Football People on TV: Dean Saunders

Date published: Friday 3rd March 2017 4:11

Fashion police
Just before the FA Cup final in May 1992, I ran a fashion design business with my missus. I know this probably sounds like one of Deano’s unlikely stories, but bear with me.

We designed and made relatively expensive tailored and rather flashy waistcoats. It was my duty to go on the road and flog said items to upmarket menswear stores, and I was doing just that in one such store in a provincial location, when in walked some of the Liverpool cup final team, of which Deano was one.

He made a bee-line for my samples, picked up a silk waistcoat in a vivid purple and orange polka dot and was clearly quite enamoured with it, holding it to himself as he turned to his team-mates and asked for their opinion. They said, to a man, that it was sh*t. Of course they did. Never be nice to anyone is lesson 101 for the horrid boys. On hearing this, Deano repeated the word ‘sh*t’ and simply dropped the item on the floor, as though it might stain his hands, and walked away from the scene of the fashion crime. It was classic alpha male peer pressure and unpleasant to witness, but instructive.

It’s clear Deano still likes his bright colours. Sometimes tipping up on our telly with a bright orange or neon blue shirt on, which he manages to carry off very well. Still got a trim body for a 52-year-old. Hair seems to have a touch of boot polish about it but is surviving manfully. And it’s always nice to see a pundit rock up in something other than the usual undertaker’s outfit, which he also owns.

Looks a bit like Bruce Springsteen, due to owning a similar, lipless shark mouth.

Sported a lovely, could-hide-an-owl-in-it shaggy mullet in the 80s.

Seems to wearing your Auntie Pat’s wig here though.

Wide, generous smile which hints at a man who, underneath the existential angst, has warmth. I suspect most of us would get on with him for a drink, at least for an hour or so, only later to find the meeting turned into an after-dinner speech anecdote involving a dog, a limbo dancer and someone selling liver from a van.


Lingo Bingo
Obviously a Welsher and has a touch of the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea in him. Has one of those voices which invests most sentences with a slightly narked tone, as though being permanently troubled by a stinging hemorrhoid. One of the pundits who finds it easy to vomit up indignation and sneering disdain on demand, like he’s a football seagull feeding its chick. Equally, can find a joke in most things. One suspects the presenters always worry these are going to be off-colour or cause an international incident, and so have an apology in the front of their minds at all times.

Plays fast and loose with tenses in the way seemingly only a certain sort of football person does, managing to tell stories that straddle past and present tense. Very likely to say “took” instead of “taken”, use “thems” instead of “those”, ”is” instead of “are” and “what” instead of “that”.

“I’ve took a touch and thems is the things what you can’t teach.”

Still, communication is all about understanding, and grammar or no grammar, we do know what such utterances mean.

People tell me that he needs little goading on talkSPORT to drop into the usual default PFM nonsense about, well, what have you got? Anything from the foreigns diving, to them keeping British managers out the game, to badges, to The State Of Things In General.

On the BBC last summer, when asked why Gareth Bale was such a great player to manage, he replied: “He’ll be the first to organise the golf day and he’ll be the first one calling out the questions in the quiz, he’s just a proper human.” Yeah. Well. That says it all, really.


Hits and misses
Scored lots of goals for club and country and for a time was at the peak of his profession and the most in-demand striker in the league. Two-hundred-and-fifty-five career goals in 699 games is a healthy return. In a small band of Brits who have played abroad. Went to Galatasaray with Souey, and Benfica too.

Misses include being a manager at five clubs. Did quite well at non-league Wrexham, but then got the next three clubs he managed relegated. A 25% win-rate in 20 games at Wolves was especially notable for its rubbishness.

Appears to rightly have given up the dug-out in favour of the pundit sofa where he’s never short of a view; sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but always sure, and that’s as much as is needed today.

Seems to have found a regular home on BT Sport’s excellent Score show on a Saturday afternoon, where he seems to be rather in his element, shouting at a television, like an old man trying to send soup back in a deli.

A more serious miss was all that disgracefully tin-eared business about Brian Clough, which made a lot of people feel queasy and, as a consequence, has lost him a lot of good will, especially when much of it was flatly contradicted. The fact that so many media outlets trailed it as a “hilarious” story only further showed how low it’s possible to go in search of clicks and career.

The problem is, quite clearly, he’s a natural raconteur with great pacing and timing, and he seems a good choice for the after-dinner circuit. Being able to spin a good yarn is a real art and not many ex-footballers can do it as well as Deano can. It also explains his constant media presence.

Given modern-day media sensitivity to outrage, real or confected, I am a tad surprised that it hasn’t impacted his work opportunities, given how many other ex-footballer 50-somethings are available to shout at, or out, of a television. That being said, none of the Clough story was intended to be negative or malicious, but a national radio station obviously wasn’t the place to start your career in fiction. However, all that being said, let she or he who is without sin cast the first stone, and all that. Time to forgive and move on.


Big club bias
You do suspect there’s some BCB cooking in the Deano soul. Seems concerned about what big actually means. Even today he was going on about Aston Villa being a bigger club than Spurs or Everton, which is frankly a level of debate best left in the playground and only those in the media soil pipe of existence waste their time even engaging with it.


Loved or loathed?
It is not the purpose of this column to be horrible to anyone. I really mean that. I genuinely want to see the best in people, because we’re all a mixture of nice and nasty. We all screw up. We all put our foot in it. None of us are as good as we’d like to be. But the fact is, there was so much negative comment about Dean that I’ve had to edit a lot of it out, or at least asterisk it.

