The first building blocks of the exciting, if primitive, new language of football.
Unsurprisingly, given his later difficulties with memory-debilitating substances, the majority of Merse’s cultural references are drawn from the period before he turned 16. Thus, a notable display of stout defending occasionally prompts his recall of this romantically confident soul-pop duo and their 1984 boast about the stability of their love.
“When he plays, they are solid as a rock, Jeff. They are Ashford and Simpson.”
It’s probably fair to say Merse is more likely to be caught DUI than doing DIY, but he still keeps an untidy toolbox.
“Wigan look like a bag of nails. They’re all over the place.”
(AKA ‘The Beans’)
“He’s hit an absolute worldy, Jeff, but it’s come back off the beans and toast.”
Just like his incorporeal friend, grown-ups sometimes look at Merse with fright. Another rhyming slang symptom of his chronic obsession with the woodwork.
“Ohhhhh. he’s hit the Casper, Jeff.” “What…” “Casper the friendly post.”
When model pros get complacent.
“I think they turned up last Saturday and thought it would be a catwalk.”
Short for codpiece, although used by Merse to indicate a painful injury has occurred as a direct result of a player not sporting such a protective garment.
“He won’t be going out tonight, Jeff. He’s taken one in the cods innit.”
“All I understood as a kid was football. I wasn’t one for grammar, Shakespeare or elocution,” says Merse in his third book, How Not to Be a Professional Footballer. Of course he does himself a massive disservice, forgetting his ingenious use of a phrase that is traced to Macbeth.
Magnificently, Merse has overruled the Bard’s original usage, insisting that one mustn’t just wait and see what happens, one must, in fact, wait until the month of May, the end of the football season.
“They’ve come flying out of the blocks, Jeff, but for me it’s early doors. Come what May… is a long way away.”
Towards the end of last season, Newcastle’s previously livewire frontman temporarily played like a long inanimate object. Funnily enough, it’s around this time that Merse pressed him into employment as a long inanimate object.
Spotter’s badge Peter McCarthy
"For me, he has to score there, Jeff. But it's come back off the Demba."
“They’ve missed a lorryload of chances, Jeff, but it looks like they’re going to come away with a Desmond.”
Not necessarily the venue from where Merse has just arrived, but his version of ‘chalk and cheese’, indicating he can’t think of anyone more different than the two protagonists he is discussing.
“I aint having it, Jeff. I mean, for me, Rafael and Fabio are dog and duck.”
Average pundits might rely on the phrase ‘fish out of water’ to describe a player who appears to be playing at a level beyond his ability. But Merse, as his liquid consumption patterns over the years might indicate, is no great respecter of water and regards being deprived of it as scant inconvenience.
Merse’s fish, consequently, must endure an altogether more dramatic relocation.
“David Nugent tore up the Championship but he went to Portsmouth and he was a fish up a tree.”
Merse does, at times, tend to overestimate his own powers, occasionally claiming everyday language as a unique concoction of his own making.
“Landon Donovan; he’s what I call a good football player.”
Any number greater than a lorryload.
“They have had a gillion chances, Jeff. Still nil-nil.”
The polite way to help yourself to a goal-scoring opportunity that should be ‘meat and drink’.
"That should come with a knife and fork, Jeff. That is on a plate."
Merse has never truly embraced the digital age, so whenever a side looks in danger of shipping ‘threes and fours‘, he can’t help worry about the sustainability of this avalanche in terms of scorekeeping resources.
“To be fair, Jeff, if they get another before half-time, they could be putting lightbulbs in the scoreboard here.”
Any quantity greater than three.
“They have had a lorryload, and I mean a lorryload of chances, Jeff. Still nil-nil.”
Many pundits and scribes have struggled with the confines of the Oxford-English when it comes to describing the antics behind the scenes at Chelsea. Merse, fortunately, knows no such restrictions.
“It is ludious, Jeff.”
Nobody is suggesting some of these tweaks are ground-breaking, but doesn’t ‘wishy-washy’ sound so much better this way?
"Liverpool were all mishy-mashy, Jeff. I know that aint a word, but it should be."
“Steven Gerrard can change a game for you in a New York minute,”
Merse might well have changed the course of English football history had his 1993 free kick in Rotterdam not hit a post. Well he might, at least, have saved Graham Taylor from himself. Perhaps that is where Merse’s lifelong fascination with the woodwork was born, this being its most picturesque manifestation.
“Uhhh, oww, uhhhhhhh…. he must, he must, he most score… oowwwwww… he’s hit the inside of the Norfolk coast, Jeff. Still nil-nil.”
petrocelli.jpg">The defence rests. While Merse’s favourite seventies TV lawyer proved a dab hand at getting murderers off the hook as he roamed the US southwest in a pickup truck, there’s little or nothing he could have done, in Merse’s view, to mitigate some of the atrocities performed by modern defenders.
