Sport on TV: Master of the dressing-room expletive revealed in Hitlerian rant of `the Scally Messiah'

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The Independent Online
SWEARING in football documentaries has become a bit of as cliche, but it must be said that managers really are masters of the art. John Sitton, then Leyton Orient's co-manager, gave a magnificent, peerless performance a couple of years ago, but Peter Reid, in charge at Sunderland, isn't very far behind, as he demonstrated in Premier Passions (BBC2), the first of a five-parter following the Wearsiders through an anguished 1996-97 season.

I was sent a preview tape that consisted of clips from the series as a whole, which concertinaed the entire miserable season into 35 minutes. In the dressing-room after a 2-0 home defeat to Wimbledon, Reid, "the scally Messiah", as the script refers to him was in fine f****** form. "That's f****** shite, that is," he said, "and it's not about f****** tactics, and their being great players, it's about f****** arsehole, which they've got more of on the f****** day. So f****** get on with it." The camera rests on a couple of faces, drained with their unrewarded effort. Paul Bracewell, who has never been accused of shirking, looks on with an empty, desolate gaze, the look of a man who has nothing more to give but whose all was not enough. That's where these fly-on-the-wall series are at the strongest - when they're at their most intrusive.

Knowing what happens in the end lends an air of dramatic irony to some sequences. In one scene, in the boardroom, the bankers are being taken through the club's finances, and at one point, after Reid has said he's not the kind of manager who gets caught up in auctions, one of the financiers asks him if that might mean that Sunderland will simply be left behind by the clubs who will pay silly money. "I take your point," he says, "but if you look at Boro, Coventry, Southampton, West Ham, who've paid that, we'll finish higher than them." Oops. He was right about Middlesbrough, but that was all.

Later on, as the drop draws ever closer, you feel deeply for him. In a relegation six-pointer against Nottingham Forest, there's a two-shot of Reid and his Forest counterpart, Dave Bassett, fulminating, bellowing wordlessly, prime candidates for the coronary care unit. Forest equalise three minutes from the end. In the next game Sunderland have to beat Southampton, and Reid's half-time rant is another demonstration of his mastery of the expletive.

"The first 30 minutes, there was only one side that wanted to win it, and it was f****** embarrassing," he begins. "They were quicker to every ball, they were winning f****** tackles - there's Berkovitch making f****** tackles and winning them. Hey, I don't give a f****** about losing, but I'll tell you what I give a f****** about - losing shite, not f****** having a go, not wanting to get up people's f****** arses, not having the bollocks to get the ball and pass it." His voice rises to a fever pitch of fury as he throws himself round the dressing-room in a Hitlerian rage (it must be said here that he comes across as a good bloke): "F****** get it sorted out, f****** have the responsibility, f****** get up his arse. I could f****** play out there. Get it f****** sorted!"

Perhaps Reid should have taken a tip from George Costanza on Seinfeld (BBC2). But then again, perhaps not. In his unlikely new job of deputy transport manager for baseball's New York Yankees (last week, he went for an interview and bawled out the team's irascible and eccentric owner, George Steinbrenner, and was offered a job on the spot), George has been keen to share his deep knowledge of the sport with the players and coaches. His handiest hint was to switch from polyester - "it just doesn't breathe" - to cotton for the team's suits. For the first game it worked wonders, but for the second ... disaster. "And there's something wrong with the Yankees," you could hear the commentator say as they took the field. "Their suits have shrunk! Wade Boggs' shirt has split!" Whether George is still in the job on Tuesday night must be in some doubt.

Any possibility that Danny Wilson's job as Barnsley manager might have been in doubt was removed on Wednesday when his side put Manchester United out of the FA Cup. Alex Ferguson, did his usual complaining job afterwards, saying he had expected Barnsley to get all the decisions, and indeed, there appeared to some controversy over John Hendrie's goal, with ITV's virtual replay demonstrating, according to Bob Wilson and Kevin Keegan, his pundit for the night, that he was offside when he picked up Darren Barnard's pass for the first goal.

Most reporters, I have to say, agreed with that assessment. But as far as I could see, the computer reconstruction clearly showed an overlap between Hendrie and the defender. Which means they're onside - especially given that officials have to give the benefit of any doubt to the attacker. A couple of years ago he would have been offside. But that was then and this is now. What's the point of having all this technology if you're incapable of interpreting the information it gives you?