Football: Ball boys' dermarcation dispute sparks Golden Delicious riot

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THERE is probably not a Briton who has ever watched Formula One on the box who isn't familiar with a certain high-pitched whine drowning out the cars. The Murray Walker Story (ITV) looked at the man behind the noise in a documentary that centred on the dramatic final grand prix of last season, at Jerez in Spain.

It was fascinating and hilarious to see him on the job. He never sits down, preferring to pad nervily from foot to foot, as if his medication wasn't quite right. And as he gets excited, he executes little dances with wildly exaggerated gestures, like a particularly flamboyant mime artist.

"And Jacques Villeneuve is inside Frentzen's time," he says during qualifying, with his palm held flat out in front of him. "One hundred and 85 miles an hour" - fist furiously clenched, elbow crooked - "back off into second gear, 55 miles an hour" - palm flat out again in front - "accelerate round the left-hander and keeps on going" - a broad, sweeping movement with his left hand - "AND HE MOVES UP INTO PROVISIONAL POLE POSITION!" - his arm straight up, raised to heaven as if the triumph was his. Meanwhile, Martin Brundle puts a hand on his shoulder as if to keep him on the ground.

What is most remarkable about his high-octane style is that he always has another gear to move up into (sorry about all these motoring puns, but it just demonstrates how much the car has enriched the language). When Jonathan Pearce, whose football commentaries for Capital Gold have led to several cases of exploding radios, tried his hand on the television, his fatal flaw was exposed. On radio, he could pitch it as intense as he wanted because the listener had only his words to go on. On TV, when things became genuinely exciting, his grating roar had nowhere to go. With Walker, just when you think he's reached the top of his range, he racks it up another notch.

It also helps to be, well, a motormouth. Brundle described how, in Melbourne on the Wednesday before one race, the production team needed a soundcheck. "Murray started commentating on an imaginary race that nearly had me looking out of the window," said Brundle.

Brian Moore would not be advised to try this. He has enough trouble with the real thing. But there's always Ron Atkinson to make up in entertainment value what Moore lacks in accuracy. On Wednesday, as Manchester United were carving a goalless draw out of the Monagesque rockface (ITV), Big Ron was talking about the way Monaco had tailored their game to the atrocious surface, employing a combination of the offside trap and the pressing game. "It's given me an idea," he said. "We play United on Saturday - I'll see if I can get a car park built underneath the pitch."

In the absence of any decent football to watch (though for a fan, even dull games cause too much anxiety to be truly boring), the ball boys provided some diversion. They seemed to be playing their own game, seeing if they could get the new ball to the player before the old one had gone out of play (the players' surprise as new balls flew at them from odd angles kept reminding me of Cato's domestic ambushes for Clouseau in the Pink Panther films).

A couple of times the player seemed irritated at being deprived of his little breather, holding on to the ball for a couple of seconds as a tiny show of defiance - "I'll do this in my own time, thank you very much." Once, towards the end, the boys succeeded in getting two on the pitch at once when one player had the temerity to retrieve his own ball. A demarcation dispute followed, and the boys began to picket the goalmouths, hanging burning balls from the crossbars and pelting British lorries with Golden Delicious apples (you may have missed that bit).

My colleague, Ken Jones, wondered if Jean Tigana hadn't been coaching the boys, such was their efficiency. He recalled seeing Leeds play in Europe in the old days and observing the home side's ball boys, who were all youth team players. They maintained a speedy service until a few minutes from time when, with their side ahead, they went on a go-slow. Some time later, Ken mentioned this to Don Revie, who was never one to miss a trick. "Good idea," he said. "We'll start doing that."

I realise that since Highbury's French revolution it is vieux chapeau to protest that Arsenal and attractive football enjoy little more than nodding acquaintance. I was still tickled, though, to hear the words of Emanuel Marada, the editor of African Soccer magazine, on Channel 4's Planet Football, which looked back over the African Nations Cup and ahead to the World Cup. "When I'm not touring the continent studying the beautiful game," he said, "I have a weakness for Arsenal Football Club." You can have too much of a good thing, you see.