Wednesday, 3 September 2014


For no particular reason I can think of here is a piece about the joys of half-time entertainment that appeared in When Saturday Comes about ten years ago.


It is fair to say that half-time entertainment at the top end of football is no longer what it was. The reason is simple - nobody watches any more. Nowadays there are far too many things to distract supporters down in the concourses. And who would not drink half-frozen lager and watch highlights of the first half - even if it was 0-0 - when the alternative is trying to get your head around the sight of 10 teams of squealing children playing five games of football simultaneously across the width of the pitch?

Perhaps it is not such a great loss. Since the apparent abolition of police dog display teams and regimental bands, half-time entertainment can be subdivided into two distinct categories: the penalty prize and the other shit.  The latter usually involves: inflatables, celebrities (or would be celebrities) and tubby, pissed fans whose mates are in the stands nudging one another and going, “Film it on your phone, Geggo, film it on your phone”. 

Inflatable entertainment can be dealt with swiftly (and should be, preferably with a hat-pin). Inflatables were abandoned by football fans over a decade ago, but ever hip to what the new breed dig the game’s rulers continue to use them at every opportunity. The feeling amongst the power-suits seems to be that anything that is large, bouncy and filled with gas is enormous fun. This will come as news to anyone who has ever watched Eamon Holmes. Inflatable half-time entertainment arrives in many shapes and sizes from the bull at Hereford to the giant dice currently being rolled about in Premiership penalty areas as part of some inexplicable ritual presumably connected with sponsorship money.

Perhaps the exemplar of inflatable entertainment were Sky’s sumo wrestlers - a pair of giants in nappies who bumbled around the turf seeking out new and ever more adventurous homo-erotic poses. Buggery is something Rupert Murdoch is set firmly against. His company soon pulled the plug on the sumos. Or indeed out of them.



Celebrity appearances at The Riverside Stadium down the years have included a folk singing family from Billingham and actor and comedian Su Pollard. Pollard made the fatal mistake of standing in the centre circle and yelling “Hi-de-hi!” The massed response was predictably Anglo-Saxon. And it was the same the second time she did it, too.

The tubby pissed fan events come in myriad form. Some TPFs come on in suits and take penalties against a reserve team goalkeeper who invariably looks like John Burridge, (possibly because he is) for reasons the PA announcer refuses to divulge. Others, in pairs, take part in a trivia quiz, or, in a troupe, indulge in a humiliating aerobics routine lead by a women in a leotard and spandex leggings who used to be on breakfast television.  

The ultimate example of the tubby pissed fan genre, though, was Hartlepool United’s infamous deckchair challenge. Sponsored by DFDS Seaways this involved TPFs setting off from the halfway line and dribbling around deckchairs before scoring into an empty net. Three attempts were allowed and the fastest time counted. Incredibly one large bloke not only failed to find the net at all, he also succeeded in falling over several times. Invited back for another go the following week he repeated his abject performance, missing out on a luxury cruise to Norway, but becoming a minor local celebrity.  

Which brings us to the only half-time entertainment of any merit - the ubiquitous junior penalty prize, popularised on ITV in the 1970s. This is quick, elegant and offers the opportunity – rare in this day and age - to verbally abuse small children without getting arrested.

Across the country the pattern of the penalty prize is much the same and so is the reaction of the crowd. Kids from schools in rugged working class neighbourhoods are cheered to the rafters, while those from the affluent suburbs had ridicule heaped upon there bourgeois heads. The reaction of the children to the situation is never without interest. On one occasion at Ayresome Park a boy, possibly from a school in Hartlepool (rugged, but, well, frankly and unashamedly in Hartlepool and therefore the subject of derision) having experienced a torrid build up to his penalty from the denizens of the Holgate End blasted his kick into the top corner of the net and then celebrated by lifting up his school jersey to reveal a Sunderland top beneath. This took some guts and, had life been fair, triumph would have been his reward. Unfortunately life isn’t fair. The penalty shoot-out ended all square. It went to sudden death. The boy was forced to confront the Holgate End again. This time he missed. I bet he still wakes up screaming.

1 comment:

  1. I was at that Boro match. I think it was during the 1991/92 season, if memory serves. That penalty competition is one of my all-time favourite memories of Ayresome Park. I always admired the stones of the kid for revealing the Sunderland shirt but in common with everyone else I guffawed mightily and derisively when he missed penalty #10.