Sport on TV: Brian the wheelchair dancer proves the daddy of Brit grit

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The Independent Culture

When it comes to these end-of-year pieces of nonsense I'm always suspicious of the heavy-handed extraction of overly neat motifs from what is in effect a random slice of history. But in 2007, as this column traversed the continuum of televised sporting confrontation, from World Cup cricket and European Championship football to competitive hairdressing and wheelchair ballroom dancing, a theme emerged: the inexplicable absence of fighting spirit at one end of that continuum and its overwhelming presence at the other.

First there was the cricket, with poor Jonathan Agnew on suicide watch as England's fighting spirit gurgled away down the plughole of despair. Against Bangladesh the poor lad was losing the will to live.

"Horrible," he said. "England were shocking. That was a really ugly performance."

The following week, against South Africa, he was a wrecked husk of a man, the life force sucked out of him as if by some deadly alien fresh from Dr Who. "Chastening, humiliating, dreadful," Agnew whimpered. "One of the worst one-day performances England have ever given."

No one's suggesting that these underperformers underperform on purpose. But we surely have a right to expect our elite sporting heroes to ply their trades as if it meant something to them. But for Aggers in the spring, read Motty and Lawro in winter, and that November evening in north-west London, when England had to avoid defeat against Croatia to advance to Euro 2008.

At 2-0 down, John Motson was incredulous. "This is hard to believe even though it's happening right in front of us. Dear me, I'm lost for words, Lawro." Mark Lawrenson was his usual upbeat self as they watched a replay of the Croatian opener. "It is the catastrophe of all catastrophes," he said. And afterwards, in the studio, Alan Hansen was suitably apocalyptic. "Out-thought, outplayed, outfought," he grimaced. "It's a low point in English history."

So where was true Brit grit to be found? You'd have seen evidence for its continued existence in the aforementioned hairdressing and wheelchair dancing. Character of the year was the manager of the British hairdressing team. "These are the the SAS of hairdressing," Keith Broughton assured us in Hair Wars in April (BBC1).

The ferocious competitiveness of Keith and his charges was exceeded only by the wheelchair dancers in ONElife (BBC1) the same month in which Inverclyde wasted their arch-rivals and erstwhile nemesis, Bristol, at the British Championships. The stand-out was driven, acid-tongued Brian, who keeps his medals in a plastic bag but has the surly will to win of a McEnroe or Montgomerie. As Bristol messed up in the final, he was beside himself "they've fucked up! They've fucked up! Sweet revenge, come to daddy!"

But the winner of the year's Fighting Spirit award goes to Rajko, musician and "fitness guru" in Last Man Standing (BBC3, August), in which first-world likely lads did battle with their counterparts from the Trobriand Islands. Having nearly severed his toes with an axe, he was a bystander as our boys were slipping to defeat in the local version of cricket, but somehow he dragged himself on and made the winning runs. A true sporting hero. Rumours that Fabio Capello and Peter Moores are enlisting him to motivate their men remain unconfirmed.

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