This week John Nicholson watches Paul Ince on his TV looking very nervous and wonders why…
Wears an often-startling range of beige and mushroom-coloured jackets, matching them with dark knitwear and trousers which look inspired by the early 90s stylings of Farah slacks. Looks likely to be a frequenter of expensive independent stores which still call themselves purveyors of ‘Quality Menswear’ just in case you were worried those string vests and Y-Fronts were for women.
Jackets are big on shoulder pads and made from the sort of quality fabric that would survive a nuclear explosion. The basic look he favours is Builder At A Wedding or Dad At The Golf Club, bought from an upmarket version of Greenwoods.
Now 48 (where did the years go?) he’s showing pleasing signs of substantial thickening of frame. So much so that those who have not seen him recently tend to pause, look at the TV, as though seeing a ghost, and say “Is that Paul Ince’s dad?” Head and neck are now impressively the same width. Suspicion abounds that he’s still hoping to get another year out of his wedding suit. Hair not showing the slightest signs of greying. All in all a pleasingly unreconstructed male.
The rough, tough Essex street kid isn’t ever far away from Incey’s vocab. ‘T’s are ‘F’s and ‘R’s are ‘W’s as they so often seem to be in the Essex tongue. ‘H’s are usually dropped. ‘World’ is ‘weld’ and ‘father’ is ‘farver’. Creative use of tenses in sentences like ‘If it weren’t for John Lyall, I wouldn’t be the player what I was’.
Talks in fast bursts, eyes flicking from side to side as he does so, almost as though someone, just off camera, is jabbing a finger at him and making a throat-cutting gesture and he’s trying to work out how to get away with taking a kicking.
For a man who legendarily was known as the Guv’nor, this nervous, distracted fiddling and restless eyes betray a man far too on edge to be Guv’nor-ish. Rather, he seems quite insecure and vulnerable. For some reason, it’s easy to imagine him crying.
Hits and misses
Was once on All Star Mr and Mrs. Whether this is a bit or a miss depends on how much your insides melt in a cringe at this.
Always a good talker and never short of a word or two, he’s definitely more articulate than many who get a lot of more pundit gigs. But then, I’m not sure he really wants to be a studio animal, at least not yet. Has recently appeared on TV quite a bit, as though reminding potential suitors that he’s still got something to offer. Seems like he’d prefer to wear the gaffer’s over-sized padded coat on match days.
Has had a go at the old management game with mixed results, to say the least. Once banned from the touchline at Blackpool for an impressive outburst at the officials which was inevitably coined ‘a foul-mouthed rant’ by the papers. Involved use of the excellent expression “where’s your busy f**ker of a fourth?” And “I’ll knock you f**ing out you c**t”. A five game stadium ban ensued, though Paul reckoned he’d never called him a c**t and it was very harsh and anyway, he was only pushing him in the chest “to avoid a real possibility of a one-to-one confrontation”. Who amongst us has not pushed someone in the chest in order to avoid confronting them?
In the studio, he’s a ball of nervous energy, always tugging at his jacket, almost subconsciously, as though constantly remembering his mother’s words to sit up straight and look smart at all times. Seems constantly distracted by the thoughts in his head or is hallucinating insects crawling just under his skin.
Has a really lovely infectious laugh, and an engaging, genuine smile, which is quite at odds with the narked, hard-eyed fury sometimes seen in his playing and managerial career.
Now an ‘advisor’ at Derby County, whatever that means.
Big club bias
Recently seems to have taken the decline of Manchester United as a personal insult and is always quite quick to refer to his England career, as though it was incredibly successful rather than a trophyless failure. Legendarily a bit of a Big Time Charlie, but then, given he played for three huge clubs and Middlesbrough, that’s not surprising. But his patchy managerial career should have rather knocked the BCB out of him by now.
The fact he rates Stig Inge Bjørnebye as “maybe the best I ever played with, because he had the inner drive, the ability to question himself, the ability to work hard all the time. He was not the greatest talent, but he had something that many of the others lacked: guts,” suggests a fondness for heart over bright lights.
Loved or loathed
Was always a divisive character as a player and his habit of looking back on his England career as though it was littered with glory is a little grating. But then, bleeding copiously from a head wound whilst on foreign soil is one of English football’s greatest traditions.
However, the pundit’s chair is a more forgiving place and my social media research has revealed much enjoyment of his contributions, less so for their insight and more for his ability to relate a good anecdote about Fergie, or to have good vibes with other pundits. Recent performance on BT Sport alongside Steve McMananman revealed a man with a quick eye for a joke and some quality push-me-pull-you bantersaurusing.
Proper Football Man
Approved. No question. Here’s your gold card and key to the executive wash room (abandoned Portaloo), Paul. The harking back to Fergie days and being turned from a boy into a man by the Scotsman, is top-rank work. Box-to-box work-horse. Bleeding for England from the head. Lovely. Persecuted manager who was never given enough time by stupid chairmen. Yes. All PFM quality. Refers to all ex-team-mates by applying a Y or an O to their names as every PFM should.
The sort of physical specimen that you couldn’t knock down with a wrecking ball. Hmm, very good. Nicely turned out but without being fashionable or in any way poofish. Smashing. Barely suppressed rage and the emphasis on guts over anything else, all marks him out as top, top PFM material, as does being England’s first black captain but not making a major political issue out of it because, as all PFMs know, sport and politics don’t mix, no offence.
Effortlessly passes the ‘not like Olivier Giroud’ test essential for any PFM gold card.
Wearing non-poncy clothes that may or may not be made out of asbestos is also a classic PFM marker, as is doing promo for an online poker company in a polo shirt festooned with a cheap vinyl logo.
Also has good form lumping together everyone from anywhere else. Every PFM knows that all foreigners are essentially the same and share the same culture, and are happy to say so with statements like this.
“We are too obsessed with foreign managers. Because we have an influx of so many foreign players the owners think the best way is to bring in foreign coaches because they understand the culture of foreign players.”
Nice paranoia. Seems to think Glenn was a good manager. Very PFM that, as was playing under Terry Venables and drinking in Scribes and in the dentists chair too. All definitive behaviour back when everything was great, not like now.
Yes yes yes, we like you Incey. Come on son, Reidy has got a new blend of Spirytus Polish 192 proof vodka, Peyote and Comfort fabric softener; you drink it, wait five seconds and then hit yourself in the face with a hammer. Sorts the men from the boys, the alive from the dead doesn’t it Deano? Deano?! He’s passed out, boys, quick Teddy, get the gimp mask, straight-jacket and the cherry picker.
Seems to have a long and happy marriage so is unlikely to be papped coming out of Top Beaver on the Wirral at 4.27am with Miss Mechanically Reclaimed Meat Body of the Year, 1985. However, a session of broken shopping trolley racing, preferably in a canal-based location, seems likely to offer an attractive evening’s post-club entertainment, as do various escapades with itching powder, fleas and other such team-bonding tortures, as befits anyone who played with Gazza for England. No night out complete without a manly pushing session which quickly degenerates into a mutually violent assault. We never meant nothin’ by it officer, I only hit him because he’s my bestest mate and I love him, not like that though, obviously, ‘cos I’m wearing my best slacks.
Beyond the lighted stage
Not one for the theatre, poetry recitals or the cubist deconstruction exhibitions. No. Loves those incredibly competitive charity golf days where you get to wear both a V-neck sweater and a roll neck underneath and to which all other ex-pros are invited and pretend to be rubbish whilst really wanting to win very, very badly.
The Variety club once raised £1300 from donations for Paul Ince masks outside of football grounds. Who amongst us can make a similar claim to fame?