Martin O’Neill sets the record straight over his World Cup studio encounter with Robbie Williams

Robbie Williams
(Image credit: Getty)

Martin O’Neill can be a prickly character at times, as Robbie Williams discovered to his cost while visiting the BBC studio at the 1998 World Cup.

The former Take That star, who had recently embarked on a successful solo career, unzipped his jacket on air to reveal a t-shirt that read ‘Des is God’.

Des Lynam, the host of the BBC’s coverage, responded by saying that, ‘There are two idols around here; you’re one and Martin O’Neill is the other.’

Following Williams’ quip that he was just ‘idle’, O’Neill delivered a scathing assessment of the singer’s abilities.

“To be fair, like, you’ve done really well because I thought you would struggle after Take That. I really did think that,” he said.

“You can’t play, you can’t write, you can’t play guitar. I thought you’d really struggle. Gary Barlow probably kept the band together.”

The exchange is fondly remembered as one of the funniest, and most unexpected, to have happened in coverage of a major tournament.

O’Neill was asked about the incident in a recent interview with FourFourTwo and admitted that he didn’t intend his comments to be as harsh as they seemed.

“I did say then that Angels is a great song!” he laughed. “That’s his best.

“I wanted to say to him that despite the fact he hadn’t written the songs in Take That, and despite the fact that he’d been bombed out of the band, he was doing well. But it came across as, ‘Listen, you have no talent’. He even said, “Oh, thanks a lot!”

“It became a moment, but if I hadn’t been interrupted by Alan Hansen, I would have said that he was doing really well. I think he was holding a concert in Paris and came to see us because he loved Des Lynam. But he took what I said in good jest.

“I met him later when I was manager of Celtic (opens in new tab): we were in the same hotel and he invited me to his concert the next day. I couldn’t go, but he’s a good lad. And what a great career he’s had.”

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Sean Cole

Sean Cole is a freelance journalist. He has written for FourFourTwo, BBC Sport and When Saturday Comes among others. A Birmingham City supporter and staunch Nikola Zigic advocate, he once scored a hat-trick at St. Andrew’s (in a half-time game). He also has far too many football shirts and spends far too much time reading the Wikipedia pages of obscure players.