This week John Nicholson looks at the strong-thighed alpha male that is Andy Townsend and wonders if he’s football’s John Travolta.
These days, he’s a man who strictly adheres to the standard father-of-the bride at the reception attire. Open neck, plain dress shirts and the sort of dark suits which don’t trouble the fashion scorers but look smart, nonetheless. Photos exist of him wearing a black satin shirt, which looks like it’s been tailored from the bed sheets of a 1980s lothario.
Seems likely to own a beige crombie with a black collar, a collection of expensive plain black leather shoes and a North Face anorak.
Has dabbled with beards but they never really took. Lush, thick hair seems destined never to go bald and although now as grey as a dappled horse, he still has the same haircut he had 25 years ago. Respect for that. As I said last week, getting a look and sticking to it until you’re lowered into the ground is a choice you’ll never regret making and is one which makes life much more simple.
With a perma-tan, substantial features and a face that looks carved out of wood, he has a pleasingly solid look about him, which suggests he’d be hard to knock over, even with a very large stick. Rugged and very male in a late 70s, John Travolta sort of way, he seems to be the very manifestation of the term ‘a man’s man’, as you’d have to be playing alongside Gazza in Middlesbrough.
Andy remains one of our most notable and easily recognisable voices, though his basic south-east London tones are hardly knees-up-mother-brown-cor-blimey-guvnor. Perhaps his greatest contribution to football culture is, what I like to call, the Andy comma. That is, the comma that is placed after any statement, but before the name of the commentator or presenter, specifically, “not for me, Clive”. This classic dominates his repertoire and has passed into folklore to such an extent that many of us use it, in one variation or another, during our everyday lives, to express mild scepticism or doubt. “A goats cheese omelette? Not for me, Clive.” “Egg and chips? That’s better.”
Three more of his regular riffs are are the simple “that’s better”, the “he’s almost hit that too well” and “in and around”. Another odd quirk is his deployment of the plural “goals” e.g. “he’s had a shot on (the) goals”. Does he answer his own rhetorical questions? You bet he does. Does that pluralising players names thing that seems unique to football media. No-one uses it in real life. We don’t say we’re going shopping to your Waitroses, your TK Maxxes and your John Lewises, do we?
But all these things rolled together makes Andy what he is – some sort of living co-comm legend. For years on ITV, he ruffled our feathers and made us shout at the TV, but once he was gone, oh how we missed him, Clive. G’won, Andy.
Hits and misses
All of Andy’s misses are somehow also his greatest hits. You can see his linguistic ticks as both good and bad. Many have been infuriated by them over the years, but they are what makes him so distinctive and it’s hard to be distinctive in such a crowded market. And once we were deprived of them, many of us really missed them. Now 52 and retired as a player in 2000, he’s had 16 years in the media – that’s a long gig in this business and suggests he must be able to deliver the goods consistently and be a good tourist. Worth remembering he took over as ITV’s main co-comm after Big Ron did his Big Wrong. Oddly, he replaced Jon Gaunt on talkSport after the presenter called someone a Nazi, as you do, so it seems as if Andy is the go-to man to clean up the odoriferous, steaming droppings left by other less continent rubes.
And then, of course, there was the Tactics Truck, in which Andy would sit and peer out of the darkness at us, illuminated only by a flickering screen, as though trapped in some weird limbo: half-alive, half-dead. You had the feeling that said truck was sitting on bricks on an abandoned industrial estate somewhere in Goole and that it was possibly a human rights abuse to have to sit there, the whiff of ammonia and desperation ever present.
Oddly enough, though we all laughed at it at the time, having someone in such surroundings is not so unusual now. Pat Nevin can often be found in one, maybe it’s the same one Andy lived in, littered with used tissues, crisp packets, Durex, empty bottles of cheap red wine and a dead rat.
In recent months, he’s started to build another big hit, appearing on 5live, especially on the Monday Night Club. If you’ve not heard him since the “not for me, Clive” days, you might be in for a surprise. He’s very, very good on the radio. I mean, makes you glad he’s there, good. Quick and never short of words or a well-expressed opinion, he’s an affable and engaging listen who has a really nice way of being matey, which works very well in this close medium. Also, he comes over as really bloody loving football and that talking about it for a living is always a pleasure. It’s hard to fake that on the radio, because it’s such an intimate gig, so I’m sure it’s for real. I’m sure he also does overseas telly, and he’s done a few BT Sport appearances too (a couple I saw were excruciating – like he was there out of charity). But it is on the radio that he really is a class act. Can’t wait to hear him again.
Big club bias
It’s not so much BCB with Andy, but more that he’s always been on the side of the British club or international side, which meant that any time anyone from the favoured side did anything basically competent, he’d praise it as though it was an act of genius. This was often very silly and led to players being vaunted far higher than their talent could ever justify, with consequent embarrassment when they showed themselves to be less than perfect. Given his quality, you’d expect better, Clive.
