Having combed the record books, I can confidently confirm that this weekend will mark the first time we have played a league fixture against a side whose former manager is currently in Australia competing in a top-flight televised camping competition. And that’s not just in the Premier League era, but in the entire history of English league football.
Plenty to think about there, then – although, of course, events move very quickly in the word of top-flight televised camping competitions, and Harry Redknapp could well have fled the camera-infested ‘I’m A Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here!’ clearing by the time we head to Wembley to play Tottenham on Saturday evening, or even by the time you read this. Or even by the time I finish writing it.
True, there are no official evictions scheduled between now and 5.30 on Saturday, but the history of the show will amply show that tempers can wear thin surprisingly quickly in those famous open-air, group dormitory conditions. And although, in the opening exchanges this past week, Redknapp seems to have bedded in fairly well, and, indeed, has proved an avuncular and anecdote-rich member of the campsite fraternity, there have already been some signs that, in particular, the meat content of the diet (emu, wallaby, and, last night, neck of alpaca) is testing the patience of a man who, by his own admission, was expecting bacon rolls. (Harry hadn’t seen the show before going on it. That seems to me to be a basic error – one which could so easily have been ironed out on the training ground, and one for which his agent, at the very least, should be made answerable.)
Also, Noel Edmonds is about to enter the camp – tonight, in fact. And at that point, it’s probably not safe to assume anything about anyone. (Though, for what it’s worth, my instinctive feeling is that Noel and Harry will end up forming a bond. Consider it: Noel believes in the presence of spiritual energy balls and in a device called an EMPpad which he claims beneficially adjusts the electro-magnetism inside his body and combats the adverse effects of ‘electro-smog’ in the atmosphere; and Harry believes in Nico Kranjcar, so they already have plenty to discuss.)
The question, of course, is whether the presence of one of their own in the jungle will have distracted Tottenham in the build-up to Saturday’s big game. Players, coaching and backroom staff and everyone involved at the club will no doubt have been tuning in avidly, applying themselves to the phone-voting, and worrying about developments during the day. One also has to consider the possibility that it might affect the home attendance, given that getting back from Wembley in time for the Saturday night edition will be a bit of a push for some Spurs fans (the schedulers again riding roughshod over the basic needs of the fans).
Any such distraction is much to be hoped for, obviously, from our point of view, as we head up there, entirely focussed, for a match in which, for once, our team isn’t looking to extend a historic unbeaten run over Tottenham, but instead is looking to extend a historic unbeaten run in the Premier League – Maurizio Sarri’s new record for unvanquished starts as a new manager – which is, of course, much more important, and also much more impressive.
But whether or not the timing of ‘I’m A Celebrity’ has affected Spurs’ preparations, one is immensely grateful to ITV for launching this year’s series into the canyon-like vacancy of an international week, thus giving us all something with which to fill the long, empty hours since we last had any football to watch, and giving me something to write about in this column.
Furthermore, ITV, having lost the rights to international and Champions League games, can now give ‘I’m a Celebrity’ an uninterrupted run for the full three weeks. It’s already incredible to think that the channel used to have to suspend play in the jungle for an entire day in order to show England friendlies or dead-rubber group stage games between Manchester United and Porto. Future generations will look back at that crazy period and marvel at the priorities.
Anyway, roll on Saturday, and Wembley, and something which we’re all looking forward to: getting back to football.