Anthony Vanden Borre isn’t a player many remember. He played 28 times for Belgium. He played for some decent European sides: Fiorentina, Genoa, Anderlecht, Montpellier. You might not recall his 19 appearances for Avram Grant’s Portsmouth in the Premier League 13 years ago.
And you would be forgiven for not instantly recollecting the moment in the 60th minute of a goalless draw with Blackburn on 3 April 2010 where he was given a second yellow card for a deliberate handball by Steve Bennett. Morton Gamst Pedersen knocks it down the line for Martin Olsson and Vanden Borre sticks out an arm – it rules him out of an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
In your defence there’s been a lot of football, and a lot of life, since then. The thing is though, you all know this moment.
“We’re off to Fratton Park where there’s been a red card, but for who Chris Kamara?”
“I don’t know Jeff, has there? I must have missed that.”
Cue off screen laughs from Paul Merson and the rest of the Sky Sports Soccer Saturday studio. “Chris, have you not been watching? I haven’t,” asks an already grinning Jeff Stelling. “I don’t know where that’s come from Chris. I’ve no idea what has happened there. What has happened Chris?”
“I don’t know Jeff!” Kammy replies, bending double in hysterics.
It is quite simply a brilliant bit of television. The best bits are always when it doesn’t go to plan. Stelling advises Kammy to count the players. By now Kammy is full falsetto. “No you’re right, I saw him go off, but I thought they were bringing a sub on Jeff.”
The highlights of the match have under 600 views on YouTube. The Soccer Saturday clip has millions. It’s so good not just because of the timing – obviously Stelling is a master – but of the wonderful pure honesty. So many reporters would have tried to bluff, or come up with an excuse. There is a strange desperation to always be right and never make a mistake, and certainly never to admit making one. But Kammy owns it with a warmth and charm that have been a constant throughout his 24 years at Sky.
Kamara announced this week that he’s leaving Sky Sports. The key to his enduring popularity is something so simple. He’s always enjoying himself. It is salutary lesson for those us who work in the industry. No need for your tiny violins – and I appreciate after the last two nights this isn’t the week to complain – but it can be draining. Football never ends. #Wegoagain – too right we do. Weird alarm times, relentless travel, thinking of another superlative for Liverpool. Do I have to watch the Championship tonight? And that’s before you consider all the depressing issues in the game that you have a duty to read up on, report and discuss.
Kammy made the most of every minute. And in a sport where so many people take themselves too seriously, or deliver over hyped hyperbolic opinions every five minutes, he was a gentle interviewer and had a great ability to laugh at himself. And he had almost no inhibitions. On the “Kammy-do-it?” feature on Soccer AM he did everything: a full stand up set, emerging from the tube on Take Me Out to a very bemused set of prospective suitors, and, if memory serves me correctly, an actual rodeo where he fell off a horse. One afternoon the two of us got stuck at the top of a scramble net in the middle of a forest on some ludicrous assault course.
There are a couple of things worth remembering about that red card clip. Firstly, I’m sure Kammy would acknowledge that if he was the Eric Morecambe of the Soccer Saturday crew, he relied on scores of Ernie Wises up and down the country – your Gwynns, your Boultings, your Carruthers, your Michelle Owens – delivering slick, punchy updates from every division. That’s why it worked – the light relief amongst the important information. The “unbelievable Jeff”. It’s hard in a footballing context or indeed any context to say unbelievable without an involuntary Jeff just blurting out of you before you’ve had time to think. Kammy did that.
But secondly you can’t last that long without really studying and knowing the game. He would get in for work almost in the middle of the night ahead of Goals On Sunday to find things that Match Of the Day hadn’t noticed. He somehow found a balance between serious football and being downright silly. Not many can bridge that gap – nor can they branch out into Saturday night light entertainment. That is a completely different world.
Viewers noticed him struggling with his language at Rotherham the other week. He explained that he has been diagnosed with apraxia, a neurological disorder which can affect your speech. “When it’s bad it stops the signals going from my brain to my mouth,” he told Good Morning Britain. “It slurs the words. People are thinking is he OK? Is he drunk? What’s the matter with him? I’m trying to use parts of my brain – I have got one! – to try and speak fluently.” Despite that the good news is he’ll continue to host Ninja Warrior and no doubt pursue other projects. I wish him so much luck and happiness.
It’s always worth reminding yourself what a privilege it is to get paid to watch football and be given airtime or column space to say what you think about it. Kammy did almost a quarter of a century – way longer than he played. That’s a generation of football fans watching and enjoying his work. That first Saturday next season will be weird for him. But the cliches are true – life moves fast, the game moves on.
Someone else will be at Fratton Park next season. They’ll probably notice the red cards. And because of that, most of us won’t even realise they’ve happened.