Sport on TV: A parade of ineptitude from a tawdry collection of rejects and no-hopers

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The Independent Online
ONLY one man could induce me to watch more than one frame of snooker at a time, and that's Jimmy White, a welcome reminder of the sport's louche bedrock and the greatest player never to . . . (you know the rest).

So having clocked his progress through the first week of the World Championship (BBC2) - somewhat improbable progress given that he had been drawn against Stephen Hendry in the first round - it was distressing to see him capitulate so limply to Ronnie O'Sullivan.

"Jim's been playing the best snooker of anybody up to the quarter-finals, and it doesn't get any easier," O'Sullivan said before the match. He was wrong. Now you'll have to pardon my ignorance - maybe they're both like this all the time - but the physical evidence told you right from the opening frame who was going to win. O'Sullivan strutted round the table with a macho little hip swivel, a tiny swagger of unbreachable confidence. White, meanwhile, looked like a man with a hangover (maybe he was a man with a hangover).

I don't know what kind of lifestyle he leads, but somebody should have a word. He looks so unhealthy. His eyes were washed out, his skin blotchy, and he seemed to go further downhill with each error. Every wasted opportunity opened the door to a whirlwind, and after a token White fightback, O'Sullivan blew him away. Poor Jimmy. Still the greatest player never to. . . As he so eloquently put it afterwards: "You can't play at his speed. Bosh. It's all over." Indeed it was.

The difference between O'Sullivan v White, and between your average pub players, is that the latter will proceed by incompetence: misses, not pots, dictate the results, and the less crap of two players will generally prevail. Likewise, there are two types of American football: the real thing, as played in the NFL proper and the ersatz version peddled by NFL Europe (which used to be known as the World League of American Football).

One of the dubious pleasures of a brief sojourn in the Highlands this week was watching "Touchdown Scotland" (Grampian, Scottish), which featured a meeting between the England Monarchs and Scottish Claymores in what appeared to be somebody's back garden in Birmingham.

The half hour was a vibrant parade of ineptitude, all third-and-tens, sad sacks and frantic fumbles. Thanks to the Monarchs' defense containing more holes than Blackburn, Lancashire, the Claymores did at least score their first touchdown of the season, the TD pass going to a receiver marked so badly he must have felt like that Saharan tree that was in the Guinness Book of Records for its remoteness and still managed to get hit by a truck.

Passes went straight to the opposition, who promptly dropped them; running backs weren't so much tackled as ushered politely into touch like Wimbledon champions being led gently by the arm around Centre Court with their trophy; defenders would get their fingers to tentative field goal attempts without quite managing to impede their progress. Not that it mattered too much: one attempt skewed to the left and ended up in Telford.

A few years ago I had the misfortune to witness the then London Monarchs at Wembley in a match chiefly memorable for the number of punts (they didn't even do that very well) and the puppyish attempt at emulating the razzmatazz of the NFL. The principal benefit accrued from the day was the exercise involved in doing the Mexican wave that engulfed the stadium for the rest of the match after the first couple of hapless, risible drives made it clear we were watching rubbish.

If Touchdown Scotland is anything to go by, that was Super Bowl stuff compared to the present farrago. I almost found myself doing a one-man Mexican wave just to liven things up a bit. How much longer will the NFL continue to underwrite this tawdry collection of rejects and no-hopers?

I'm only just getting round to mentioning Planet Football (C4), for which apologies to a mostly absorbing and intelligent series. This week Simon O'Brien and Steve Cram fetched up in Denmark and Norway with their usual recipe of history, fascinating facts and coverage of a big game (in this instance, the World Cup warm-up between Denmark and Norway).

One in six Premiership players are Scandinavian, it probably won't surprise you to read, and it was instructive in a completely useless kind of way to learn that Manchester United have forked out more on players from that part of the world in the past year than Mancunians spent on bacon.

Equally instructive, and not useless at all, is the fact that last year, Norway's women's team, the World Cup holders, took on a male youth side in Oslo and beat them 7-0. John Jensen, the former Arsenal enforcer and Steve Cram's guest at the Denmark v Norway game, was having none of it, though. "I watched women's football once. I watched 45 minutes, then fell asleep." He should try watching NFL Europe.

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