It's all about Woganisation - giving the viewers a warm glow like porridge ads in winter

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The Independent Online
FOR some reason - I choose not to delve too deeply - I have a fly-paper mind for facts. Useless facts, that is. And as an armchair sports fan, I invariably end up with a reference book of some kind on my knee - Rothmans, Soccer Who's Who, Sportspages Almanac, the Manchester United Complete Record. Sometimes, when provoked into bouts of nostalgia, I even find myself reaching for one of my childhood books like the International Soccer Yearbook (Nos 18 through to 25) or my (sadly incomplete) set of the George Best Annual, but usually it's a quest for hard facts that gets me going.

There's probably some deep explanation for why information for its own sake can be so important to some people. A precocious brat, I was told off by Miss Swainson in the third year of primary school for whispering to a class-mate. I was saying to him (and I cringe to think of it), "You know what my favourite word is? Information." I'll just get my anorak.

Watching Arsenal win the FA Cup (ITV) last Saturday, had me checking whether it was in 1888 or 1889 that Preston became the first club to do the Double. Then, as my eyes strayed over the pages of statistics, that led on to such curiosities as the fact that in the first year of the Cup, 1871-2, Queen's Park couldn't arrange a date with Donington for their first-round tie, so both advanced to the second round. Or that two years later, because it was difficult for the poor things to travel down from Glasgow, they were given byes until the semi-final against Oxford University - which they also couldn't be bothered turning up for. Why is this interesting to me? I haven't a clue, really.

Sometimes, I have to confess, I miss great swathes of action while I attempt to fix the fielding positions in my head once and for all or look up the goal difference between Italy and England in their qualifying group for the 1978 World Cup. None of this serves any purpose, I think. It must be something to do with facts providing some sort of bedrock in a godless age. Or something.

While watching the highlights of England's first one-day international against South Africa (BBC2), a remark by one of the commentators about Test averages led me to look up stuff on Don Bradman. I knew his Test average was about 99 (99.94 in fact), and that the three joint-second batsmen, Pollock, Headley and Sutcliffe, were all on 60, but what I'd never been aware of (sorry if I'm telling you something you know) was the fact that in his last ever Test innings, the great man, needing four to secure an average of 100, was out for a duck. I also hadn't realised how prolific he was in the 1930 series against England, with 974 runs at an average of 139.14. Now I know, and I bet if you ask me in a year's time, I'll still be able to tell you.

It's not as if the hour-long highlights programme wasn't interesting in itself, with England not quite managing to contain a South African side who come on like ersatz Aussies. Gower's Cricket Monthly (BBC2), returning for the summer, examined the tourists in its amiable but anodyne way. It was interesting to hear echoes of old attitudes, albeit in the blandest, most inoffensive of fashions. The captain, Hansie Cronje, talked of the fast bowler Makhaya Ntini: "He and Lance Klusener speak Zulu together, so it's irritating to hear them yapping away in the changing- room." No offence meant, I'm sure, but you wonder how irritated Ntini would be allowed to be with Afrikaans bouncing off the walls.

Mornantau Hayward, on the other hand, is "a very Afrikaner boy. He's nuts. He's as rough as they come, as rough as they come. He's a lovely boy." And what a great name.

Hayward would seem to have his English counterpart in Ed Giddins, back in the fold after 20 months out for cocaine abuse. The lad sounds like a posher version of Nigel Kennedy, all "excellents" and sentences that finish with "...OK?". The cuddly profile set the tone of Cricket Monthly - a look in the bachelor boy's fridge (there was a bottle of water, some salad dressing and a tub of cottage cheese), plus a cosy chat in which all references to the offence that put him out of the game were smothered in wry euphemisms. If you didn't know his history, you would hardly have guessed it from this. Still, as with most BBC sports magazine programmes, it's not about discussion of issues or analysis of themes. It's all about Woganisation - giving the viewer a warm glow, like those porridge ads in the winter. It's not that the programme wasn't interesting. It's just that I'm fed up with being left feeling nice and warm and swaddled by the BBC. I want more.