It worries me a bit when there is widespread dislike of a pundit. It feels too close to ganging up on someone, and when it’s especially vitriolic, it seems out of proportion. After all, it’s just football punditry. It matters not one jot in the wider scheme of things. If there’s one thing getting older has taught me, it’s to reserve harsh words and anger for things that really deserve it. And a football pundit can rarely, if ever, be said to deserve it. But wrong is wrong and deserves to be called out as such.

Some of this opprobrium derives primarily from the Clough story, of course. But even though, as we shall soon see, he does have an almost nuclear level PFM rating, I do find myself enjoying his work on BT Sport for its distinctiveness and humour. He was especially good in last year’s Euros on the BBC. His ‘he’s gone for a crepe suzette’ joke, in reference to how a Belgium defender had been sold a dummy by Hal Robson-Kanu, was excellent. And you can imagine that on a night out, you’d have to do almost no work – just sit back, drink and let Deano extemporize on his life and times.

‘I had to quit talkSPORT recently due to the influx of ignorant morons like him, Merson, Mike Parry etc. In short, a weapon.’

‘Would be great at a party but only until his 4th fosters.’

‘I intensely dislike him. It’s all an after dinner speech. Heard the Brian clough story first hand. Horrible. And bollocks.’

‘My Dad once told me he was one of his heroes, despite Deano being 8 years younger than him. He didn’t elaborate as to why.’

‘Fully paid up Jester of the PFM Club.’

‘One of worst pundits out there. Not the sharpest tool. Speaks an awful lot of nonsense. The Welsh Dwight Yorke in that regard.’

‘He’s just so odd.’

‘Wince-inducing. Another reason I quit talksport many months ago.’

‘Worst pundit ever, living in a different age.’

‘For some reason reminds me of a terrier dog  and not a lovable one.’

‘Charlatan. Always telling stories like he’s on the after dinner circuit.’

‘Looked nervous during post match interviews as a manager. Surprised he seems so at home in the pundit/sportsman’s dinner scene.’

‘His managerial career wiki entry reads like a slow burning obituary played as tragedy then farce.’

‘Surely voted leave to ensure home grown kids get a chance.’

‘I wanted Deano to be nice but turns out he’s a ******* t**t.’

‘Bad pundit. Tactical nouse of an average Sunday league manager.’

‘Never thought anyone could be worse than Merson but Saunders is pushing hard.’

‘Can be entertaining in small doses though afterwards I hate myself for listening.’

‘Saunders is a ******* imbecile.’

‘I really enjoyed that time he had to fill about twenty minutes of a delayed start game. His stream of consciousness was ace.’

‘Welsh Merson.’

‘Welsh Tim Sherwood – no research, just words.’

‘Deano has stupidity he hasn’t even used yet, judging by his observations.’

‘In denial about tactics evolving. Loves a rant about British coaches not getting a chance.’

‘Did a good bit of analysis during the Euros on heading technique, then told his terrible Clough story and ruined everything.’


Proper Football Man?
Deano? Our Deano? Are you kidding me? He’s got the rarely issued personalised platinum shopping trolley of shame.

Not an ounce of his soul isn’t dedicated to being a Proper Football Man. Every point on the charge sheet has a tick next to it. The boys love him and they believe the Cloughie story and don’t care who knows it, because there’s nothing wrong with a drink and OK, their doctors have told them they’re an alcoholic, but they know it’s all just PC bollocks, is alcoholism, in the same way that punching a mate isn’t violence, it’s just banter. The boys have to roister and doister and if someone is going to drown in a canal as a result, then them’s just the breaks, officer.

They think he was only rubbish at being a manager due to an interfering chairman, foreign owners and player power. They’re all to blame for poor results. And headphones. It’s all headphones, these days.

Seems likely to be more interested in wearing the PFM cap and bells, and to be the jester-in-chief, specialising in tie-cutting, trouser-ruining, shlong-in-lager japes whilst drinking Reidy’s toilet cube, limescale remover and Brylcreem daiquiri served in a personalised colostomy bag, than in the intimate attentions of Miss Lava Bread Bra and Scanty Panties Body of 1979 in notorious Mumbles strip bar, and illegal aviary retailer, Budgie Smugglers.


Beyond the lighted stage
Deploys his legendary after-dinner skills for the benefit of many a charity. The website of the agency he uses quotes this testimonial:

‘He stayed right to the end and was happy to pose for photographs and sign autographs all night. His speech was excellent and I can’t believe he was on his feet for nearly 50 minutes!!! Never had that before, that’s value for money.’ – Harry Hackett – Salford Schools FA

A whole 50 minutes, huh! Bruce Springsteen will be wondering how he has the energy.

When not standing up for 50 minutes he does the usual matchday ligging at ex-clubs such as Derby County. Their recent ‘Dine With Your Heroes’ package for the game was eccentrically written thus:

‘Tunnel and changing rooms experience’ (An experience? What sort of ‘experience’?)

‘Three course meal. Seats outside the Pedigree Suite to watch the game, question and answer session, autograph and photo opportunities and signed card from Dean Saunders.’

The game I’m fine with but do I have to watch the Q & A, autograph and photo opportunities as well? I don’t want to watch a signed card from Dean. Thanks.

* Pay bar facility. (That’s just called a bar, surely)

Yours for a mere £75. Welcome to the machine.

Loves The Golf. No evidence that he enjoys Italian Poor Art, abstract impressionism or Krautrock.


John Nicholson

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