A music hall joke out of the bottom draw

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The Independent Online
THE DRAW for the third round of the FA Cup (BBC1) was described by Tony Gubba as "the most romantic event in the football calendar". He had the wrong adjective. How can anything involving Graham Kelly be described as romantic? The word Tony was looking for was "emetic".

Why did they do it? Why take a ceremony that has traditionally been performed with simple dignity and invest it with the values of an end-of-the-pier show? It's a baffler. The only possible explanation is that the FA have become worried in some pathetic way about the encroaching grasp of the National Lottery on the country's consciousness, and decided that they could only respond to the threat by dressing up one of the sports fan's favourite rituals with the kind of fluff and flummery you associate with Anthea Turner. In light entertainment casting counts, and you don't tune in wondering what Ray Stubbs is going to be wearing.

Kelly, looking and sounding like a cross between a myopic hamster and a speak-your-weight-machine, no doubt thought that the whole sorry proceeding was some kind of PR coup, and in a way he was right. There was an unprecedented outpouring of public revulsion.

Gubba asked Kelly: "Why are you doing this?" although from his body language you could tell he was thinking "Why am I doing this?" What would Kelly's response be? A frank: "I haven't a clue"? An honest: "It's pathological: I just can't stop making a complete arse of myself"? No. He wanted, he said: "More and more fans to experience the excitement of the draw at first-hand."

So who were they, these lucky fans invited into the inner sanctum at Lancaster Gate? Well, in the front row there was Sir Bert Millichip, Gordon McKeag, Andy Cole and Les Ferdinand, and behind them Mark Hughes and Dave Watson, and behind them . . . more footballers and their managers. Fans? Nowhere to be seen.

What were the good points? Well, Mystic Meg failed to show up, and there were some replays of the goals that always get replayed on FA Cup programmes (Ronnie Radford's tummy got another airing as he celebrated his goal for Hereford against Newcastle for about the thousandth time), and Dave Watson revealed the present level of confidence at Everton when asked what sort of draw he was hoping for: "I'd settle for a home tie against a non-League club with an injury crisis."

Another bonus, at least for Desmond Lynam, was the outbreak of flu that kept him at home in bed when he might have been presenting this mess. As Gubba flubbered on, Des would have been forgiven an outbreak of "Phew".

Gubba was blameless, though, compared with the shameless pair who actually did the drawing. The great comedy double acts of the past - Morecambe and Wise, Gert and Daisy, Flanagan and Allen - quiver in the shadow of the wise-cracking duo who distributed the balls: Denis "The Menace" Law and Terry "A Song, A Smile And A Stubborn Refusal To Select Les Ferdinand" Venables.

What a performance: smirks, winks, nudges, pats on the back. Presumably the director had taken them aside before the programme and said: "Right, lads, no messing around, this is the way we play it. We want to give the overwhelming impression that the draw has been blatantly fixed."

And what was going through the designer's mind? Where Sir Bert and Gordon made do with a velvet bag carried by a nameless flunky, Terry and Denis had to stick their hands into something that looked like an industrial mincer. You expected them to come out clutching balls but minus a couple of fingers.

Half-way through the draw, Law turned to Venables and asked: "Exciting?" "Nerve-racking!" Venables twinkled. Nauseating. "Well, that was more animated than in previous years, I think you'll agree," Gubba summed up. That was the point: Wallace and Gromit are more animated than Sir Bert Millichip - come to that, the rocks in the background on The Flintstones are more animated than Sir Bert Millichip - but that doesn't mean that you want them making the draw for the third round of the FA Cup.

Over on Sky, Andy Gray has got a wonderful new toy, and he's having a whale of a time playing with it. It's a whizz-bang telestrator, and he put it through its paces after the Coventry v Sheffield Wednesday match last week.

Shuffling videos like an MTV presenter, Gray eviscerated the Coventry defence, plotting errors, replaying missed tackles and timid challenges. It was doubly tough on the Coventry full-backs: first Wednesday had run rings around them, now Gray was drawing circles around them.

What fun he could have had with his telestrator at the FA Cup draw: he could have scribbled some hair on Sir Bert's shining dome, given Graham Kelly a comedy moustache, and graphically illustrated the decline of the draw from national institution to national disgrace.

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