“I mean, it’s an absolute ricket, Jeff… I mean… Petrocelli couldn’t make a case for the lad.”
Merse isn’t sweet on inconsistency.
“Liverpool are like a bag of Revels, Jeff. You never know what you will get with them.”
To Merse’s credit, he has so far showed the restraint to confine this lyrical description of any kind of rarity to his career in literature.
“A Lee Dixon goal was like rocking horse shit.”
Limited but willing footballers usually employed by Aston Villa.
Spotter’s badge Shane Mulhall
"You need more than runarounders, Jeff. They ain't gonna score you goals the way Darren Bent will."
The 1984 charts continues to be a happy hunting ground for Merse’s stylish brand of nonsense. The slightest hint of crowd engagement at the fixture he is covering is usually enough to justify him telling us the “Russ Abbot is frightening.” For a time, blank looks from Stelling, Le Tissier and co invariably followed, requiring Merse to launch into the opening strains of Abbot’s ‘Atmosphere’ – a no 7 hit in ’84.
"That early goal has killed the Russ Abbot Jeff and this could be threes and fours if they aint careful."
Funnily enough, probably not the kind of player you want in a derby.
“Balotelli? Shergar, Jeff – just went missing.”
By a long way the most audacious of Merse’s impressive catalogue of rhyming slang suggestions for ‘post’, one that required a deal of explanation the first time he rolled it out.
Has been regraded to the more straightforward ‘gameshow host’ since Jeff left Countdown.
Merse: ”Oooooh, he’s hit the Stelling, Jeff.” Jeff Stelling: “What?” Merse: “You know; Jeff Stelling, gameshow host, post.”
As Andy Gray might have said, when he shared an employer with Merse, this is one of those indefensible ones, you can’t defend against them.
Seemingly, it means killer instinct.
“For me, they’re lacking that real streak of bang, Jeff. Still nil-nil.”
Much like Big Ron’s versatile, if controversial, employment of ‘Buddy Holly’ – as useful when referring to a volley or any sudden, extravagant descent to earth – Merse, as you can tell by looking at him, has got a fair bit of mileage out of his Sunday roasts.
Rather predictably, it is frequently selected from Merse’s bulging locker of woodwork-inspired rhyming slang.
“He’s hit an absolute belter Jeff, but it’s come back off the Sunday roast.”
But just as Ron’s ‘Buddy’ is occasionally repurposed to shame divers and simulators, Merse reserves the right to roast blinkered frontmen who refuse to pick out a better-placed colleague.
“He’s tried to be greedy and he’s done the Sunday roast, Jeff. Goal kick.”
In an oversight not even rectified during the experiment with Dean Windass, none of Sky’s pundits are supplied with an abacus.
This allows Merse a somewhat vague approach to the complicated business many refer to as counting.
“For me Jeff, I mean, for me, if they get another one now, it could be anything, I mean it could literally be threes and fours.”
As Merse slowly but surely rebuilds football and language piece by piece, many amendments are subtle but nonetheless critical.
“We know what’s coming here, Jeff. Stoke have got a throw-on.”
Perhaps Merse’s single greatest contribution to modern civilisation – noun-free living. The labour-saving device that keeps on giving.
“I mean, he never played Jeff, I mean he never. I mean he’s come out and had an absolute torrid.”
With the principle established, the possible applications are endless.
“For me Jeff, when you pick your team, he is an automatic.” “It looks bad, Jeff. He’s having some medical on.” “I mean, between the Premier League and the Championship, Jeff, I mean, it’s a massive.” “That’s the problem with rotation, Jeff. They haven’t had a settled all season.”
Once a Commonwealth reward for valour in the armed forces, now available to all nationalities for valour in a defensive wall.
"There' aint going to be a Victoria Cross for Mertesacker, Jeff. He runs out like Wayne Sleep."
Part autobiography, part a rare foray into rhyming slang for Merse’s second-favourite part of the woodwork.
“He's hit the wine, Jeff.”
The time management skills that saw Merse pen a diary for Rock Bottom while recovering at Marchwood Priory again spring to the fore here.
“World-class” is a term bandied about rather too often in football today. In an unspoken defiance of the increasing hype that rewards players not fit to lace his own cocktails, Merse cleverly produced the term “worldy” to describe exceptional acts or performances.
Economical sure, but also stressing that these one-off displays of heroism are not necessarily any guarantee of ongoing competence.
“I ain’t joking Jeff, I mean, Rooney’s hit that, I mean he has. But Mannone has pulled off an absolute worldy.”