Announcers and mascots: Johnny Phillips says entertainment at football not for him

Soccer Saturday man thankful for Liverpool's lack of sensationalism

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Last Updated: 10/03/14 2:28pm

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is enjoying Fred the Red's company, but Johnny is not a mascot fan

Matchday stadium announcers can be divided into two types; those that venture onto the playing surface and those that don't. My preference is firmly with the latter camp, but in recent seasons the trend has been for the former.

At Elland Road last Saturday, ahead of Leeds United's capitulation to Bolton Wanderers, the lad at the helm of the PA system was making a decent fist of his duties before the match.

Enthusiastic but not over-bearing, he went through the usual roll call of announcements laid out on his clipboard. Prowling the touchline with microphone in hand he was getting in the way of nobody's pre-match chat up in the stands.

"There's only so much hype a home game against Doncaster Rovers can endure."

Johnny Phillips

But then, just before the teams came out, he marched out on to the hallowed turf and took up his position at the front of a troupe of flag-bearers.

Why? What did this vantage point bring to his duties? Our man at Leeds at least spent most of his day on the sidelines. At certain grounds the announcers spend more time on the pitch than the players, looking almost affronted if a wayward ball from the warm-up ventures into their territory in the centre circle.

By kick-off they have worked themselves up into such a fevered frenzy of anticipation that the decibel levels have peaked and the tone is set for a gladiatorial dispute of unrivalled proportions.

I find this particularly so with Reading's mic-wielder, who is positively screaming at the fans in the stands to get behind the Royals as he leaves the pitch to allow the game to commence. All well and good, but there's only so much hype a home game against Doncaster Rovers can endure.

Thank goodness for George Sephton. Liverpool's matchday man and Ringo Starr sound-a-like sits in his box, high up in the stands, and gets on with it in his own understated way.

The odd birthday shout out interspersed by some fine tunes from local talent ranging from The Beatles through to Echo and the Bunnymen and The Farm. Job done.

In fact, Liverpool set the bar highest with their matchday entertainment, simply by not providing any. There is a small digital click in the corner of the Kemlyn Road Stand and Kop and that's your lot.

Quite right, too. Fans have paid to watch a football match and they will return home with their mood based solely on its outcome and not the fluff before, after and in the middle.

Pyrotechnics

Big screens, dance routines, fireworks. You can keep them. And they tend only to be memorable when things go wrong. Such as the time 10 years ago when a pre-match firework before Wolves' game with Newcastle shot off sideways and hospitalised a fan. That was the end of the pyrotechnics experiment at Molineux.

And the official club mascots? Harmless enough I suppose. I did once see Queens Park Rangers' Jude The Cat sent to the dressing room midway through a Championship match because from his seat by the advertising hoardings near the 18-yard line he was confusing the linesman.

In fairness he was decked out in the full home strip, but being eight foot tall and dressed mainly in imitation fur I would have thought there was enough of a distinction.

Controversy raged at Ashton Gate in 1998, and again Wolves were involved, when Wolfie got involved in a heated dispute with Bristol City's City Cat. From nowhere three not-so-little pigs arrived, representing a local double glazing firm, and jumped to the defence of their feline friend.

Footage of the clash can be found readily enough on YouTube, but despite a couple of reasonably directed right hooks, the suspicion remains that it was all a marketing stunt.

Many mascots have become celebrities themselves in recent years. The Mascots Grand National became an eagerly fought contest and did for a while provide a certain amount of humour.

But even that has become an exercise in corporate ambushing. Last year's winner? Barry Barratt, the Barratt Homes Safety Mascot from the Southern Counties League. It's enough to make you throw up your chicken balti pie.

With one notable exception, I have yet to have a lasting memory of any on- pitch entertainment that doesn't involve the sport I've turned up to watch itself.

Johnny once witnessed a 'Chase The Sheila' race at the Adelaide Oval

During the 1998/99 Ashes series in Australia I pitched up with a mate to the third Test at the Adelaide Oval. During the lunch break one day they announced a running race would be held around the perimeter of the outfield, involving local athletes from the region. The race was a staggered start involving a lap or two of the ground.

They were all men apart from the lead athlete who was a woman. And the name they gave to this race? 'Chase The Sheila.' I kid you not. I know Australian sports fans can have a reputation for an unreconstructed outlook on life, but it did feel as if I was watching civilisation take a backward step that day.

Maybe we should be thankful for the on-pitch stadium announcer after all.