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David Prentice: Shearer’s climb off the TV fence was well overdue

David Prentice: Shearer’s climb off the TV fence was well overdue

Jun 22 2007

by David Prentice, Liverpool Echo

Craig Bellamy shows his frustration

AS a player, Alan Shearer kept his cards close to his chest.

A lot closer than his elbows, anyway.

But as a pundit, when a couple of vicious digs might have been accepted and even encouraged, the poker-face continued.

That’s why this week’s out of character outburst should be welcomed everywhere, except perhaps in the Bellamy household, because it suggests we may finally see a return to pundits expressing an opinion on our television screens next season.

For those who missed it, football’s very own Mary Poppins had a jolly holiday crudely interrupted by news of Newcastle’s apparent interest in Craig Bellamy.

“Has no-one learnt their lesson about signing Craig Bellamy?” he rapped.

“If only Rafa Benitez had rung me I would have told him exactly what he was like. I hope there isn’t anything in these reports.

“I was having a few days away in France with Gary Speed and Steve Harper and the wives and I picked up the newspaper. I was having a fantastic day.

“But when I read Bellamy for Newcastle I thought I would definitely have to have another drink. I had several.”

True, Shearer wasn’t sitting on a comfy couch wearing a smart-casual shirt while he spoke.

But after a lifetime of picking his words as carefully as a mountain goat on a precipice, it was a dramatic sea-change in personality.

When you’re paid to deliver honest opinions, by a company we support with our TV licence money, there’s an unspoken duty to try and entertain.

And so far, Alan Shearer the pundit has been anything but entertaining. Perhaps he now feels ready to give us a glimpse of the real Alan Shearer underneath. Let’s hope so, because he could be one of the best pundits around.

He was surely aware his words last week would be quoted and repeated on the back pages of papers desperate for any item of football interest in a non-World Cup/Euro Championship summer. But he still went ahead and said them.

It’s what Match of the Day, actually it’s what football coverage full stop, has been crying out for.

The football experts’ ‘panel’ was first used in this country for the World Cup finals in 1970.

And we were spoiled.

Derek Dougan and Paddy Crerand often almost came to blows, Big Malcolm Allison was flash and irreverent, while Brian Clough was, well, Brian Clough in all his outrageous glory.

Occasionally Cloughie’s words would come back and bite him on the backside.

Like the tirade, still recalled 33 years later, that Polish goalkeeper Jan Tomasewzki was “a clown.”

Cloughie was unabashed, even when the ‘clown’s’ antics left English football looking stupid and out of the greatest football show on earth in 1974.

John Bromley was the innovative ITV producer who put together that first ‘panel.’

Each member was paid £500 for a month’s work, put up in Hendon Hall Hotel – and encouraged to be ‘colourful.’

After a week a worried minion alerted Bromley to the size of Allison’s bar bill. It included champagne, Cuban cigars and expensive wine.

Bromley simply signed the bill and ordered that, for the duration of the World Cup, each member of the panel be woken with a glass of vintage champagne.

Now pundits, experts and analysts look like they’ve been force fed Horlicks before the cameras roll.

The irony is that we need insight now like never before.

It wasn’t so long ago that journalists could get close to footballers, form their own opinions about players’ personalities and give fans an insight into the players they worshipped.

But in the Premier League today, players are protected with an efficiency that would do the armed services credit.

All too often press departments act as a barrier, rather than a conduit between players and punters.

So who better than recently retired ex-players, men who have trained with, shared hotels with and enjoyed the occasional night out with the players we’re watching, to give us an insight into their character.

That’s why Shearer’s views on Bellamy are interesting.

Alan Shearer played with him, trained with him and presumably shared the occasional night out.

When Alan Shearer was a player, the story did the rounds that he celebrated winning the Premiership in 1995 by going home and applying creosote to his fence.

In his new career as an analyst he abandoned fence painting for sitting on them.

Now he finally seems to be climbing off the fence, and our television screens could be all the better for it.

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