Tuesday, 29 April 2014


By Bryan Cooney

WHENEVER I see that supercilious look on Alan Hansen’s face, I’m tempted to dismember the old flat screen television.

There was a maniacal urge to do so on Saturday, when Hansen made an unfortunate appearance on Football Focus, together with the relative newcomer, Martin Keown.

A rather diffident Dan Walker was obliged to function as referee rather than presenter in a show that for once divested itself of its inherent predictability and produced some spirited debate.

Sometimes it promised to become over animated as a conflict of opinions developed between the pundits. “I’ve got to take control of this programme,” Walker admitted nervously.

Hansen reckoned the Premier League was firmly in Liverpool’s hands. Keown intimated that the fat lady had not even pulled her corset strings together, far less test-driven her vocal chords. The Scot opined that Fulham could survive the relegation battle; the Englishman professed himself far from confident of this occurring.

But it was the divergence of opinion over whom should next pick up the pieces of Manchester United that declared them to be polar opposites - and perhaps emphasised the fact that they belong to different generations.

Now, in 1995, Hansen was once ridiculed for insisting that a team wins nothing with kids. Manchester United, Alex Ferguson’s squad of adolescent brilliance, duly went on to win the league and FA Cup double.

On Saturday, he offered himself up for further derision - again on the altar of Old Trafford. Supporting Ryan Giggs’ claims for the preferment, he pointed out that Kenny Dalglish had once done something similar with Liverpool almost 30 years ago.

“What if he wins his last four matches in a style Man Utd supporters are used to?” Hansen asked rhetorically. “How do they turn around and say he’s not getting the job then?”

The naivety of that statement was seized upon by a remorseless Keown. Recognising and understanding the pragmatic and unromantic world inhabited by the Glazers, he stressed: “Giggs is for the future. United now need a safe pair of hands.”

This is Hansen’s 22nd season as an occasionally dyspeptic and sometimes despotic pundit for the BBC. It’s also his last. It’s said he’s about to retire, possibly to devote further attention to the golf courses of the universe. The time may be ripe for a departure.

The scars of football management have not inflicted themselves on him as they have many others. He had the chance to lead Manchester City out of their mid Nineties wilderness. Instead, he pledged himself to the punditry game.

Consequently, he is a fine advertisement of a man of 58 years: handsome and unlined. And rich into the bargain. But punditry, like most things, is changing. And if Hansen is seeking a comfortable ride before delivering his last sermon at the World Cup, he may have to reconsider his options.

Broadly speaking, Mark Lawrenson, his old oppo, has been removed from centre stage. Increasingly, this now belongs to the young, ambitious thrusters such as Keown, Alan Shearer, Robbie Savage and Danny Murphy.

To adopt an American colloquialism, they take s*** from no man. Not even Hansen.

Now, though there have been times I’ve saluted his professionalism and his critiques, I cannot say I’m unhappy with this situation. We all have our favourites and betes noir in this very subjective business. I find Hansen crosses that line between self assurance and arrogance.

There again, I must admit to a bit of previous with him. Some sportsmen can surprise you with their generosity of spirit. I cannot recall being overwhelmed by Hansen’s on the two occasions we met.

Our first, essentially brief, encounter occurred in the Wembley tunnel in the Eighties. Hansen was talking to family and friends after one of Liverpool’s regular FC Cup final appearances.

There were no mixed zones back then to inhibit the media’s lust for adventure, but nevertheless this was not the time for ignorant behaviour on my part. Thus, I maintained a respectable distance from the Hansen entourage and, like a jungle predator, waited patiently, poised to strike as soon as their exchanges ended.

When they did, I politely asked whether I might have a word with him. His response was unambiguous, if not downright rude. “No!” he announced, before turning his back on me. I observed that this negativity was accompanied by a rather superior smirk that would become familiar to millions of television viewers.

It’s difficult to forget these things when you are treated so disrespectfully
Our second meeting, in 1991, was comprehensively longer and infinitely more rewarding by comparison: plus it had the bonus (for me) of a positive ending. Hansen agreed to an audience at Anfield early one Friday morning, our interview having been brokered by a Liverpool colleague of mine.

I expected no effusion from him and indeed found none. Our conversation centred on his manager and friend, Kenny Dalglish. The fact that Liverpool players were never renowned from divulging state secrets meant that Hansen’s words were necessarily routine and clich├ęd.

We ended on Dalglish’s future. “When do you think Kenny might have had enough of this managerial game?” I asked. Hansen said he didn’t know but insisted it would not be for a while.

Leaving the ground, I prepared to drive to the house of the guy who had arranged the interview. But when I telephoned his home, I was told he was on his way to Anfield as an emergency press conference had been convened.

I redirected myself and was back at the stadium a few minutes later and the whisper was that Dalglish was quitting. Confirmation of this fact was soon provided when the latter swept into a packed room and made the announcement.

The reason was speedily downloaded: Hillsborough and its ramifications of death and disaster had finally caught up with him. His head was ready to explode.

A few minutes later, Dalglish had left the room and also the building. It transpired he’d broken the news to his players before he had entered the press conference. None, I imagine, would have been more stunned than Hansen. He was one of Dalglish’s closest confidants and yet on this day the limitations to that friendship had been exposed.

It had been a rather surreal day. I retreated from Anfield, soon after Dalglish, to write about it all. I was informed later that Hansen had been searching frantically for me.

I could only conclude that he was thinking of asking me to forget our conversation of that morning. If he had found me, however, he’d have been wasting his breath.

My answer would have been “no” - just like that day at Wembley. Mind you, common courtesy would have dictated that this would have been preceded by one five-lettered word of apology.
  • Adapted from Fingerprints of a Football Rascal. Amazon Kindle. £2.56