This week John Nicholson turns his gaze upon relative new boy Danny Higginbotham who, because he really has done it on a rainy Tuesday night at Stoke, might be offered the keys to the PFM portaloo. Don’t do it, Danny.
Has the look of a world-weary maverick cop, looking to bust some villains one last time before getting thrown out of the force by the suits upstairs, for the crime of cleaning up the streets by dispensing rough justice to slags with his fists and occasionally, a massive piece of wood. It’s the only language they understand, boss.
He’s some flavour of handsome, albeit with over-sized features and the sort of substantial, thick, rubbery ears that surely spent a lot of time being flicked at school with a protractor.
In the pundit’s chair he’s adopted the path of least resistance and gone with Football Clothes. Which is to say, it;s all plain, very male and because he’s still hanging on to the low body fat percentage of the ex-pro, close-fitting. Occasionally sports soft, designer tailoring with nice detail.
Loves a good growth of stubble and marries it with a head in various states of shaven, which does make him look quite like dance diva, Louie Spence. I doubt this is deliberate, but you never know.
A native of the Mancunian Republic, his voice is not the full “you’re twisting my melon, man” Shaun Ryder drug-dealer ciggie-cadger, but has that slightly gnarly flavour, all the same. Most people from that area can sound like they’re trying to pick a fight with you or alternatively, are being defensive about something they’ve been caught doing by the police involving a dog.
Not notably a professional northerner but does have a surname which sounds like a bleak mill town, possibly near Ramsbottom, or the name of something attached to a loom.
Has that classic Manc habit of not pronouncing the ‘t’ in words, so “but” becomes “buh” and “right-footed” becomes “raigh-fuhid”.
This all being said, is a good stringer-together of sentences. Seems quick-witted and thinks well on his feet. Dark eyes dart constantly around as though picking up ideas from all points in the room.
His Twitter bio reveals a very nice turn of expression. ‘Enjoyed my career but when you’re done, you’re done. Time for the next chapter.’ That’s almost elegiac. Lovely.
Hits and misses
Getting an increasing amount of high profile co-comms gigs as well in-studio punditing. Works Champions League coverage for non-UK viewers and generally pops up all over the place. I’m told that during a Talksport co-comm earlier this year he said “De Gea went onto a pitch with Andy Carroll a boy, and left it a man”. I can’t actually find evidence of this, but if true it is the work of someone with poetry in his soul.
His book Rise Of The Underdog was well-received and well-reviewed and told the story of a professional footballer with few airs and graces in an era where airs and graces seem obligatory. He has been especially good on how young players are overpaid and the negative effects this has on the player and the game.
Is building a decent hit being a bridge between some of the new school clevers, full of erudition, research and learning, and the old school double-breasted blowhards who are soaked in out-dated notions and assumptions made for so long they’ve hardened in their minds into facts. Can’t play the intellectual card, but seems astute enough to know there’s a relatively unoccupied mid-ground you can claim for your own which gives a little nod to both camps.
Some readers reported him coming out with some dreadful guff about Wayne Rooney being let down by his team-mates as the excuse for him playing poorly. If that’s right, it’d be sad, but Rooney does tend to bring the worst out in us all, and in himself too, weirdly.
Apparently during the PSV penalty shoot-out this week he predicted a player would miss due to him having bleached blonde hair. Surely he wasn’t serious? He didn’t miss, due to hair not being directly related to kicking a small ball in a big goal, apparently.
Big club bias
Had to literally do it on a wet Tuesday night at Stoke, so despite being a Manchester United graduate, he’s spent enough time at the coalface to have no element of BCB in him. And let’s face it, when you are an international footballer with three caps for Gibraltar under your belt, you’re not likely to play the William Large Testicles. His auto-biog reveals a really down-to-earth bloke, who was glad to have made a top-flight career out of a limited skill set, through hard work and perseverance.
