Johnny’s stroking his unusually large love gun again for his new series celebrating the great people on football telly, radio and press, both past and present. This week it’s the first top-class pundit of the modern era. That’ll be Alan Hansen, then.
Why the love?
Alan first hit our screens in 1991. Often forgotten is that he actually started out on Sky, then moved to 5 live before getting the Match of the Day gig in 1992. From then onwards, he was fixture for 22 years. His first MOTD was alongside Gary Lineker, then working as a pundit.
From the get-go he was different to the milky old pundits we’d had previously. Here was a newly-retired elite player who had won a ridiculous amount of trophies. His Clackmannanshire accent was perfectly suited to scathing critique; it had gravitas and occasional menace too. There was something very modern and exciting about him. Football was changing and here was the proof.
Clackmannanshire’s old motto was “Look aboot ye”, which you can imagine Alan saying to a tardy defender with a degree of aggression. As an aside, the new motto is the rather more chippy “More Than You Imagine”.
We loved him because he actually broke play down and told you why things had happened. Especially good at defensive analysis, he always had a look of disdain for a defence that conceded a goal, as though it as a crime against nature itself. It was these strong, characterful performances that endeared him to the audience. You sensed he wasn’t to be messed with and had authority and credibility.
For all he was sometimes characterised as dour, one always suspected he was actually, if not shy, then more sensitive than the football culture he grew up in would allow. This was confirmed when later, after he’d retired, he admitted to increasingly terrible stage fright. This was a shock to many of us used to see him performing with an air of confidence and assurance. He certainly hid his worries well.
Much love is also due for having a great perspective on his career.
“You talk about the money they are earning now but I wouldn’t give up five minutes of my 14 years at Liverpool for any of it. Not only because I had the best time ever but we won everything in sight.”
That is what you want to hear.
It doesn’t sound much today, but Alan was always prepared to point out when something a player had done was wrong or poor, even if it involved criticising a domestic player. In doing so he was one of the first since the glory days of Big Mal, the Doog and Cloughie who dared to be outspoken.
A master of just listing words instead of constructing sentences, some of his favourites were: “Power”, “pace”, “diabolical” and “shocking”. This was incredibly striking because it made the analysis lean, terse and free of waffle. He was always keen on “playing the percentages”, and was also really well-balanced out by Des Lynam in the early days, who played the smooth old pro to Hansen’s new cutting edge.
Later, he said he made a conscious decision to break with the say-what-you-see traditions.
Had an innate authority born out of being one of the world’s top defenders with 24 major honours to his name (if you include Charity Shields), with three European Cups among that tally.
When he was on, people sat up and took notice, in exactly the same way they did when Gary Neville first hit the screens. He was a game-changer in the world of punditry. Even the legendary “you win nothing with kids” comment didn’t harm this reputation; rather, it became a big hit single.
Actually quite a fashionable, if understated, dresser. Started off in the early 90s with the big double-breasted wedding suits but soon graduated to something with a more stylish cut. Loved an open-necked dress shirt or a polo shirt when off-duty. Occasionally favoured the collarless shirt, sometimes to be found with a shirt buttoned up, no tie on.
Haircut seemed straight out of the Captain Scarlet style guide and was largely unchanged for two decades.
Scar on his head seemed to change shape and colour from season to season and inspired a Rubber Forehead Unit.
Could slouch in a chair for Scotland, especially during long live broadcasts, and also owned a look which you might call withering bemusement.
But all the same, his robins’ egg blue eyes gave a window into a soft soul and he was oft regarded as rather a handsome cove. One of those men that grew into himself and suited being middle-aged rather than the loping, gawky youngster he’d been.
Dipped his toe into advertising. Who remembers Bull Boys? No, it’s not a gay nightclub.
Then there was sterling work for Morrisons, which saw him deploy his dry wit and articulacy to flog cheap food.
Something called Gee Swing (no, not G-String, don’t worry).
And he even got in on the red hot crisp action with Gary and Jamie. This one makes me laugh
You’ll notice that throughout all these ventures, he’s just applying his quintessential Alanness to the exact same degree. It’s almost as though he’s inhabiting a character and he brings the same role to everything he does.
Mind you, this magazine ad for chewing gum was an odd one. Maybe it’s a parody?
Proper Football Man Rating
Alan should have a stellar PFM rating. When it comes to medals on the table he wins hands down. Comes from the Proper period when everything was better than it is now. Worked with Des Lynam. Played under Bob Paisley. Has a scar on his forehead. Plays golf with Kenny. All platinum card PFMing, as was his response when Lee Dixon came out with some foreign player to look out for at a World Cup. “Someone’s gie you him,” said our man with a scathing look, contemptuous that someone might have in depth knowledge of such foreign muck.
Scottish, which means an almost superhuman ability to drink and he would consider Reidy’s adrenalin, turtle wax and fermented pilchard cocktails a mere aperitif before the real drinking starts. Also towards the end of his career, seemed to be phoning it in a little, and every PFM loves to do the minimum amount of work for the most money and considers it a badge of honour that they can turn up, ruddy-faced, squeeze a leg, reiterate the same old rubbish and pick up a big fat cheque. The ad above for chewing gum for which he was paid merely to sit in the back of a car is every PFM’s wet dream, as is the Gee Swing. Paid for advertising a golf stick. Sweet.
