising it had, is priceless.
Now, I have about as much right to call Gary Hooper ‘a fellow striker’ as I have to call Mick Dennis ‘a fellow journalist’, i.e. very little. However, let me draw on my long career in the West Fulham League (Division 5) to say that was a real striker’s goal.
Hooper anticipated Jerome’s flick-on, adjusted when the ball bounced awkwardly, and found the only way to get it past the keeper into the net. Few midfielders would have converted that chance.
From conversion to commentary. The world of sport, just not cricket, is poorer for the passing of Richie Benaud. A dignified and charming man, a great player and captain (before my time – honest), and a model commentator. So many pundits in other sports, including football, could benefit from following his example.
Just to watch and learn from a bit of film of Benaud doesn’t seem too much to ask of our current pundits. But he made it even easier, by spelling out the principles he used in television commentary.
One is: “If you can add to the picture, do so.” In other words, give insight if you can, and keep quiet if you can’t. Remember it’s not radio, and the viewers can already see if there’s been a good shot. On my knees, I beg the people in ITV football to follow that.
Among his other principles were “There’s no team called ‘we’ or ‘they’”, and “No-one ever complained about silence”.
On top of the professionalism he had an engaging wit. Commentating on Glenn McGrath getting out for a typical paltry score, he quietly added: “dismissed for two, just 98 runs short of his century”.
Hopefully we’ll see his like again, but it’s not the current trend. (I genuinely believe Glenn Hoddle could add more than “That’s a good shot” or “That’s a good save”, but he seems to have been instructed not to.)
Of course, there’s an exception to every rule. Chris Goreham ignores all Richie Benaud’s maxims about objectivity – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.