Loved or loathed
Social media research revealed a lot of appreciation of his work. He seems to be flying under the radar a little bit for everyone who isn’t a pundit and broadcast obsessive, but those who have noticed him, very much think he’s a rising star with a good media career ahead of him. ‘Surprised he was so articulate’ or variants thereof, was a common phrase used. Also regular praised for his tactical analysis. Probably benefits from being far sharper and well-prepared than many expect. He’s not there for glamour or for big-name status and yet picks up gigs across most networks, so his number must be high on the producer’s Rolodex (they still have them, right?). So many long-serving pundits are all too often coasting and picking up their money for blarting the obvious and hoping that the fact they played the game in 70s and 80s gives them some credibility. But the more astute newer pundits know that standards are being raised and you need to turn up and be both interesting and credible. Danny is definitely one who does that. We certainly need more interesting, articulate pundits in their 30s.
Proper Football Man
Higgy (good PFM nickname) is the sort of sweet young flesh the PFM cabal likes to recruit to their cause and then feast upon like hungry vampires. He’s newly retired, with friends and contacts in the game, played under Fergie and Tony Pulis, so is in prime position to push the PFM agenda of
1. Pumping your mates for jobs.
2. Make out British coaches are great but are discriminated against in favour of foreigners, whilst at the same time, without even blushing, applauding a British manager for taking a job abroad, yet declaring that nobody appreciates them regardless, despite receiving almost wholly uncritical mainstream media support all of the time.
3. Wherever possible decry foreign players and managers for “not understanding our Premiership”.
4. Always refer to the Premier League as ‘the Premiership’ even though it’s not been called that for years.
5. Squeeze arms and legs at every opportunity to make out you’re good fun and not twisted with bitterness, even though it looks weird.
6. Speak almost entirely in cliches, most of which are meaningless, and pass it off as original thought.
7. Be incredibly blinkered and shamelessly hypocritical at any time that suits you.
Despite being a perfect PFM fit, it looks like he’s not playing ball and the PFM hates someone not playing ball and takes it very personally.
Danny, Danny, Danny, come and have a drink, son. Tell us about training with the Class of ‘92. Tell us about Fergie and how great Pulis is. We love all that. You were a bit of a grafter. We like that an’ all. And never quite made the grade at the top. Also good work, son. You’d have played a lot more if the league wasn’t full of foreigners, we all know that.
And you played in Gib? Ha ha, Reidy was once mistaken for one of them monkeys weren’t you Reidy? Was a City fan, as well.
Now, what’s this heinous brew, Reidy? Yeah? Is it, now? Are saddle soap, anal bleach and worming tablet smoothies legal? They are? Sweet. Good grief, that’s a cleansing tonic. I’ve got a proper flush on. Feels like the time Emlyn Hughes turned a flame thrower on me. Classic banter.
See, you’ve got to stop trying to think Danny. No good comes of it. It might impress them laptop gurus with their hi-tech bunkers full of whiteboards, but you don’t impress any proper football man with thinking. And this coming up with insight stuff – forget it. Football has got loads of things what has been said about it loads of times, so just say them things in a loud voice, look around at everyone and dare them to contradict you. They never do. Job done. Take the bloody money. Are you daft or what?
And never mind with this book writing and stuff, there’s plenty of golf days and charity dinners to pass your time with, before picking up easy money off the telly. What you need son, is a proper football man bonding session with a night out at the Pink Wink in Bolton with Miss Fred Dibnah Massive Erection Explosion Body of 1988, followed by some apres club banter with the boys, abusing TC with a cattle prod. Isn’t that right, Deano? Deano?! He’s passed out again, quick McAteer, take his pants off and pass me that milk bottle.
See, there’s a place at our table in the back room of a pub owned by an 80s lower-league footballer for you, Danny. Just play by the rules and you’ll not get any trouble from the discipline committee. I’ll just leave your membership gold card, your key to our exclusive Portaloo and a map with all of Reidy’s abandoned sofas on, Danny. No pressure. Whenever you’re ready, son.
But will he go over to the dark side?
Beyond the lighted stage
His second wife is American, which, technically makes her foreign. Played for Royal Antwerp for a while too, which means he’s lived in a foreign country like a grown-up might. This is all dangerously cosmopolitan stuff. Writes newspaper columns. Supports the Once Upon A Smile charity and has done fundraising for Motor Neurone Disease Association. All in all, a dangerously rounded personality for British football’s punditocracy. Top work, Mr H.