Sport on TV: Working man's ballet? Let's hope Diamonds are forever

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The Independent Online

Watching England play football is becoming so excruciatingly dull that it's about time there was some other entertainment on the bill. The obvious answer is cheerleaders, but pretty girls gyrating in revealing costumes might prove a little too distracting for our players.

So the obvious answer is blokes with pom-poms, isn't it? Wonderland: Boy Cheerleaders (BBC2, Wednesday) showed a group of young lads from Leeds who are ready if their country needs them. Don Revie and Norman Hunter might well have thrown their hands up in the air in bewilderment but could they execute a pirouette and perform the splits as well?

The programme was as extraordinary as its subject matter, a real-life Billy Elliott that seemed so perfectly scripted and cast that it couldn't possibly be true. First there was the very camp coach, Ian: "They are in a predominantly female sport, so they've got to get some balls, 'aven't they?" Then there was his very blonde assistant, Cherry no less, who taught the boys the right facial expressions: "wink... pout... surprised look... nasty look..." And relax.

They are preparing their Dazl Diamonds for a TV appearance on Basil's Swap Shop, followed by the National Championships. The boys, almost to a man, start crying when they get on the London Underground for the first time, and you worry that Basil Brush might upset them too. Less pom-pom, more boom-boom.

But there was a far darker side to this story than the old fox, which showed just how tough these boys are – and let's face it, they need to be. Harvey, nine, with his pink sheets and blue ice cream, has no father at home and, according to his mum, he is "man 'o' house, has been two year"; Elliott, 12, with a fluffy white rabbit called Crystal (or is that Cristal?) also lives with his single mum; as does Josh, 13, whose mother is missing some front teeth from her scrapping days, while Harvey's has spent 13 weeks inside for assault.

It's tempting to say that with very unyummy mummies like these, who needs fathers? But the children patently lack male role models. It might not be long before they leave home too. The absurdity of their situation gets even more surreal when we hear that Josh has been excluded from school for three days for "dangerous behaviour": he threw an onion at someone. At least that would explain some of the tears.

Harvey dreams of being Billy Elliott, and is duly summoned to an audition at the Northern Ballet Academy, which he passes. The tale is redolent of gritty feelgood British cinema, but this is real life. Ian has hailed the effects of TV shows such as Glee and Britain's Got Talent. Dazl Diamonds receive funding from the city's Primary Care Trust anti-obesity programme, and apparently 37 per cent of schools now offer cheerleading in PE lessons. The boys train for 12 hours a week, and as well as the obvious benefits in terms of basic fitness and self-confidence within a team environment, there have been positive after-effects such as better concentration levels in school.

It's a winning formula, and the boys are primed to celebrate the success exuberantly. They came third in the National Championships, with a bizarre and very different science-fiction number, and indeed the Dazl Diamonds are heading for the stars. They will go far.