Derrr der-der-derrr der-er-der-derrr
By Matt Rowson
"Ten years ago a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team...."
Marvellous stuff. Uncomplicated, goodies versus baddies drama...none of the irritating earnestness of "Casualty", none of the meaningless posturing of "Baywatch". Just four cartoon characters in a big black van with a pointless red stripe down the side that would identify it to TV viewers instantly - let alone the Military Police who were supposed to be after them - doing the hero thing.
The parallels between the A-Team and the Norwich City side that took on Europe in the 1993-94 UEFA Cup are many. From the implausible and heroic nature of the conquest of Bayern Munich to the resourcefulness of the side in the games against Inter Milan, from the suave leadership of the Canaries' own Hannibal Smith, Mike Walker, to the irritating but tolerable Murdock-like itch that was Chris Sutton. Only Ipswich disliked Norwich in this period. But they probably didn't watch the A-Team in Suffolk either.
Seven long years have passed since. Plus, eighteen years since we first saw the renegade commando unit and twenty-eight years since they escaped from their maximum security stockade. George "Hannibal" Peppard died of a cancer-related illness in 1994. Were he still alive, he'd be in his eighties. Dirk "The Face" Benedict is the wrong side of fifty-five. Whilst most of the cast's careers - particularly that of Peppard - pre-dated the A-Team, very little has been achieved by any of them since...the odd supporting role in a B-movie here, the occasional walk-on in a blockbuster there.
Similarly, with the possible exception of Sutton, the Canaries of 1993-94 played out disappointing cameos. Ruel Fox never really lived up to his promise, and many of the side including Newman, Polston and Culverhouse disappeared into the lower divisions, whilst Lee Power just disappeared.
But just as it would be disappointing to find that black and red van parked outside the Estcourt one day, only to discover that the passing years of dissolving notoriety have turned bravado to bitterness, and chivalry to petty crime, so it's a little disheartening to catch the tone of much of the City commentary currently on the Internet.
Certainly City's recent financial history, allied to five years of treading Division One water, is hardly cause for celebration. Nor can it be a source of joy that current manager Nigel Worthington bears a closer resemblance to arch-foe Colonel Dekker than he does to Hannibal Smith. Despite all of this, it's thoroughly disheartening to read the B-word thrown around with such ill-advised abandon. City's position as Division One makeweights is unacceptable because, apparently, City are a Big Club.
The most positive features of City's recent performances have been an industry and determination that even Fulham found very hard work at Craven Cottage a fortnight ago. Against Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, Worthington fielded an adventurous looking 3-4-3 formation, belying the apparent need to baton down the hatches that a not inconsiderable injury list and a highly unstable bottom half of the division seemed to demand. Interesting.
In goal for City will be Andy Marshall, a decent shot stopper who at twenty-five has plenty of first-team experience, having displaced Bryan Gunn as a relative youngster. His deputy Robert Green is a commanding figure... according to City's official site, "only the form of first team keeper Andy Marshall keeps Green out of the first team". Unlike any other reserve keeper anywhere in the world, then.
At the back, City have plenty of experience to call upon. Club captain is Matt Jackson ("Mr. Dependable" - the official site), who can play at centre back or on the right. His regular partner Craig Fleming is injured, which probably prompts the involvement of the uncompromising Malky Mackay. Versatile twenty year old Darren Kenton can provide cover across the back-line, whilst long-serving Daryl Sutch ("Mr. Dependable" - the official site), the one survivor from the European campaign, can play at right back or as a defensive midfielder.
Another option at the back is veteran Steve Walsh, currently testing the patience of the management by foisting attention on business interests and other sidelines back in Leicester at the expense of his first-team ambitions. Further defensive cover is provided by imposing Dutchman Fernando Derveld, a recruit from FC Haarlem, and youngster Brian McGovern.
In midfield, the hard-working Darrel Russell and former Enfield man Lee Marshall provide the engine. Welsh international Chris Llewellyn provides width on the left, whilst Frenchman Cedric Anselin is an option down the right. French U21 man Anselin has been reportedly critical of City's training methods of late, but has impressed in reserve run-outs. Other options include experienced Dane Steen Niedergaard, and another Frenchman Jean Yves de Blasiis (about whom I had something written down that now proves indecipherable. Probably not important.). Currently out of action are ex-Man.United man Phil Mulryne, who has a knee-ligament problem, and wingers Adrian Forbes and Raymond de Waard.
In forward positions, Iwan Roberts has mutated beyond recognition since, as a spidery young striker, he scored the winner for the Hornets against Manchester United in the top flight fourteen years ago. Zema Abbey, another big striker, was a popular recent recruit from Cambridge; he netted his first goal for his new side in the game on Saturday. Northern Ireland International Adrian Coote is another lanky option, whilst another ex-Man United man Alex Notman and son of a famous father Paul Dalglish, recently linked with our friends at Luton, were on the bench at the weekend. Ex-Spurs reserve Paul McVeigh is another possibility, but early-season scorer Gaetano Gallianza is out until the summer.
We don't tend to do too well at Carrow Road, but then again we said the same about Bramall Lane. Norwich will be buoyed by recent form and results, but if we turn out a performance to match the one last Saturday we should more than give them a game.
Meanwhile, my brother bought me some A-Team videos for my birthday. This may not come as a surprise. In the first episode, the team crash-lands a plane into a forest in Carolina to find a marauding gang of suitably adorned country types burning an unknown individual at the stake. Their motivation for so doing remains a mystery throughout the show, and indeed the victim himself regains consciousness off camera and never explains the background to the confrontation. Nevertheless, the guys set out to do the job, and rescue him before disposing of the rampant posse with wit, ingenuity and creativity that Blue Peter would be proud of. Theirs was not to reason why. That's the sort of single-mindedness we're after on Saturday.
After all, everyone loves it when a plan comes together.