Sport on TV: Football really can give us a positive mental attitude


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The Independent Online

As the big beast of the Premier League is released from its cage once again, it's all too easy to forget that football is simply about a bunch of boys (or girls) chasing a ball around, not pampered heroes and image rights. Maybe the game can bring out the worst in people but it also provides an escape.

Kate Taunton's absorbing documentary Football, Madness and Me (BBC3, Tuesday) chronicled a season in the Positive Mental Attitude football league, set up for people with mental health issues. There's Jemal, a paranoid schizophrenic with delusions of being a Premier League footballer, there's Hayley who played once for England aged 17 before sinking into a decade of depression, and Adam, an OCD sufferer with a fear of "contamination" who can barely move around his own house.

Out on the pitch it's another story: by the end of the campaign Adam is off his medication, Hayley has taken her Level One FA coaching badge and Jemal can deal with the closure of his secure unit thanks to the fact that he can keep playing up front for Haringey FC.

It's an uplifting tale and the real heroes were the coaches, Zoe, Claire and Jeanette, who are occupational therapists by trade. They may not be Jose Mourinho or David Moyes but their hard work off the field was truly inspirational.

The best coaches should have a duty of pastoral care for their players as well as screaming on the touchline. Perhaps if they were allowed to stay in the job for more than five minutes the mad, mad, mad world of English football might get a greater sense of perspective.

* Oh dear, the pride and then the fall of pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva (Athletics World Championships, BBC2, Wednesday) was something to behold. The commentator Paul Dickenson reached greater heights of hyperbole than Isinbayeva herself could ever scale as she soaked up the adulation of the home crowd. "It's us who should be thanking her, she reigns supreme," he screeched above the din. "This competition has provided one of the great stories. If you were here to see it, it won't go down in folklore but at least you can say you were there." As she tumbled down the track turning handstands like a court jester, he ranted on "she's possibly one of the greatest athletes in history".

Less than 24 hours later, Isinbayeva had turned into a proper fool with her homophobic rant from the dark ages and it probably will go down in folklore – a grim fairy tale. All she needed was a jester's hat, preferably in rainbow colours, though sadly she wasn't joking.

It's a good job she milked the occasion for all it was worth because she won't get the same welcome anywhere else from now on. And perhaps the pundits shouldn't get quite so caught up in all the hysteria – which is, after all, the running mate of fascism.

* How appropriate that Andrew Strauss should be at the microphone when England – his England, really – won the Ashes for the third time in a row. It was intriguing to see him in conversation with Alastair Cook on the outfield at Durham (Sky Sports Ashes, Monday). As the interminable Ian "Wardy" Ward interviews dragged on, you just wanted to hear what those two were talking about.

Asked how he felt to be an onlooking pundit, Strauss said: "You've got to be a bit more dispassionate." Blimey, did he use words like that in his team talks? Luckily he carried on with a load of clichés: "They had to dig really deep at the end of the day... when push comes to shove, they've done the right sort of thing." That's more like it. Perhaps it's best that we couldn't hear what Straussy and Cooky were talking about; we might not have understood a word of it.