Kicking it with Karl | Both the ball and head are round

Karl Pilkington‘s book, with cover sketch by mate Ricky Gervais, becomes available in the United States on 1 October.

London | Talk on the world’s most downloaded podcast—some 8 million downloads confirmed by Guinness World Records—occasionally turns to sport. The Ricky Gervais Show co-host Stephen Merchant on 28 March 06 asked the third man of the trio—the world’s favorite Mancunian, Karl Pilkington—if he had been paying attention to the Commonwealth Games. Pilkington says he does not follow sports:

It just seems to be sort of wasted. If people are running fast, use it. Do you know what I mean? Rather than just trying to beat your own record or someone else’s do something where you do have to run. If you’re a good swimmer, be a lifeguard. Don’t be messing about going up and down.

Such unaffected stating of opinions, served with dollops of world-weariness, has endeared Pilkington, 34, to his followers. Yet he does not seem to regard football as wasted effort. His longtime girlfriend, Suzanne, has a connection to the game as a BBC employee working on Match of the Day. (See the profile by Nigel Farndale,The Idiot Philosopher,” Daily Telegraph, 17 Sept 06.)

And on a few occasions as Merchant and Gervais’s producer on London radio station Xfm, Pilkington plays football with Gervais in the office while the two are supposed to be getting ready for the show. On 7 Sept 02, Gervais and Pilkington play a variety of “bin football.” Each has five chances to flick the ball into a rubbish bin to save the world from apocalypse. They shift to a more conventional game. Gervais acknowledges Pilkington’s superior ball skills, but claims victory because Pilkington “hasn’t got the aggression or the weight.” (All shows are available for download via Pilkipedia, an obsessive’s chronicle of all things Pilkington.)

Copyright © Neil Drabble

The K-Man

One of the most extensive conversations about soccer occurred earlier, on 16 Feb 02, after another pre-show Gervais-Pilkington hallway kickabout:

Gervais: I went, “I bet you were quite good at football, weren’t you?” And I actually thought he looked like quite a natural, I thought he’d be good, he’s from the North, and I thought that’s all he’d have.

Merchant: Exactly.

Gervais: And he turned quick as a flash and went, “I’ve scored once. And that’s because I was being chased by a bee.” [Merchant hoots with laughter.] And I went, “Save it.” He went, “No.” I said, “Please, please save it,” ’cause I wanted us to use that. You can continue now.

Merchant: Please tell us the rest of the story. You’ve scored a goal once because you were being chased by a bee?

Pilkington: Yeah, you’ve done it now really.

Merchant: There must be more to that story. Eh, man?

Pilkington: I was in the school team. I wasn’t that good as a kid, at football, to be honest [Gervais giggling], mainly down to—I think it’s because me Dad wasn’t into football, and I think that’s the way it works, innit? If your Dad’s into it, then you can be a footballer when you’re older, because you’re into it. So I was in the school team because I got on with the other lads. They let me in the team.

Merchant: Popular guy.

Pilkington: Yeah, I was stood there doing nothing, ’cause I didn’t really know what to do. I never knew which way I was meant to be shooting. Got all that messed up. I just stood there with me hands behind me back. Something landed on like this part of me thumb.

Gervais: You can’t just point, it’s radio.

Pilkington: It’s this bit here.

Gervais: The fleshy bit, the fleshy bit of the thumb.

Pilkington: And I thought, “Oh, what’s that?” And I looked down …

Gervais: It’s a thumb.

Pilkington: It’s a bee on me. So I start running, try and get away from it. And that’s just something interesting about bees: more chance of getting stung by a bee in windy weather than any other sort of weather.

Merchant: That’s incredible. [Gervais snorts.]

Pilkington: Anyway, so I’m running away …

Gervais: And he said there was no more!

Merchant: Extraordinary. I’ve already learned many, many things. You’re being chased by the bee, it’s windy …

Gervais: It’s on your thumb. Is it still on your thumb?

Pilkington: It’s sort of gripping on to me like a stag beetle.

Gervais: [Howling.] Like a stag beetle!

Merchant: A bee? [Gervais laughing.]

Pilkington: So I’m running, I’m running towards like the goal. Oh, god. And the ball comes to me. Wallop. Get it in.

Merchant: Brilliant. What happened to the bee, though? Did it sting you?

Pilkington: They die though, don’t they? [Gervais sniggers.]

Merchant: I mean ultimately it died, sure. But at that particular moment …

Gervais: This is probably about 20 years ago, so I imagine …

Pilkington: No, no, no. Once a bee stings you …

Gervais: Yeah, but did it sting you?

Pilkington: Yeah.

Merchant: Right, that was the question.

Gervais: When did it sting you?

Pilkington: When I was playing football. [Gervais laughs.]

Merchant: Karl, do you mind me asking? You say you were on the school football team. Was there just 11 boys in your school? [Gervais cackles.] Was that how you got on the squad?

Gervais: Listen, listen, Karl. All I mean is, at what point in this story did the bee sting you? Straightaway or …

Pilkington: After halftime. [Gervais howls.]

Merchant: Play a record, K-Man. [Beat starts.]

Gervais: Oh, he’s the best!

Finally, we should not ignore Pilkington’s segment on 16 Aug 03 on the “monkey football team” of Costa Rica. The regular Monkey News feature offers ample opportunity for Gervais and Merchant to heap scorn on their friend, but Pilkington shines as a storyteller. Showing his gift for improvisation, Pilkington says that the Costa Rican chimpanzee/goalkeeper has been obtained on transfer from another club. The goalkeeper also has a Ph.D. in physics. The other chimpanzees on the side, according to Pilkington, “haven’t done that much.”

The Ricky Gervais Show ends its 24-show run this week.

Gervais along with cohorts Merchant, playing Peter Crouch, and Warwick Davis (Wayne Rooney) filmed a good-luck message aired on BBC1 before England’s quarterfinal loss to Portugal, 1 Jul 06. (Copyright © 2006 BBC)

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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