Ask Ashley Young about his inspirations, and you might at first wonder if he’d even heard you. A pensive swirl of his brandy glass here, a wistful glance up at his collection of antique clocks there; he may even trace his index finger slowly over the embroidered A and Y by the left-hand side lapel of his velour dressing gown, as if to reassure himself that he is indeed Ashley Young, and yes he has in fact come this far.
“You know,” he smiles, more so with his eyes than anything else, “I never really had designs on being a world class faller-over as a young lad.” He swivels round in his velvet mink armchair and gestures to the rows of old VHS cassette tapes lining the shelves behind him. “It wasn’t until the age of about 14 that the great physical comedians of the black and white era began to strike a chord with me. Up until then, it had always been about football – goal this, offside that – but when I chanced upon these old tapes while rummaging mischievously around in my father’s attic, well, it really did change everything.
“Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges – all of a sudden they were my Pele, Maradona and Zico. I used to spend hours in the yard just falling over, falling over and falling over some more. What we used to do in my day was to attach banana peels to the soles of our feet, then remove them once we felt confident enough to go it alone. A bit like stabilisers on a bicycle, I suppose.”
However, it wasn’t until Young joined Manchester United in a £17m move from Aston Villa last summer that he truly felt he had the arena to show off his gift. “Old Trafford!” he half-whispers reverentially, his eyes lighting up. “The Theatre of Dreams, you know. Suddenly I was in the same dressing room as some of the most gifted fallers-over in the world – but even that was not sufficient to prepare me for the thrill of finding my shirt hanging on the very peg that had been vacated by perhaps the greatest faller-over of them all.”
With spectacular recent tumbles against Queens Park Rangers and his former Villa team-mates, Young is currently enjoying the fruits of his years of hard graft spent throwing himself around a garden with banana peels strapped to his feet. Read on as he waxes lyrical about his top three role models…
“Ah, Super Nani! A man I am now proud to call a friend, and a man whose excellence in the field of falling over has kept me on my toes – well, off them, I suppose – ever since I arrived here. Here is a selection of my favourites – suffice it to say, I’ve taken these videos home and studied them relentlessly over the past few months. After all, there’s always room for improvement…”
“And how could we forget this marvellous piece of showmanship? ‘Embedding disabled by request’, apparently. Pah!
“As you can see, Nani tends to save his most special moments for when we play Liverpool. I don’t think he gets enough credit for that.”
“Obviously I’d already gotten to know Wayne reasonably well through playing for England – “hey Ashley, come play for us” he used to say – but I still found it intimidating at first to be playing alongside perhaps the greatest English faller-over going, at least joint with Steven Gerrard. I still watch the following videos all the time – there’s just so much to admire about Wayne’s tumbling, so much grace and wisdom. He’s publicly stated in the past that he doesn’t dive, and he’s right – it’s more artful than that, more immersive…”
“If pushed to pick a favourite, I’d have to go with the one which ended Arsenal’s long unbeaten run in 2004. People still talk about it to this day, and that tells you all you need to know.”
“Philosophy had Aristotle. Science had Darwin. Music had Mozart, then The Beatles, then Drake. Falling over has Cristiano. He’s indisputably the greatest, not just now but of all time. If I ever get to be half as good at falling over as him, I shall truly be blessed. Sit back, enjoy and learn from the best…”
“There’s no denying the quality of each of the above – I could watch the one against Iceland again and again – but for me Cristiano’s greatest falls were always followed by a booking, the ultimate vindication of a perfectly executed fall-over. Here are nine such instances…”
“Beautiful, isn’t it? I’m off to catch up with my Dostoyevsky, but after that I may very well watch them again. Cheerio, all!”
Do you have a favourite faller-over? Have your say in the comments section below…