TELEVISION / A blatant use of the professional foul

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The Independent Culture
SOMETHING has gone badly wrong in All in the Game (ITV), a drama that looks as if the footballers are doing the acting and Rada-trained luvvies are advising on game sequences. It's all the more surprising because the writer is Stan Hey (see feature, p 27), who also wrote The Manageress, and Gary Lineker has supplied the story- lines (though quite what that means isn't entirely clear). The explanation may be simple - an ill-advised transfer. Lifted from a smaller club, Channel Four, where his elegant playing style had a knowledgeable and loyal following, Hey finds his game coarsened by the pressure for big gates and crowd-pleasing flash.

The Manageress worked because its initial conceit, that a woman might enter the all-male fug of British football, gave the drama something to talk about besides the theological mysteries of the flat back four and the sweeper system (something for football widows to watch, in short). All in the Game is far more conventional in approach, building the narrative round the progress of Darren Matthews, a talented young player getting caught up in the murky politics of contract negotiation and transfer fees. Darren, though, is pure - more concerned to make sure the lads don't think he's greedy than to screw his price up. As the opening credits suggest (a young boy in full kit leathering the ball against the neighbour's fence and dreaming of Wembley), this draws on an almost exclusively male heroic fantasy - it is the very stuff of Roy of the Rovers.

And unfortunately it has speech balloons to match. 'I just want to play football, Claire,' Darren says fiercely to his girlfriend. 'To win. And the team means everything to me.' The manager and Darren's vulpine agent (played by William Armstrong, the pony-tailed dealer from Capital City) speak almost exclusively in cliches ('There are forces out there I can't control' - 'Right, you want to play it rough' - 'Darren's flogged his guts out for this team').

Incidental colour can be judged from the gruesome line given to a cheerful Italian restaurateur after Claire flounces away from the table at one point: 'Oh, Darren] The house of the dog for you tonight.' For all I know, this may be a triumph of verisimilitude - footballers do talk in cliches, after all - but it still provides the writer with a problem, in much the same way that a meticulously realistic portrait of a boring prat can backfire on a drama.

There's also a nervousness about the audience that transmits itself in clunky redundancies. 'Barcelona]' exclaims Claire when Darren passes on the news of his latest offer. 'I know,' he replies, 'they're one of the biggest clubs in Europe.' Why stop there, Darren? Why not a thumbnail sketch of the city's location and principal exports, just in case someone in the audience thinks it's in Italy.

Anyone who remembers The Manageress with pleasure should give Hey the benefit of the doubt over all this. The acting never rises to the level where it might compensate for what's wrong with the script (Gary Lineker, God bless him, turns in a cameo performance of sweet incompetence - he can't even swear convincingly) and in any case what's wrong with the script may not be entirely Hey's fault - it has a cut-from- the-roll, synthetic feel that suggests script- editors may have gone in and tackled from behind as he was about to score.

Wednesday night's shooting of a policeman gave Critical Eye's (C 4) warning on the destructive effects of crack a chilling boost. The argument was simple: we are unprepared for the speed with which crack can destroy neighbourhoods and the level of violence that accompanies the drug.

'Because our experience was heroin we thought we had time,' said one American social worker. 'We didn't have time.' Organise right now, they argued, and you stand a chance of stopping it. The problem was that we have seen these wrecked faces, grey skin sagging like damp wallpaper, too often and have heard these alarms before. You could have thought they were just crying wolf, if you hadn't just heard the wolf howl.

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