Sport on TV: A riveting night's viewing for the football fanatic and the cross-Channel swimmer

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The Independent Online
Midway through Liverpool's Champions' League match against Celtic on Tuesday evening, Trevor Brooking made an unusual confession: he was speaking about Michael Owen's cleverly angled runs, and admitted that they were "the sort of thing you can't really see on television." A clear faux pas on the face of it: TV pundits are not supposed to suggest that you'd be better off going to a football ground. But it was well-timed, coming as it did on an evening - Super Tuesday - when you could, if you wanted, have watched nothing but football for six straight hours.

Channel Five kicked off with Salonika v Arsenal; BBC1 followed suit with Celtic versus Liverpool, and then it was back to C5 for Bordeaux v Aston Villa. By way of a nightcap, fans could cool off with a quick blast of Coca-Cola Cup action - Millwall versus Wimbledon - on Carlton. On Wednesday there was Newcastle v Barcelona (ITV) - confirmation that European matches "bring out the big adrenalin" in Faustino Asprilla - and highlights of Manchester United v Kosice. And on Thursday we had Chelsea v Slovan Bratislava (C5). Viewers could be forgiven for forgetting that the cricket season was just bubbling to a climax.

Actually, in the week when English cricket took one look at the future, and then slammed the door on it, it was salutary to be shown so forcefully the impetus that increased television coverage can give to a sport. This three-day carnival of international football came courtesy not of cable or satellite, but of old-style terrestrial TV. It was refreshing to see the people's channels showcasing the people's game at its most cosmopolitan, while the big-buck satellite stations curled up with the parochial version: Scunthorpe v Everton in the Coca-Cola Cup. Refreshing also to see Barcelona, like so many British clubs over the years, coming to grief in one of those tricky fixtures.

Keeping abreast of the action, though, was no easy task. I can't have been the only person who watched five hours of continuous play on Tuesday night without seeing a single goal. I missed Salonika's winner against Arsenal because I flicked over to see Liverpool kick off against Celtic. When Michael Owen struck in Glasgow, I was watching Leicester attempt to hang on to a 1-0 lead against Atletico Madrid (on Eurosport). I went back to Glasgow, then on to Greece, watching nothing much happen in either place, and returned to Madrid to find that Atletico had pinched a 2-1 lead. "This can happen with the continental teams," said Gordon Banks in the expert's chair - and I promptly became so gripped by his stirring and lop-sided loyalty to Leicester's cause ("Kamark's done a great man- to-man job on Juninho, even though he scored the goal") that I missed Celtic's equaliser against Liverpool.

On and on it went. Wherever I came up for breath in my long, cross-Channel swim, the goals rained in somewhere else. I began to think I could actually influence these faraway events, so I feel semi-responsible for Steve McManaman's last-gasp equaliser: I blipped over to the not-quite-live beginning of Bordeaux versus Aston Villa just as he started his obviously futile run at the Celtic defence.

Over in Salonika, Jonathan Pearce continued his high-octane attempt to modernise the ancient protocols of commentary. "Still Arsenal press!" he cried, as Salonika swept upfield. "Go on Vieira!" he pleaded. "Gobble up that ground!"

Elsewhere, as always on "Big European Nights," it was the Night of the Long Names. There are signs of an increasingly worldliness in our commentators: they rarely trip and stumble as they used to, perhaps because so many of the tricky names are in the Premiership these days.

But other stereotypes persisted. As so often, the overseas teams were violent cheats in cahoots with the referee. This was most obvious in Madrid, courtesy of Gordon Banks. As always when the TV companies engage fans rather than commentators his view was spectacularly one-sided. Leicester, he thought, had done splendidly if you didn't count the two goals they let in.

It was left to Archie McPherson to inject a mixture of canny research and sheer waggishness into the proceedings. "Came from Slavia Prague, of course," he said casually when Atletico Madrid brought on their substitute, Bejbl. "Talk about introducing iron to the side - he's your actual rivet."

Very much so, as we say in newspapers.

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