Crossing the Jordan leaves us all lost for words

After Tottenham’s adventures this week in the San Siro, NORMAN GILLER was going to have a word with Joe Jordan, butt…

Have a word: Joe Jordan exchanges a point of view Gattuso

I have hard-earned advice for any reporters thinking of approaching Joe Jordan for his view on the touchline bust-up with Genaro Gattuso  in the San Siro this week: don’t waste your time. It is easier to get a cuss from the Pope than a quote from “Jaws” Jordan.

The headlines focusing on Joe were even bigger in October 1977 when he literally punched Wales out of the World Cup in a bad-tempered qualifier at Anfield.

Wales supporters will tell you that this was not so much Hand of God, more Fist of the Devil.

Television replays proved conclusively that Jordan, challenged for a long ball into the Wales penalty area by defender David Jones, had punched goalwards. It was the 78th minute of what was so far a goalless game.

French referee Robert Wurtz saw the hand connect with the ball, but must have gone to the same optician as his countryman Stephane Lannoy, who this week failed to see that Flamini’s criminal assault on Spurs defender Corluka was a red card offence.

Monsieur Wurtz managed to mistake Jordan’s Scottish fist for the Welsh hand of Jones, and awarded Scotland a penalty. Don Masson scored to put the Scots on the way to a 2-0 victory that, to this day, is bitterly disputed by Welsh football followers.

Holding his hand up? Jordan playing against Wales in 1977

Every sports editor in the land was screaming for an after-match quote from the then Manchester United centre forward. Silence. Jaws was well and truly zipped.

Frank Nicklin, sports editor of The Sun, knew I was close pals with Old Trafford manager Dave Sexton and thought he had found a way to unlock the Jordan tongue.

I was freelancing in those days and Frank telephoned me the day after the match to say: “Tell your mate Dave that we will pay Joe five grand to talk about the penalty. He can deny punching the ball if he wants, just provided he talks.”

I duly made the call, and Dave told me: “Joe would not talk to his grandmother about the penalty. He has made it clear that he does not want to discuss it.”

Going the extra yard, I managed to get to Joe directly, who responded, “Nae comment” before putting down the phone. He was out of the Kenny Dalglish school of interviewees.

Joe has maintained his silence ever since. Will he be silent for as long about the “Glasgie kiss” that ex-Rangers mercenary Gattuso described as “speaking in Scottish”.

This week even Jordan’s erudite ghost James Lawton could not get a word out of Joe on the head-butting incident. The skilful hidden hand in Joe’s autobiography (Behind the Dream), Lawton reported in The Independent: “Jordan was eloquent enough in his embrace of omerta. He said, ‘I’m sorry, but I just don’t want to make a single contribution to this whole business not disappearing as quickly as possible from everyone’s memory. For me, it is already closed’.”

Well that was an improvement on “nae comment”.

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I CAUGHT up with The K-K-K-King’s Speech this week, and was delighted to find it lived up to all the hype and it deserves all the awards flooding its way.

It gives me the excuse to repeat one of my favourite stories that can never be told too many times in the company of sportswriters.

We have to go back to the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 for the facts, which I have since seen borrowed to dress up invented anecdotes. This is the true, original story.

The England under-23 summer tour that year coincided with the Six-day War, and at the height of hostilities the squad was briefly stranded in Bulgaria. There were 16 players, six doddery members of the FA blazered brigade, trainer Wilf McGuinness, manager Bill Nicholson and seven of Fleet Street’s finest football writers. I would say that. I was one of them.

The central character in the story is Peter Corrigan, he of the Independent on Sunday and former sports editor of the Observer and certainly one of the finest and funniest journalists of my generation. At that time Peter was reporting for the broadsheet Sun before it morphed into the soaraway tabloid toy of Murdoch.

As the war reached its peak, it suddenly became impossible to make telephone or telex contact with our London offices. I was earning my daily bread at the time with the Express, and along with my colleagues I sat fretting and frustrated in the team’s hotel headquarters in Sofia as the edition deadlines approached and disappeared into the distance.

In those non-STD, pre-internet days you had to order your telephone calls through the hotel switchboard, and we were informed that all lines were down. You have to remember the mood at the time. There was wild rumour of Russia getting involved and nuclear weapons being used as Israeli tanks and jet fighters destroyed the combined forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. We agreed among us that if anybody should be lucky enough to get through, we would put over a shared story that could be distributed at the London end.

After two days of total silence, it was Peter who suddenly got the desperately awaited call and found himself being put through to the Sun sports desk from the lobby of the hotel.

It was an appalling line and he was reduced to screaming “Peter Corrigan” into the mouthpiece in a bid to make himself heard at the other end.

The rest of us were gathered around him, willing him to keep the precious line open. We couldn’t believe it when he suddenly threw down the receiver without having dictated a word.

On the other end of the line had been a veteran sub-editor with a pronounced King George VI-style stutter. Peter, tearing out what little hair he had left, looked at us wild-eyed and said: “I’ve just been told that P-P-Peter C-C-Corrigan is in B-B-Bulgaria, and then he put the phone down and cut me off.”

I seem to remember saying something like f-f-f-fancy that. Or words to that effect.

I was as speechless as Joe Jordan.

Read Norman Giller’s previous columns for the SJA website by clicking here