ALISTAIR Griffin! Sign him on! He can’t do any worse than Dong Goal Less. He lacks the pace and first touch maybe but he has showed he can handle the physical stuff and carpet burns and that he can slot the goals away when the pressure is on.
Griffin got the winner and earned forgiveness for ‘Hallellujah’ as mighty Boro lifted the first silverware of the season – and some of the glum from Goodison – with a spirited display in a 3-1 victory over West Ham in the Premier League All Stars final. Yes it is contrived celebocentric Murdoch circus, Sky Sports flimsy Americana with a clunky pro-am format and incongruous powerplay and sin bin concepts borrowed from ice-hockey but blimey, it was entertaining!
In the Vickers’ household the boy was allowed to stay up for the final even though it was well past bedtime and there was school in the morning and we were all bouncing up and down on the settee and punching the air. It was a light-hearted antedote to the turgid and toothless defeat at Everton that left a sinking feeling. It was fun.
“Is he a legend Dad?” asked the boy pointing to Beck as he fired wide from the edge of the box. “Sort of,” we laughed. “Is he a legend?” he asked after Tony Rovardi put in a knee-melting two footed tackle on Frank McAvennie. “He is now son.”
The format was daft and I started the week determined not to watch this ersatz bastardisation of the beautiful game. The Masters is bad enough without throwing wheezy former singers of Musical Youth and c-list actors into the mix along side fast fading godlen oldies. A first viewing confirmed my prejudices: it was rubbish. Fat lads trundling about and red faced former stars showing that contrary to popular belief, you do lose that instinct in front of goal.
But it was Wednesday night that reeled me in. I was sat in a multi-media overload with the game away at Spurs on the radio and the All Star on the telly while surfing the net. At kick-off at White Hart Lane the radio was loudest and commanded most attention. By half-time I was losing the will to live and then Boro came out to flashing lighst and pumping music in the arena to take on Newcastle and gradually the focus switched from real life to entertainment.
Bernie was fired up, snarling and arguing over every stray pass (indeed, he had caused a row before the tournament even started because he never got the number seven shirt). Higgy was the understated hero as he beavered away and showed some neat footwork. Beck was strangley lightweight, even up against bankers and air bag manufacturers, and he missed more than his fair share. It was just like old times.
Except it wasn’t because as well as those three and wrinklie shot-stopper Jim Platt there were other people buzzing around: Griffin, former world speedway champion Gary Havelock, an Actor from a soap I wouldn’t dream of watching (Mark Stobbart according to the other half) plus some fired up fans included one lad I’ve seen walking around the Coronation shops and a heroic figure playing through the pain barrier after breaking his ankle in training.
So, a classic pouchers goal off the shin for Bernie earned a 3-3 draw with Newcastle (including John Beresford, Warren Barton, Anthony Hutton from Big Brother and a brilliant fat lad who has scored 30 goals in a season in the Northern League at some point in the 80s) and Beck got the winning penalty in a shoot-out.
Then Boro cruised past Birmingham to claim a place in the semi-final against Sunderland (Gabbiardini, John Byrne, Andy Meville and Liam from Big Brother) and a cracking toe-poked curler from Bernie plus a string of thundering tackles that left almost every player bleeding and Havvy with a suspected broken wrist.
In the final against West Ham – barely an hour after beating the Mackems and only 30 minutes respite for the Hammers – Boro were under the cosh for a spell and leaked a goal and it looked bleak, especially after the news that Higgy and Beck had had a dressing room bust up at the break. But the lads dug in, especially the highly motivated supporters who were putting in some barely legal bone-juddering tackles, and got a break as Higgy got a spawny leveller, a low shot going through the keeper’s legs, then after he stretched back to claw away with his hands it squirming through them too until the last drops of momentum saw the ball squeeze away from his fingernail and trickle over the line.
Inspired Boro staged a barnstorming finish and Griffin missed a sitter before the clock ticked down to power play – when the lighst flash unnnervingly and goals count double – then with 40 seconds to go some excellent work by Beck set the Fame Academy man up for the winner and he controlled neatly then held his nerve eight yards out to slot under the advancing keeper.
It was a glorious moment, not least because Ian Wright and Co so clearly wanted the media darlings and home side West Ham to win. Yes, it is only a bit of fun but we’ll take whatever silverware you’ve got and it is a nice little ÃÂ£50k payday for the Butterwick and Teesside Hospices. And, let’s be honest, there is precious little to cheer about elsewhere.