Loved or loathed
A couple of years ago he was voted in the Independent as worst co-comm, even ahead of Michael Owen. Harsh. Perhaps more than anyone else we’ve looked at, he has traversed the full rainbow of opprobrium to approval. It’s a genuinely odd phenomena. For me, Clive, Mark Lawrenson has gone through a similar journey. All the things that used to annoy us have now become ‘classic’ and, as such, above passing fads and fashions and as indivisible from football media as any colour from the rainbow. I’ve always thought that just turning up is one of life’s greatest achievements and Andy is just always there. Someone who met him has since told me that he was a really nice fella and entirely without side. That doesn’t seem at all surprising.
My social media research suggests a lot of affection for him on the radio. Time and again people commented about how much they enjoy him these days. That may be because he’s better at radio than TV, or it may be that we just like him more these days, especially when asked for thought and opinion that doesn’t rely on commenting on something in real time.
So many people love all the Clive-ing and his other mannerisms and definitely feel like their football world as had an extra colour in it. I sense massive positivity towards his gig.
It’s as though someone gets so entrenched and so familiar that after a while they’re the comfy sofa in the room of your football life, their familiarity a comfort in a fast changing world, forever in and around and hitting it too well. Or, as Andy himself would certainly say, “better”.
Proper Football Man
One of the High Priests within the PFM hierarchy, regularly emerging from the exclusive PFM bathroom/abandoned Tactics Truck, zipping up, with toilet paper stuck to his heel, having written something rude on the contraceptive machine. Let’s consider the evidence. Plenty of jokes about drinking and bantersaurusing with Gazza, Merse, Big Jack and Roy. Yes, son. Classic PFM work. Started in non-league, played international football for Ireland, despite not obviously being Irish. Class. Box-to-box, tough-tackling midfielder who had to do it on a wet Tuesday night in Middlesbrough and Norwich. Hmmmm, nice. All the PFMs nod in appreciation at that. Showed no interest at all in managing but knows he could definitely “do a job there” if required, no matter where “there” is. That’s all proper, top-drawer PFMing.
Was once stopped by the police while with Gazza, shooting wild animals with an air rifle. Reidy, Reidy, we’ve got to make that compulsory. That’s brilliant, isn’t it, Deano? Deano? He’s passed out again, quick Dion, stop presenting property porn to daytime TV losers, you know you don’t care about how much they sold that flat in Nowheresville for, and pass me that tyre inflator.
Can spin a yarn with the best of them, whilst leaning forward, squeezing and shaking a fellow ex-pro’s leg. Loves all of that. Recently suggested on the Monday Night Club that he’d get Aston Villa players motivated by shouting at them and was then promptly offered the Director of Football gig at Villa Park. Mmm, that’s wonderful PFMing by everyone there because, at the end of the day, Clive, everyone knows shouting is what works best, especially with foreigns. Talking of which, has form for saying they “go down too easily” which they do and everyone knows that, but you can’t say anything these days, no offence, but you’re not wearing a bra, are you darlin’? Lovely little thing. Two more sambucas here, luv. Look at the Tag Heur, £24,500. Beautiful, huh? Eh? What do you mean, “time is an existential concept that you can’t put a price on, pet”?
Worked on the never poncy or highbrow ITV. Good good. Definitely passes the anti-metrosexual, not-like-Olivier-Giroud test and would most certainly be up, not just for a night out with the boys, but a long weekend in La Manga playing golf, burying someone in a sand dune, injecting vodka into his eyes and then stealing his clothes. May even be on Reidy’s team of speciality brew-masters, in charge of fermenting new levels of intoxication. Perhaps the new nail polish, nasal douche and nitroglycerin lager is one of his. Deliciously explosive, menthol and very finger-staining, hey, don’t worry about that, la. Has definitely drunk Brut33 and Blue Stratos for a bet.
Loves a night out. One of those lads whose nightclub dance moves were formed in 1978 watching Saturday Night Fever. May have owned a white three-piece at some point. Easy to imagine him on the dance floor of notorious Cork nightclub The Shamrock Fanny, cutting a few shapes to Bee Gees and Dan Hartman records, strong thighs pumping as he does little squats and kicks, whilst pointing with his index fingers and doing hand rolls, eventually emerging at 4.27am with Miss Swollen Tuber Body of 1979 for a session of high jinks with the boys, involving flooding someone’s house, setting fire to the curtains of an expensive hotel, inserting mice into underpants and finally, putting an unconscious Deano in a shopping trolley and tying it to the back of the Flying Scotman.
Has definitely been presented with the PFM carriage clock, matching tie and hanky set, probably at a charity gala dinner, held in a golf club, whilst wearing grey slacks with dark pish stain down one leg. No greater honour is there for any PFM.
Beyond the lighted stage
Is patron of an asthma society and raised money by doing the Great North Run. Apart from shooting at animals with an air gun, the rest of the Townsend cultural hinterland is undocumented but surely involves watching Bruce Willis movies and, in quiet moments, re-watching Saturday Night Fever and wondering what might have been. Wonderful.