Football people on TV: George Riley

Date published: Friday 22nd July 2016 9:41

This week Johnny has been hiding behind his sofa, while Big Sam is appointed England manager, only emerging to listen to the life of (George) Riley.


Fashion police
Weirdly, I once had a teacher also called George William Riley who ‘taught’ us something called Rural Science. In essence, this was gardening for thick kids. He once pinned an unruly ruffian to the ground by digging a two-pronged gardening fork over his neck and anchoring him to the earth, rendering him unable to move and left him there for at least 30 minutes in the searing Teesside brightness, if not actual sun. It was the 70s, you could do this to children and everyone thought it was great, even the kids, because the lad was a total tw*t, though probably only because he was being abused at home. Aw. Reality. Boo.

Weirdly, my teacher looked quite like our George, and also loved rugby league, but wore brown polyester slacks, orange brushed nylon shirts and had forearms the size of a pit pony’s leg. Maybe it was his dad.

If you don’t watch Channel 5’s Football League Show, you might not know what George actually looks like. So there he is at the top of the page, wearing some sort of shooting jacket, possibly after bagging a pheasant.
It’s odd how some faces stay with you and some don’t. Some stick to your synapses like a fur ball on velcro, others slide off your hippocampus like a greased pig on rollerskates down a glacier. I’ve seen George many times but would have struggled to say what he actually looks like. Had a vague notion he looked like comedian John Richardson, though am still not sure if he does or not as I’ve already forgotten what he looks like: again.

However, controversially, I often like a presenter who is unmemorable, because programmes are not really about presenters and the best ones are often people who get out of the way of the action and the guests and act as a facilitator rather than a glamour model.

He looks like what my mate Jeff calls a ‘hairy baldy’; that condition when your hairline recedes whilst the rest of your body is covered in an ever-expanding carpet of fur.

Beard has this touch of the iron-filings head about it.

Willy beard

On TV he favours the standardised forms of male tailoring. Shirts are open-necked, jackets worn not for style, but for pretending to be a grown-up. Occasionally adopts the look of a Victorian mill worker in a white shirt and snug brown worsted waistcoat, which suits him rather well, but needs to wear it with a collarless shirt for the full ‘trouble at mill’ effect. Would definitely look good in braces and hob-nailed boots.


Lingo bingo
A Leeds lad, he has gruff, flattish Yorkshire tones, but not overtly so. “Going to” is “gunna”. But there are very few dropped aitches, nor any reduction of definite articles that is more typical of much of West Yorkshire. My Castleford grandmother would have sucked on a Polo mint and said “he talks right proper, that lad,” before adding swiftly, “but what the bloody ‘ell ‘as ‘e got to smile so much about?” Because being Yorkshire means no compliment can be given without a scathing remark to balance it out. As my grandma once observed, “life is misery, the sooner you accept that, the ‘appier you’ll be.” She was right.

George has one of those rather rich, deep brown gravy voices that one instinctively feels belongs to a big burly fellow who smells of Virginia Flake and mint imperials. So the very smiley, lean marathon runner seems physically at odds with how he sounds.

However, he’s got a very good voice for rugby league commentary, being 100% northern male and the aural embodiment of a muddy jockstrap, worn whilst playing in the shadow of a cooling tower, coal smoke hanging in the frosty air on a Saturday afternoon with bitter on your breath and, more importantly, bitter in your soul.


Hits and misses
Was amazed to read he’s been on 5live since 2004. Fair play. Keeping in work is always a big hit, especially in such a competitive business. It suggests he’s very well regarded. Even so, there’s the feeling that he’s very much on the 5live subs bench and only gets a presenter gig when the ‘A’ Team of Kelly Cates and Mark Chapman is otherwise engaged. But then he’s a ubiquitous fella, and has got a lot of strings to his bow, having reported on several different sports. Commentates on and has presented rugby league on the BBC. Last year did Channel 5’s Football League Show with the estimable KC and her sunshine brand. Whether the show was a hit or not still seems open to debate.

There were those who panned it from the off, and it had a bit of a mid-season re-working to try and perk it up a bit. Apparently viewing figures still languished around the 400,000 mark, though whether that’s considered good or not, I’m not sure any more, when some BT Sport programmes getting around 10% of that audience.

For what it’s worth, I always rather enjoyed its unenviable task of covering three divisions and 72 clubs, and thought was all the better when they got rid of the studio audience of zombies. Best not let the public onto your show. Have you met the public? Frightful shower.

This week, as the news of Sam Allardyce’s appointment broke, it fell to Georgie to do a phone-in about it along with Big Sam glove puppet fan Sean Custis and King Scouser Tony Evans. So little challenge did he put in to some of the most outrageous pro-Samming from these two led me to believe he must already have some sort of honorary media PFM status. The two journos, in essence, said every single thing would be better under Sam, and they had already re-written the Hogdson period as an unmitigated disaster in order to better reflect the Allardyce regime, even ahead of it happening. Classic PFM behaviour, that. The mind wipe had begun and they kept going on about Jay Jay Okocha and Prozone like these things were not 14 years ago. I’d have liked him to have asked how BS was going to improve on a 100% win ratio in qualifiers, but all of the PFM blowhardery was let slide. Shame. Now, y’see Mark or Kelly would only let so much of that go before presenting the counter-view quite forcefully and it would have provoked spikey defensiveness and thus made great radio.

