Football People on TV: Phil Thompson…

Date published: Friday 11th September 2015 7:18

John Nicholson eyes his TV suspiciously as it appears to have evolved independent thought and is doing things he’s sure he never asked it to do. While he figures out what’s going on, he watches Soccer Saturday stalwart, Phil Thompson, a man, who surely also wonders where the tube and valves in his television have gone.

Fashion Police
A believer in the summer suit, recently seen wearing a lovely light grey, expensive looking single-breasted affair, doubtless bought from an upmarket independent menswear store in Chester. Winter sees him in heavyweight dark suits and undemonstrative plain tie, sometimes worn with a sensible, lightweight black knitted sleeveless cardi. Has almost certainly never worn anything floral. Hard to imagine he doesn’t own a bottle of Brut33. Sports the classic deep, rich, skin-like-an-expensive-suitcase, leathery tan of the successful older man from humble origins.

Those of us of a certain vintage remember Tommo’s late 70s/early 80s bleached perm as a classic of the genre, giving him the incongruous appearance of being the bass player in a mid 70s rock band – Foghat or Savoy Brown, perhaps – whilst kicking people in a bleak, windswept outpost of civilisation on FA Cup 3rd round day.

Lingo Bingo
Years ago, I transcribed one of Tommo’s comments. It was very difficult. Now, just imagine his voice saying this.

“The thing about…he’s one…and you wouldn’t say it about…there’s not many that…you’re looking to him all the time and…listen, I’m a big fan of the boy…nobody can say, if you like and plenty don’t…but I can see why he’s not there any more, Jeff, even though…when you look at it and that’s what people will do all the time at a club like Liverpool…it might not look like it’s possibly when you weigh it up what’s gone on is hard to say and only the manager knows that but it’s his decision and you can say what you like and people do because they pay their money but there are others who can come in and …people will say he’s not the boy and you can’t say he’s not…but that’s always going to be said.”

It’s a bit like reading some of James Joyce’s less comprehensible stream of consciousness poetry. Now, you might think being, at times, incomprehensible is not an ideal quality for a talking football head, but at his peak, he’s developed this into an art form all his own and yet, even though it might not make strict sense if you insist on adhering to the normal rules of grammar and sentence construction, you still do usually get what he means. And that is really all that communication is all about.

Also has an impressive range of yelps and howls and hoarse voiced squawkings, especially when asked to cover a Liverpool game. Also good at giving dark-eyed glaring and indignant, nay, disgusted, body language.

Hits & Misses
Tommo is 61 now and he’s got good mileage out his Liverpool career as a really great player and from subsequently being in the dug out. His big hit is always his passion for Liverpool. There is something child-like and almost naïve about a man’s love for his football club. In cynical times, we need more genuine love and less faked passion. Tommo is for real. His performances on TV when Liverpool are playing a big game are a thing of greatness as he kicks every ball, often raising himself up out of his seat in moments of tension, in the same way all of us do, when our side is playing.

Major misses are few and far between as long as you discount the periodic rambling incoherence and the endless jokes about his nose.

Big Club Bias
Very pro Liverpool, obviously. Very not pro Everton or Manchester United. All of which is great. No football pundit should be employed for even-handed balance. That makes for dull. What’s nice about his bias is that he pretends it doesn’t exist, until pressed about it and even then, only the slight twinkle in his eyes reveals his degree of self-knowledge. All of which prevents it being an oppressive, tribal silliness.

Loved or loathed
He’s clearly a genuine bloke who has spent his life in football and bloody loves the game. Even if you don’t like the tone of his work, his passion for the football is surely the thing which has got him the Soccer Saturday gig for so many years and that would seem a churlish thing to take against. And anyone who has had to put up with a lifetime of footballer’s Pinocchio banter, always delivered like its a completely original thing to joke about, surely deserves our sympathy.

Can, on occasions, get a little bit narky, especially when confronted with the worst excesses of the over-pampered ‘boy’ or the foppish ways of the continental. Likes men to be men and shows a degree of nervousness of those who are not.

Proper Football Man
Oh yes, Jeff. He’s the right age and has just the right mix of macho aggression and ‘we’ve all had a drink’ apology to his character, plus physical characteristics offer plenty of opportunity for banter, mockery and over-loud, rather hurtful laughing.

One imagines him to be a popular visitor to a Marriott hotel bar as part of the socialising duties undertaken for the Soccer Saturday team bonding session. Knows that all modern footballers have it lucky and is ever so slightly bitter about that, which is classic PFM territory. Also harbours a scowl for those who ‘won’t play through knock’ and grits his teeth because ‘that’s agents for you, Jeff’ as any PFM should. Refers to any player under 30 as “the boy”. Any British manager under pressure “needs more time” and any overseas manager almost certainly “doesn’t understand the club” – with the exception of Gerard Houllier, of course.

Unlike many of his generation, does well not to commit some massive Twitter storm gaff on air by deploying an unfortunate analogy or using a word last aired in a 1950s Enid Blyton story.

One of the few who could go toe-to-toe with Reidy drinking Blue Stratos, teeth whitener and toilet duck shandies. A night out with the blue monkey would hold no fear at all, indeed, it’s easy to imagine Tommo, 59 drinks in, still mostly sober, sweeping up the bodies with a large broom and pushing them back to a Travelodge in a wheelbarrow with Reidy looking on, bewildered that he’s not the last one standing, shortly before collapsing into a wheelie bin and being accidentally transported to a landfill site just outside of St Helens.

With absolutely no concessions to metro-sexuality, happy in the bar, the casino, at the gee gees, the boxing, the match and a lifetime of dressing room, and now green room banter under his expensive but plain leather belt, he’s an awesome PFM of the first water.

Beyond the Lighted Stage
When not in the studio just seems to be at Liverpool games, usually with Kenny and Rushie and when not there, is playing in a charity golf tournament, usually with Kenny, Rushie, also Aldo and possibly Sammy Lee too. Basically lives in big house along with every other ex-Liverpool player of the last 45 years.

John Nicholson


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