An awful glimpse of a summer of gloom

Sport on TV
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THERE are two obvious conclusions to be drawn from a varied week of televised sport. The first is that we stand on the brink of a golden sporting summer, with barely a single spare week in which to fit in all those other basic human activities, like haircuts and family holidays. And the second is that we are also, without any obvious shadow of a doubt, doomed.

"We" in this context refers principally to the cricketers and footballers who will represent England and Scotland over the next three months (although the Welsh may well suffer humiliations of their own when their rugby team arrives in South Africa). Take, for instance, Alec Stewart's interview with David Gower on the first Cricket Monthly (BBC2) of the new season, which was spliced with reminders of the South Africans' considerable strength in every department from batting and bowling down to bringing out the drinks without spillage. Are you frightened of the tourists, Gower asked the new England captain. "I wouldn't use the word fear," Stewart said. "Respect, yes." Hmmm, murmured viewers everywhere.

There was hardly any more encouragement when the action began. The video machine which rewinds the tape for the adverts on Sky Sports must have been in danger of overheating during England's collapse on Thursday. And though the commentators were too polite to suggest it, the most symbolic moment was probably the way Chris Lewis handed victory to the tourists with an aimless long-hop which would have been shameful in the nets.

The European Cup final (ITV), meanwhile, was both uplifting and depressing in equal measure. There was the sight of players like Mijatovic, Zidane, Del Piero, Hierro, Carlos and Davids rising above the terror which can so easily strangle major finals. And then there was the realisation that they came from...well, just about everywhere except Great Britain. In fact, Alan Shearer aside, it was hard to think of any member of the England or Scotland squads who would be guaranteed a game in either Madrid or Turin.

This was bad enough, but what made it worse was that the game was clearly being used as the final World Cup warm-up for ITV. On this evidence there are - as some of their cliche-ridden pundits might put it - gaping holes at the back, while up front you just can't see where the goals will come from. True, Clive Tyldesley is capable enough at the microphone, but beside him was sitting Kevin Keegan, with an entire team of old chestnuts warming up on the touchline, ready to be introduced as the situation dictated.

The bench had been cleared by the end of Wednesday's game - even "these Latins are a bit temperamental" managed to get a run-out - and you can only imagine what else might get an unexpected call-up when Kev has an entire planet's-worth of stereotypes to call upon. Any that Keegan cannot use, meanwhile, will be snapped up on a free by Terry Venables or Bob Wilson.

It is not as if anyone expects them to fling in classical allusions in the manner of Sid Waddell (although the thought of Sid riding shotgun alongside, say, John Motson is attractive). But worthwhile points are going unmade amid all the lazy language, such as when Hierro was booked for what, as the replay proved, was in fact a perfectly timed challenge. Tyldesley and Keegan were rightly indignant, but neither thought to note that, given Hierro's angle of approach, a similar challenge at the World Cup might have brought not just an unjustified yellow card but a thoroughly outrageous red.

Half-time arrived. But since this was ITV's "A team", you could not even spend a quarter of an hour pondering the stylistic conundrum that is Barry Venison, whose transformation from Rick Parfitt's (slightly) younger brother to speccy crop-top is still very difficult to accept. Ruud Gullit's sense of style is interesting, certainly, but somehow it is just not the same.

Then, just as the depression was really kicking in, the real unfortunates will have flicked over to the sports slot on Sky News for a little light relief. And found Les Ferdinand and Darren Anderton describing, with apparent conviction, the magical transformation wrought on their dodgy legs by England's official faith-healer.

Now there will be plenty of chapters in Graham Taylor's as yet unwritten guide, Do You Not Want To Manage England Like That. The first one, however, will surely be devoted to hostages to fortune, and the inhumane relish with which the tabloids tend to set about them.

Eileen Drewery may indeed be blessed with the gift of healing, just as Mystic Meg may one day produce something a little more startlingly prophetic than "I see a man, he is wearing trousers". If England fail to beat Tunisia handsomely, however, Glenn Hoddle will be Quackers before the referee has picked up the ball.

Then again, perhaps the lesson of Amsterdam was that supernatural intervention is the best hope England have. Forget the debate about the relative merits of "Three Lions" and "On Top Of The World". When the going gets tough in France, the smart fans could be the ones singing "Come On Eileen".