Sport on TV: Big Ron's in bullish mood but Tessa finds his tipping point

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The Independent Culture

It has been a rough time for the grumpy old men. First Ron Atkinson took on Tessa Sanderson in Celebrity Wife Swap (Channel 4, Sunday). Then Frank Evans, the Bus Pass Bullfighter (Channel 4, Friday) tried to make a comeback at the age of 66. They share a stubborn nature and a Spanish perma-tan, but Salford's finest matador has more chance of a successful return to the limelight.

Big Ron remains extremely defensive about his infamous racist slur against Marcel Desailly five years ago, which caused him to resign from his lucrative career as a pundit. For many years at ITV he had been successful and popular at passing on his wisdom, or something that sounds very similar to "bullfighting".

Such was Atkinson's refusal to discuss the incident or sign up for community work as an act of rehabilitation, the former Olympic gold medallist Tessa Sanderson – who prides herself on being a role model for black people – must have felt like sticking her javelin right between his eyes.

"Shut up! I don't have to do any more than I do to justify myself. I do plenty," Big Ron exclaimed. His participation in the programme is a bit odd, given that he must have known the topic would crop up, but maybe he is keen to get back in the public eye.

After all, he was recently spotted on BBC News 24 giving a eulogy for the recently deceased chanteur and Aston Villa fan Renato, who was invited to perform during the half-time interval at Villa Park when Atkinson was in charge.

To be fair, he seemed to be hoping to get the race issue out of the way. After all, it's supposed to be a programme about marital relations. And the only abuse he has to put up with concerns his hiphop-like obsession with bling and the colour of his skin – orange.

His wife Maggie had been mystified about the level of opprobrium heaped on Ron, especially given his track record in bringing on black players in the Seventies. But Sanderson's partner Densign White, chairman of the British Judo Association, told her that it was the stereotype created by using words like "lazy" in conjunction with the "N-word" that had caused consternation as much as the word itself. And she told Ron, and by the end Ron seemed enlightened himself. Perhaps it has all been carefully scripted.

But having seen his housework ethic, the epithet "lazy" could easily be applied to him.

Meanwhile Margaret, the wife of Britain's oldest matador wasn't too worried about her husband setting off into the Spanish sunset of his life soon after undergoing a quadruple heart bypass and a knee replacement.

"It's something you go off doing by yourself," says Evans. "It's not a family activity." As he practised his art in the back yard using a shopping trolley, a flower pot and a garden chair as the bull, she might be glad to see the back of him.

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