Biggest hit must be being in The Thick Of It playing himself. Now let’s see him in Veep.


Big club bias
No. Don’t get above yourself is in the Yorkshire DNA. To quote my gran again, “liking things too much just makes you soft”.


Loved or loathed
I went into my social media research with an open mind, as usual, but was expecting few to have much to say about George. However, it was very divided, with some having a surprising distaste for him. A selection of comments included:

‘A budget version of Mark Chapman.’ ‘George Riley’s biggest fan is George Riley.’ ‘Always sounds like he’s reading from a script’ ‘Sounds patronising, almost always talking about himself, constant fake laugh, smarmy, over-friendly, unlistenable.’ ‘Tries to be chummy but fails’. ‘Something a bit fake about him which I can’t quite put my finger on.’

But it wasn’t all bad. Others were more complimentary.

‘Comfortable & relaxed.’ ‘Good knowledge & self-deprecating humour. Decent, knows his rugby’.’Top man.’ ‘Very good imho’.

I sensed those who follow rugby especially liked him. Others simply hadn’t heard of him. Fair enough. The difficulty for being a football frontispiece is that you’re up against so many stellar performers right now. His colleagues Kelly Cates and Mark Chapman perform at the loftiest peaks of the profession and are loved and respected, and similarly on TV, Gary Lineker bestrides the kingdom like a tanned colossus. These people cast long shadows. Those who are consummate pros and solid performers, but who are not quite grazing on the same lush uplands pastures, can seem a little less golden, if only by contrast. Just ask Mark Pougatch and whoever is on TalkSport.


Proper Football Man
The PFMs are all out on a major bender. No shopping trolley is left abandoned in any canal tonight. Their man is to be England’s King Kong, bestriding the landscape of English football, never doing anything wrong and always being brilliant, no matter what actually happens. He is, almost literally, the 300lb gorilla in the room.

This is what they’ve wanted for so long. At last English football can be ‘taken back’, though quite where it’s been, no-one knows. Because they didn’t just want an English manager per se, oh no, to all good PFMs, intelligent, well-read and erudite English managers are as bad as foreigners. Big Sam is the High Priest of PFMery. All success will be down to him, all failure down to someone else. That’s how it works. Suck it down you big poof.

Note how many PFMs commenting on his appointment have used ‘foreign’ as a collective noun, as though they’re all the same. Englishmen are individuals, foreigners are all foreign, Jeff. Well, it’s true innit. I never met one what wasn’t not English, Clive.  Thanks for that, Glenn.

Note also how they still refer to things Allardyce did in 2002 as modern. Wonderful stuff, all from those who have drunk deep from the Brut 33 bottle of shame and eaten Keysie’s vaguely xenophobic flavoured waffle.

So the PFM ethics committee has won. More intelligent, reasoned voices have been shouted down. But now it’s a matter of gathering the wagons, looking for enemies and defending their man against the inevitable backlash, so Mr Riley, which side are you on?

Now, first we need to test your constitution. What’s this Reidy? It smells weird. Oh man, it’s not the fermented mice wine again is it? No? OK give us a snifter. Mmm, actually, that’s very refreshing. Bugger, I’ve lost control of my central nervous system. Dear me, that’s like getting tackled by Vinnie Jones and injected with nitrogen fertiliser at the same. What’s in it? Napalm and DDT with creme de menthe and fish sauce? What do you reckon, Hutch? Oh, he’s unzipped his skin and walked away from his body. Jesus. Powerful stuff this, Reidy. Not for the amateurs. I reckon we might invade Portugal after closing time. Aye, bunch of nancy boys.

You’ve got a worrying low body fat % George. It suggests you’d be a poor performer on a night out on the lash with the boys, but you do have the look of a man who could be persuaded to take Miss Steel Girder Erection and Heavy Duty Nail Gun’s Legs Of 1993 (Pontefract and Castleford quarter-finalist) home from legendary Armley night club El Grande Pudenda. And we like that don’t we boys? Oooh, you’re a lovely little thing aren’t you? Have you got a daughter? I’ve dropped a 20, can you bend over and get that for me, darlin’? Bless you, luv. I never touched her, honest, officer. It was just banter.

We like that you’ll allow us to say anything we want on the Monday Night Club, no matter how stupid and unsubstantiated, as though it is football wisdom. This is all very good. And we love how you nod and grin at ex-players while they’re on the TV, passing off bland observations as the wit and wisdom of the ancients. If you can look that happy talking Michael Bridges you’re alright by us, Rilez Dog. We’ve all had a few, like, so we reserve the right to bin you off at any time in the future, I never liked you, me.


Beyond the lighted stage
Does lots of marathons for charity, especially the Steve Prescott Foundation. Wrote very well about homophobic chanting in rugby league going back to 2010. Player manager of The Quays FC, a Sunday League team. Close personal friend of Judy Murray.


John Nicholson

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