A Triggs'-eye view: 'You'll never see a dog doing that on Britain's Got Talent'

 

Roy Keane’s dog Triggs didn’t get the beautiful game at first, but after watching United beat Liverpool in 1998 her career in punditry began, she says in her newly published autobiography

IN THE 20-YEAR history of the English Premier League there has only been a handful of Thursday-night matches. They’re not quite as rare as Friday matches, but they come desperately few and far between all the same.

In fact, according to the arch band of losers, liggers and lollygaggers who take the time to calculate these things – judge us not lest ye be judged yerselves – only 0.66 per cent of all Premier League matches ever played have gone ahead on a Thursday, a number that drops to below 0.4 per cent if you take out the two seasons when Christmas fell on a Wednesday.

Yet in the world of Triggs, Roy Keane’s faithful dog, whose autobiography has just been published, Thursday, September 24th, 1998, was a life-changer, a scales-from-the-eyes evening after which nothing was ever the same.

To the rest of us this was the night when Manchester United beat Liverpool 2-0 at Old Trafford, with goals from Denis Irwin and Paul Scholes, en route to their fifth title in seven seasons. To a young Labrador retriever padding about between the living room and laundry room of a plush pile of bricks in Hale, in Manchester, it was the night she totally got what football was all about.

To explain. The Roy and Triggs of Paul Howard’s imagining exist in a sort of Wallace and Gromit relationship, with just the pair of them in Roy’s house – indeed, really only just the pair of them in each other’s immediate lives. Howard consciously stayed away from writing Keane’s family into the book out of respect for their privacy, so what you’re left with is one man and his dog – The Odd Couple with a Sky Sports soundtrack.

Ordinarily, when Roy went off to play matches, Triggs settled down in front of the History Channel to watch old documentaries on the battle strategies of everyone from Mao Zedong to Napoleon.

On this particular night she had been killing time before a Channel 4 documentary about ancient Greece when she came upon – and stayed with, despite never having had an interest before – the United v Liverpool game. “I can’t explain why,” she writes. “I’ve always considered fate to be a silly human conceit.”

Whatever the reason, that night changed everything. Triggs becomes transfixed by the game, latching on immediately to its rhythms and vagaries.

“Suddenly, inexplicably, I started to discern a shape and pattern to what was happening,” she writes. “The players weren’t just running around headlessly and pinging the ball around in a way that made no sense. Except for Phil Babb, but that was just his thing.”

From that point on Triggs develops a keen sense of what works and what doesn’t on the soccer pitch. She watches highlights of the Bundesliga and Serie A all the time when Roy isn’t around and develops perfectly lucid and cogent theories on any and all teams United come up against. And she doesn’t spare the rod, either. She is a bitch, after all.

“Lack of conviction was everywhere in that Liverpool team,” she spits, “and there was no better expression of it than the sight of Jamie Redknapp literally bending over backwards to prevent Paul Scholes’s goal-bound shot from damaging his very fetching face.

“I’m sure Marks Spencer are delighted today that he did so. Good luck to him. Roy’s never been asked to model Blue Harbour stretch denim. But then, he won seven Premier Leagues, four FA Cups and a European Champions League.”

It’s not just opposition players who feel the drip of her acid pen. Keane’s United colleagues get plenty of it, too, with dear old Jaap Stam a constant target for invective.

“The penny was a long time dropping for Alex Ferguson, of course. But then, having made Stam the most expensive defender in the history of the game, he was understandably reluctant to tell the club board that it would have been a far savvier piece of business to have simply burned their £10.6 million in a barrel in the club car park.”

Gradually, it is Triggs’s football intuition that comes to plot the course of United’s history. Before the FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal in 1999, for example, she mentions to Roy that Ryan Giggs hasn’t been taking players on as much recently as he did when he started out, something Roy might want to mention to him in the run-up to the game. Sure enough, Giggs did just that, collecting a stray Patrick Vieira pass and turning Lee Dixon this way and that before scoring as famous a winner as the FA Cup has ever seen.

“ ‘Did you see it, Triggs?’ says Roy when he gets home that night.

“ ‘Yes, I watched it.’

“ ‘Giggsy’s goal?’

“ ‘Wonderful.’

“ ‘That was you.’

“ ‘What?’ I said, all innocence.

“Yes, I probably wanted to hear him say it again. Show me a Labrador who doesn’t want to be loved and I’ll show you a Labrador-Weimaraner cross.

“ ‘I told the lad to maybe start running at defenders again, like you said.’

“ ‘Did I?’ (Shameless, I know.)

“ ‘And the lad scored,’ he said, ‘with obviously aplomb.’ ”

Even as Triggs pulls the strings behind some of United’s best days, her tactical acumen also comes in handy when Roy is on Ireland duty.

Having watched highlights of a couple of Portugal’s games in the qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup, she notices that their defenders are slow to pick up players from set pieces.

“It is with all due modesty, naturally, that I point out that Roy scored Ireland’s goal direct from a quick throw-in while the minds of the Portuguese defence were elsewhere. You’ll never see a dog do that on Britain’s Got Talent.”

Off the pitch, the dim-bulb silliness so central to the lives of professional footballers is treated with lofty and well-placed disdain.

Dwight Yorke “enjoyed having sex with beautiful women, a considerable number of whom just happened to enjoy talking to reporters”. When Scholes tells Roy of the Beckhams’ pre-World Cup Gucci and sushi party, at which Elton John, Robbie Williams and Russell Watson are the star turns, Triggs can’t look at his face for fear of bursting out laughing.

“By now, of course, the Beckhams were so addicted to themselves that they just had to be the centre of attention . . . Had I been David Beckham’s dog, I’d have told him to forget about the party and just concentrate on his recovery. But I wasn’t – mercifully – David Beckham’s dog. I was Roy Keane’s dog. And I had my work cut out as it was.”

In the end Triggs comes to judge situations far better than her beloved keeper. She sees a decency in Mick McCarthy that eludes Roy. She likes Eamon Dunphy for his generous laugh. She can’t get her head around why Alex Ferguson went so round the bend on the Rock of Gibraltar business, decrying all the fuss over “a big, dumb, overly precious beast who, unlike another four-legged but lower-maintenance animal whose name I’m not going to mention here, wasn’t going to win you Premier Leagues and European Cups!”

By the time she leaves us, heading off with Roy for another of their signature walks on the day his contract with United is finished by mutual consent, the three sides of her nature are fully formed.

Pooch. Pal. Pundit. What more could a man ask for in a best friend?


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