Tuesday, July 28, 2009

There used to be a time, and not that long ago, when a charity football match involving ex footballers of deserved legends status would cause more than just a ripple of excitement. Sometimes they still can, but nowadays, especially in the UK, these games are everywhere and especially on TV with the likes of Soccer8 and the Hillsborough Game. This only results in an "oh not another one" mindset.

Once the games hit our television screens of course that ultimately leads to only one thing in the current climate of what passes for entertainment – they're invaded by the "celebrity".

Last night I just got round to watching Sunday's England-Germany 1990's Legends charity game, a testimonial as such to honour Sir Bobby Robson, with the proceeds raised going to his own Foundation. A good cause, as the man has given a lot to the English game and isn’t looking his best at the moment, looking very frail and gaunt from his cancer and taking in the game from a wheelchair.

The game itself was always going to pull in the crowds, of that there was no question. The game was played at Newcastle's St James’ Park and with Robson still being held in iconic terms on Tyneside and with England starting with Alan Shearer up front, and including the likes of Paul Gascoigne and Peter Beardsley, it was something for Newcastle fans to finally cheer about after their recent woeful times.

England's starting line up was a who's who from the 90's. Their squad was the core of the Italia 90 squad that Robson managed to semi final failure. A real blast from the past and nice to see some quality ex players taking part, especially to anyone who has watched the Masters games over the summer this year, which was not so much a case of being a "who's who?" as a "who’s that?".

Germany wasn't so high on the big household names (at least not to UK audiences) but did feature Lothar Matthaus, Steffen Freund and Jorg Albertz amongst others and boasted a squad with an average age five years younger than the English one.

But then it came to the England subs, a mish mash of mostly bit part players from the international scene and those dreaded celebrities, or "personalities" as they were billed in the pre match press.

I'm not saying that celebrities shouldn't play in any of these matches at all. They do serve a purpose in bringing in extra fans, or at least some of them do, at times. They just shouldn't be a staple addition to EVERY single match as they now seem to be.

We want to see ex players play. Players we grew up watching. Players that are still held in high esteem. Not people who you wouldn't really watch if they were on normal TV in the first place.

Sky’s "The Match" probably holds the most blame for this unwanted influx. The games they put on pitting a team of celebs against a team of ex pros was excellent viewing. I enjoyed all three series of it and the games themselves were good viewing fare. The format was even picked up by Swiss TV and they have run two of these games now.

This "experiment" has seemed to whet the appetite of the celebrities a little bit too much now though. The odd game where they mingle with pros is fine, but save yourselves for all celeb affairs and games like the Sky ones please. You're not footballers. Some of you might be not too bad, some of you may have been on the books of teams as youngsters, but you chose a different career path for whatever reason, stick to that.

TV presenter Tim Lovejoy, a veteran of such events himself (at least he presented a football show and has brought a lot to the game, so can stake some claim) commented in his book "Lovejoy On Football" that when he first started playing in charity games, usually before the Charity Shield or Carling Cup final, he felt "privileged to have been asked" and "felt special to be involved". Even he feels the format is "dead" now and blames the inclusion of reality TV stars as one of the reasons.

I'm with him on that one. It's all about the cult of celebrity and getting your face out there these days for some people it seems.

What place does a D lister like Simon Webbe (of reunited boy band Blue) have in a game between English and German 90's legends? So he used to be on the books at Port Vale. How old was he during that Italia 90 semi final game?! Then there was Angus Deayton, Craig David, Paddy McGuiness and Jimmy Nail was brought out from wherever he's been these days. What purpose do they serve? The Germans didn't bring any such players for their squad.

What was interesting, and good to see, was that with the game tied, the result became more important than giving the celebs a run out. One came on with 20 minutes to go and there was no appearance of another until he was was subbed himself with 5 minutes left. Two more came on for the closing seconds of the game.

So it all begs the question, why the hell were they brought along if it was felt that playing them would devalue and weaken the game? Kind of backs up my arguments about the whole thing. keep these type of games solely for footballers, especially with the emotions of the night.

With the game over (England winning 3-2 thanks to Alan Shearer diving for a penalty) and respects paid to Sir Bobby, another charity game was over and all the celebrities could go back to doing what they should be doing in the first place. Until the next game that is.

I'm sure we won't have to wait too long till we see it on our screens.

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