However, there are problems. No real PFM would be emotionally honest enough to say this:
“When I was a pundit I didn’t like the other pundits because I was scared they might be better than me. Honestly, I thought they were all better than me. It was my insecurity. On the pitch I had tremendous belief in my own ability. I never thought I wasn’t good enough to play for Liverpool when the game started but before the match, before a programme… I never found out why. It is the way it is.”
Ooof. And his ranking is further diminished because he doesn’t look like he’s a practical joker. Doesn’t display nauseating levels of self-regard and has been married since 1980. Seems unlikely to be seen spilling out of notorious Alloa night club, The Trouser Haggis, with Miss Lorne Sausage Black Eye 1976.
Even so, will be given the golden key to the nationwide network of executive PFM portaloos and a hip flask of Joop.
What the people say
The consensus of opinion is that he was one of great pundits for years and years but who tailed off a bit. Many, like me, miss him.
‘Great analysis but towards the end just seemed disinterested. Would be nice to see him pop up somewhere now to see if the fire has returned.’
‘If given the same tools and platform as modern pundits he’d be top of the pile, I suspect.’
‘Excellent pundit, really helped improve the quality across the board. Went on a bit too long but left with dignity. Seems like a good bloke.’
‘Revolutionary in his pomp, infamous for the ManU kids quote, didn’t seem to mind the stick he was when reminded of it. By the end was awful.’
‘I worked with his son and he reflects what I imagine the man himself to be: humble, knowledgeable and a good man to work with.’
‘His football utopia would be every game ending goalless. Every goal he’s analysed has been a defensive error.’
‘He was a little responsible for getting my mum into football, with those eyes of his. He was a bit sexy in his pomp.’
‘He fell foul of the BBC’s dumbed down coverage at the end of his career, and maybe he’d lost the passion for the job, but he was the man.’
‘My favourite Hansen moment was when he said that Germany’s performance against Portugal in Euro 2000 was “like watching a pub team”. But biggest props are for when he said he’d quit his column at the Telegraph if Kelvin McKenzie joined the staff.’
‘Composed on and off the pitch – how he didn’t break down giving Anne Williams’ family her SPOTY award just after her death I’ll never know.’
‘Could sometimes come across as humourless, I think he got fed up of japes because he was a teammate of Emlyn Hughes for 3 years.’
‘Unusually for a pundit, seems to represent a very specific era. As much a part of the mid 90s-early 2000s as BritPop, Blair and the Iraq War.’
‘Was the best for a long time and then became, sadly, a parody of himself – “pace, power, strength”. Fortunately before he retired he found his former qualities under a rock somewhere and became the amusing, witty and insightful pundit we all loved.’
‘He came in as a breath of fresh air to punditry, at a time when the ubiquity of Jimmy Hill was wearing out.’
‘Sadly missed, always had an opinion and had the ability to express himself honestly & was great on MOTD. Where is he now?’
‘Brilliant and never replaced. The first pundit I would actually want to know the opinion of.’
‘I’m still not sure was that a scar on his forehead.’
‘The man Neville and Carra want to be.’
‘His hosting of the Football Focus Hillsborough special a few years ago was great.’
‘Up until the last few years, he was always good to listen to. However, viewers gravitated to newer pundits & AH seemed out of date a tad.’
‘When he gave Dennis Pennis the glare of a thousand deaths after he said that Hansen had a baboon’s ass.’
‘A favourite quote that I still use of his: “A conveyor belt of mediocrity”‘
‘He changed the standard required of pundits in his early days, much like Gary Neville did again a few years ago.’
‘Introduced the idea of 3 to punditry: Power, Pace, Possession. Drive, Determination, Desire.’
By the end of his MOTD tenure, maybe we had become overly familiar with him and he definitely needed a break. He was admirably self-effacing. “I have had my time and now others like Rio will come along and do the same, joining Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer in the Match of the Day studio and taking Match of the Day, an iconic programme, onwards and upwards,” he said in his last Telegraph column. He also hinted that he’d return to do occasional TV, work but this doesn’t seem to have manifested itself.
Now at just 61, he’s not on British TV and radio at all and this seems a crying shame. While he may understandably have wanted a break in 2014, it didn’t have to be forever. He would be ideal in the surely less stressful world of 5 live and it would be a very welcome return for one of football’s most distinctive and enjoyable voices. Football media needs its older, experienced players every bit as much as it needs the younger ex-pros.
I would love to hear him doing co-comms or just studio talky shows. So please get him on the Monday Night Club. It doesn’t have to be a full-time thing, because obviously there’s a lot of golf with Kenny to be played, but considering his omnipresence for 22 years it seems odd that he’s totally walked away from football media. In 1994 he had that “shooting” business, just after Andrés Escobar’s murder. After referring to black players as “coloured” in 2011, and subsequently having to apologise, perhaps he just fears a Twitter storm and the powerful noise of the instantly offended if you have a word fail these days. But others older than him manage to get through without blarting a big racistism or sexistfication and I’m sure he could too. C’mon Al, come back to us. It’s diabolical that you’re not on our radio or TV.