Sport on TV: Unreal and surreal meet in the acid-hued world of the cavorting cockerel
The BBC wisely steered clear of the music at the beginning of the show, while Eurosport gave us Youssou n'Dour and a French chanteuse who seemed to be called Axle Red (one of Dulux's new range, apparently) singing the diabolically awful France 98 anthem. Via Eurosport's lousy sound it came across like an emasculated Paul Simon circa Graceland. Pele lookalike N'Dour, though, is a genuine star - despite his jacket, which was clearly modelled on that cornea-abrasing blue-and-white- flecked number that Manchester United wore as their 13th away strip a few years ago (for Coca-Cola Cup second legs when there was an R in the month, I seem to remember).
He and Mlle Red were joined by a bunch of kids dressed in an overblown parody of street style, dancing with those jerky mannerisms so beloved of Janet or Michael Jackson (I can never tell which one is which these days).
The Beeb kicked off instead with one of those clip-sequences they love so much (and generally do so well), all the most famous World Cup moments over some rather cheap disco nonsense (whoever selects their music, which is usually done brilliantly, let themselves down on this occasion). Then after accounts of how England and Scotland made it this far, it was on to the Old Dependables in the studio, where Jimmy Hill pronounced himself "frightened already" and wondered where Paraguay was. The ever-prescient Alan Hansen picked Romania as the seed to be seen with.
In Marseilles, Davies was his usual slightly donnish self, wearing his erudition like an old, comfy cardigan. On stage, the show was being presented by a couple of TF1 presenters, Roger Zabel and Carole Rousseau (I don't know if she was born free, but she wasn't in chains). Eurosport's Archie Mc-Pherson (who has written on Scottish football for this paper) was doing a perfectly good job, but it's difficult to match Bazza's languidly elegant way with words.
Sepp Blatter was running the show, complete with one of those microphone headsets also popularised by Janet Jackson to a fair number of whistles from the crowd (everyone who set foot on stage to help with the draw also had them, which seemed a little superfluous as no one except Blatter and the TF1 couple spoke.
Brazil, naturally, were first out of the hat - or flashy salad bowl, in fact - and Ronaldo was brought on, fresh from the exhibition game, in which he'd captained the Rest of the World (he must have had to hurry, though he didn't have much in the way of hair to dry). As each team was drawn, a player from that country was led on by one of a team of hostesses, to sit by the side of the stage like guests on This Is Your Life and do little else (nothing else, in fact). It was interesting that out of the 32, two did not look like refugees from an Armani fashion shoot - Paul Ince and Gordon Durie, who were wearing those big football coats, no doubt to fulfil some sponsorship deal (if my ears didn't deceive me, by the way, the Scot, who had been billed for the afternoon's game as Ian Durie, suffered further nomenclaturial indignity when he was ushered on to the stage as Darren Jackson).
Famous former players were enlisted to help with the draw, including my hero from the 1982 World Cup, Marius Tresor, who had the air of an enlightened African head of state. Once each salad bowl was manned, the show resembled the set of the Fifteen To One quiz show, which I was once forced to watch one afternoon in a similar manner to the Eurovision.
In stark contrast to the dignified bearing of Tresor and the other elder luminaries were the antics of Footix, the infernally irritating mascot, which I guess is supposed to resemble the Gallic cockerel. The creature pranced around the stage for no apparent reason - all cockerel and bull if you ask me.
Once the draw was underway, there were, fortunately, few interruptions, and MC Blatter zipped through it all with a thoroughly professional air. There was a cutaway of Glenn Hoddle looking suitably smug when England were given a fairly easy ride, though Craig Brown looked a little taken aback.
Back in the studio (once again the BBC wisely avoided the music, a kind of salsa without the spice), Jimmy Hill was playing Nostradamus. "You can look at five of the groups and I can pick the results now," he said. I wish they'd held him to that.
When it comes to the Scots, he was probably right. You can see it now: gallant defeat to Brazil, goalless draw against Norway, apocalpytic pratfall against Morocco. They needn't bother going, really.
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