Football people on TV: Ray Houghton

Date published: Friday 13th January 2017 4:23

Fashion police
I always thought he looked like Damon Grant from Brookside in the 80s. Hair once veered a little towards mullet territory without making the final leap into ‘business at the front, party at the back’. In 1988, hair looked more like an elaborate hat.

Ray grew up in the era when men were men – and so were the women – and had to play in those shorty-short shorts which meant a chap’s plums could quite easily make a cameo appearance. Possibly as a result, seems suspicious of sportswear in general.

Has the dark eyes, not of a hard man, but of the tough ex-pro who could stand up for himself during football’s most brutal period.

These days he’s gone wide. We all love to see an ex-pro thickening out. Remarkably his head has become actually square. Suits are neutral, shirts plain; vest tucked into underpants too, I should think. Hair now grey but is hanging on with admirable persistence. Has one of those shark-like lipless mouths which looks like it was made with a Stanley knife.

Smiles a lot, which is always endearing.


Lingo Bingo
A Castlemilk boy, his Glasgow accent is still very distinct, even though he moved to London aged 10. Obviously very Scottish, so ideal for Big Jack Charlton’s Ireland, via Ray’s Donegal father.

But while he’s distinctly Scottish, doesn’t have the full “wit’s up wi yoor coupon, yie glackit baw bag” and thus can be understood in the Home Counties, even if the natives of the shires are always terrified of anyone with celtic heritage, fearing they will have Irn Bucky forced upon their holy, temple-like bodies.

Can we sometimes hear a touch of, if not cockney, then Lahndan in amongst the remnants of the Glaswegian? I think so. Very occasionally, I feel like he’s got an Oxfordshire burr, possibly acquired while playing for that city’s side. No trace of acquired Scouse though, sadly. Not even performing on the Anfield Rap with Aldo and Steve McMahon could embed the local tones – even though the converted Scouser, Jan Molby, for example, is always one of life’s aural pleasures.

Voice has a very masculine, gravelly quality, and absolutely no concessions are made to any of the infuriating modern speech habits. You’ll not find him deploying a rising inflective, starting every sentence with ‘So’, nor saying the word “bruv.” Bet he can do a sodding good swear though.

Unlike some of the more fashionable media workers today, he always seems to have access to his vocabulary and can be relied upon to speak in traditionally coherent sentences without resorting to excessive shouting, or believing that repeating the same thing time and again is the same as intellectual depth, or can pass for wisdom.


Hits and misses
Biggest hit was this, one of the World Cup’s most iconic underdog goals and proof that you’re often better off mis-hitting it.

Also scored another iconic winning goal in the 1988 Euros against a terrible England side which was full of so-called leaders (so don’t swallow any of that old guff from ex-pros).

Wiki says he got 73 caps for his country. OK, not actually his country, but his dad’s. But even so. Tremendous service.

Played an important part in the Liverpool team of 1987-88, which I consider was the finest side ever to grace a football pitch in England, a side that at their peak, would surely beat any side playing in the Premier League today. Also played with 9 on his back, which at the time was felt almost a crime against nature, if you were not actually a centre forward.

Since retiring in 2000, has been a constant presence on radio and TV, especially talkSPORT, Sky and RTE. When there are so many well-groomed, low body fat, snake-hipped ex-pros looking for pundit work, the fact Ray has remained a regular, both as a contributor and as a co-comm, shows just what a good, reliable pair of tonsils he is. Never a stellar performer, but never the subject of a Twitter storm.

Always comes across as affable in the extreme.


Big club bias
Being Scottish and working in Ireland is the perfect antidote to any BCB: two countries where getting above yourself, or slavishly following trends, is rightly thought a weakness of character. Seems thoroughly down-to-earth and grounded, despite being arguably one of the finest midfielders of his generation


Loved or loathed?
Aside from his five years on Merseyside, he also played for Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Fulham, Oxford and Reading, as well as a single game for West Ham. Seems very fondly remembered by fans wherever he played, largely due to being one of those ceaseless runners who always put a shift in. The very definition of a player who’s got “a good engine”. That being said, my social media research provoked little response, possibly indicating that while he annoys no-one, he is very much considered part of the football furniture. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I like a nice chair, me. Or a coffee table.

‘I guested on Talksport, with Houghton as one of the hosts. He was the only one who seemed to listen to what I said.’

‘Has pleasingly widened just the right amount. I don’t trust thin ex-players.’

‘I do like him seems a decent sort but co-comms for Irish TV tend to be very critical which can border on miserable at times.’

‘He sounds more Scottish than most Scots, despite being an Irish international. Kind of an interesting Andy Townsend.’

‘Remember him as a proper pro (in the v best sense of the word) and being liked by oppo fans.’

‘I’ve listened to him in irish games for years.never has a man sounded more disappointed with player ineptitude.’

‘Has really annoying jockney accent which grinds when he says fice not face.’

‘Although he has his PFM moments he does with a politeness and a grace that there is no malicious intent there. Its weird.’

‘A genial if inoffensive pundit which unfortunately mean he avoids offering contrasting opinions to Dunphy et al.’

‘Seemed like a nice guy when I was on a placement at Talksport. Happy to chat about football to people in the office.’


Proper Football Man?
One of the few who can claim the rare trifecta of English, Scottish and Irish PFM awards. Had to fly home from the last World Cup due to having hypertension, caused by high blood pressure; every PFM treats his blood pressure being at least 160/110 as a matter of pride. Years on the touchline shouting at referees and foreigners will do that to you, as will a diet largely based on drinking Brasso and eating Puffa fish.

Orbits around the Planet Brazil (he has his own gravitational pull) at talkSPORT and the Sky sofas – both classic PFM locations, of course. Allegedly once excused being late for talkSPORT by saying: “I played in a golf charity match to raise money for a boy injured in a car accident. I had to drive like a lunatic to get here.” No PFM would see anything wrong with that at all and would rather praise his dedication to getting into work.

Classic ’80s/’90s footballer, played for Liverpool under Kenny which is a primo PFM credential, as is playing for both Bigs Jack and Ron. As such he’s ticks all the boxes in the PFM handbook and then some. Even finishing your career at Stevenage Borough seems the sort of thing a real football man would do.

Having been on tour with an Irish squad which contained Paul McGrath, he can still probably sink an unfeasibly large amount of booze. Indeed, he may never have actually property sobered up after the ’94 World Cup, which will have prepared him for working with Alan Brazil.

Mind you, it’s not an unblemished CV. He was on that Anfield Rap record and no PFM likes rap, not even if done by Tina Turner, Level 42 or Living In A Box. Also, he was part of a three-man team to recommend that the FIA appoint Giovanni Trapattoni as Ireland manager, which sounded dangerously broadminded and knowledgeable, and the PFM loathes broadmindedness and knowledge, fearing education will only make you more stupid and less attractive to Miss Baked Potato Body and Creamy Fillings of 1979. And his days of post-casino shopping trolley abuse are surely long behind him. Neither is he a likely candidate for a short break of degradation with the boys at legendary chlamydia-themed Thai resort, The Phuket Bucket.

Even so, the PFM membership can overlook a few of these issues as long as you pass their jingling change and car keys in your slacks pocket test, and are prepared to talk about the route you took to get the studio for at least an hour.


Beyond the lighted stage
Loves a bit of the old charity golf, a ‘Legends’ charity game at Anfield and an After Dinner with a few funnies. Once pulled out of an Irish TV show, along with Ronnie Whelan, when they found it was sponsored by The Sun. Once met the Pope. Seems to live a splendidly blameless existence. Not bad for a lad from Castlemilk


John Nicholson

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