TV watch Review of the month on screen
Screen test Football videos revisited No 35
Mel Brooks does a turn about an old man at a Jewish wedding launching into Strangers in the Night but starting too high, so that his voice breaks into a whispered scream trying to hit the high note in the chorus. Gary Lineker got himself into a similar predicament on February 5 as a result of his repeated use of hyperbole when introducing Match of the Day.
His habit of greeting viewers on a weekly basis with promises of footballing feasts and fireworks appeared to culminate the weekend previously with his introduction of one of the “finest ever” MOTDs. Which meant that on the day that 41 goals were scored in eight games, including the Newcastle v Arsenal, Wigan v Blackburn and Everton v Blackpool hulas, Lineker actually greeted his television audience at 10.30 in the evening looking a bit sheepish.
Like the presenter who cr ied football “wolf ”, he explained that he was experiencing difficulty prefacing tonight’s Match of the Day as the “finest ever” because he had already used t h at desc r i pt i on last week. Although he really did think that this week’s was the finest ever. Gary was exper iencing the same internal struggle of the critic who, in his fury to be quoted on the theatre’s frontage, describes An evening with Neil Morrissey a s t he “must-see show of the year” at the beginning of March and is lef t with nothing in the ly ing exaggeration locker for the rest of the year. Well, perhaps this will teach Lineker to become a bit more old-school BBC in future and restrain himself to adjectives such as “diverting” or “noteworthy” when welcoming us each week.
One of the more depressing phenomena of modern living, besides glacial thaw and exposure to mobile phone sales staff, is the local television news experience. The whole local news thing is deadening, of course, but in particular the apparent necessity for the newscaster to include a jocular word or phrase in the lead into an item: “Food for thought at the Carhampton Help For Heroes meat raff le”, for example, or “Matt Wingate brushes up his skills on a watercolour weekend in Chipping t im
Norton”. But even a lifetime of this commontouch drivel cannot prepare one for the kind of amateur word sorcery attempted by Dan Walker on Football Focus.
When linking to Steve Wilson at St James’ Park on the morning of the Arsenal game, Dan asked: “Will Newcastle miss their sweet Carroll Nine?” He tried to make it sound natural, like a man caught kissing a cocker spaniel might try to pass it off as affectionate fun, but Wilson is a properly natural man by the look of him and this sure as hell didn’t sound to him like the kind of thing one man says to another man in public. He laughed of course – he had to.
But it was the laugh of someone who is going to ask for an explanation as soon as he can get to a phone. What unearthly congress gave birth to this line? What doting television hag reared it through sickly infancy into maturity and then what wild-eyed BBC Frankenstein coaxed it into the final script?
How can man inf lict such inhumanity on man before lunch?
T h e A r s e n a l v Barcelona Champions League first leg gave us another chance to view one of the latest additions to the football community – the penalty area of f ic i a l , or Specia l Community Referee O f f i c e r o r wh a t ever i s the cor rect title. Whenever play approached a penalty area, this shy figure suddenly appeared, darting startled back towards the perimeter, then, growing a l itt le more brave, bobbing back up to peer at the action in a winningly diffident manner. The body language and behaviour was that of a fringe participant not as yet entirely accepted or perfectly assimilated into the game, rather like Jim Rosenthal.
One was reminded of a chap at his wife’s work function who hovers around the edge of a group, manfully maintaining an approachable smile in case one of her colleagues finally remembers he is present. We should enjoy this frailly beautiful creature while it retains its modesty and innocence. Too soon it will be given a proper kit and name, and become part of the establishment machine. The next thing you know it will be demanding respect.
Battle of Britain: Rangers v Leeds Battle of Britain proves how much has changed in 20 years. If Rangers’ Champions League preliminary round clash with Leeds in 1992 had been officiated by some sort of time-travelling referee from 2011, Ian Durrant would probably have been booked twice in the first minute. A tie between the Scottish and English champions is no longer a match of equals. British fans are now allowed to follow their teams on away legs in Europe. Durrant – hopefully – has stopped wearing ties that look like aliens have been sick on them. You don’t see mullets as glorious and varied as Mark Hateley’s and Dave McPherson’s any more. And presumably El Hadji Diouf doesn’t run off the team bus and dodge through the traffic into a newsagents to pick up sweets for his teammates like Ally McCoist does here.
And Battle of Britain provides more than an unwelcome reminder of how 1992 is much longer ago than we’d like to think. The bulk of its 60minutes are dedicated to highlights of both of Rangers’ frenetic 2-1 victories over the English champions, overlaid with interviews – the baggy suits and disgusting ties proving that fashion has changed as much as football – and manager Walter Smith, looking like George Clooney in the lead role of an unlikely film about a self-made Scottish engineer.
All this, plus frank close-up access to the apparently relaxed Rangers players on the bus down to Yorkshire, playing cards (naturally) and looking awkward when they’re expected to do or say something on camera – except for Coisty, of course, relishing the chance to play the joker, and no-nonsense defender John Brown, who shows off his underwhelming Hannibal Lecter impression. Meanwhile, Hateley sits at the back of the bus on his big mobile phone, possibly politely declining bribes from Marseille.
But the star of the show is the match footage, from Hateley’s 20-yard strike at Elland Road (which he celebrates like a delirious brunette lion) to Andy Goram’s string of top-class saves, back when it looked like the only thing he couldn’t stop was the slow death of pop music. It all culminates in a sporting round of applause from the Leeds fans, acknowledging the Scots’ superiority over two legs.
But perhaps what has changed the most is the scale and influence of the Champions League. “For every point wewin in the Champions League,” Rangers reveal, “we earn something like £220,000. The structure of the Champions League is commercially interesting. UEFA have certainly done their homework with sponsors and broadcasters.” Indeed. But some things never change. Ian Ferguson succinctly sums up the level of euphoria that comes with twice beating Cantona and co: “I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s better than beating Celtic. But it’s close.”