Beeb sweep to victory by the coolest of heads

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The Independent Online
THERE was but one solid conclusion to be drawn from two very different England performances in the space of four days: by Glennda's hair shall you know them. On Tuesday, as the manager tried to talk his way out of the debacle against Romania, his barnet was quietly going bananas, with great greasy straggles shooting off in all directions. By Wednesday, the thatch had gone from bad to worse. And yet by the time he settled himself into the dug-out in Lens, Hoddle's locks were back under control, and his side too performed with bounce, hold and shine. Forget about Green Flag, they should be sponsored by Harmony.

In fact, hair was the unlikely theme of the week, what with the entire Romanian side going blond, and that wild challenge by Craig Burley against Morocco on Tuesday, which was perhaps the first recorded instance of a footballer suffering a rush of bleach to the head. Back in the BBC studio, meanwhile, Ally McCoist had gone for a No 2 - the style of choice for the discerning gentleman - and David Ginola was enjoying the 10,000th Good Hair Day of his life.

He was also wearing a tie, which was not the best of omens as the lights came up, since most people as instinctively cool as "Daveed" normally only get dressed up for funerals. As things turned out, of course, this was not a night for mourning - unless, that is, you count the moment when the last vestiges of Jimmy Hill's credibility died a very public death.

Hill seemed to believe that almost two years of sitting on the sidelines had made Darren Anderton a better player (not a fresher player, you understand, but a better player). He also reckoned that the peroxide binge in the Romanian dressing-room might help them to pick out their team-mates in the midfield hurly-burly. This could have made life very interesting had Norway survived yesterday's match with Italy.

Poor Jimmy aside, though, the BBC's performance was almost as flawless as England's. Sometimes, Des Lynam is just so polished that you forget to appreciate the ease with which he acts as both contributor and moderator. Not, however, when you have endured the ITV alternative just a few days beforehand.

Going head to head with Des and Alan is a thankless task, but nothing can excuse ITV's failure to make the best of their own (very expensive) talking heads. They have some knowledgeable names on their books, after all, Alex Ferguson and Terry Venables among them, yet only the most basic points are ever made and themes and arguments are seldom allowed to develop (probably because the countdown has already started to the next advertisement break). Superstitious nonsense it may be, but it can hardly have escaped anyone's notice that England win on the BBC and lose on the other side. For the good of everyone, ITV should hand over the rights to Tuesday's game without delay.

The only real sin on the Beeb - and it is hardly theirs alone - is an excess of patriotic zeal, for instance after the Scots' shambolic exit. Des and the crew banged on about the dreadful injustice of it all, which would have been entirely fair had they been working for the Moroccan Broadcasting Corporation. Only McCoist, to his great credit, pointed out that the only people to feel sorry for were Scotland's opponents, seemingly cheated of a place in the second phase by a dubious penalty.

It was still not as bad, though, as the one awarded to Saudi Arabia 24 hours later when Youssef Al-Thyniyan simply fell over in the South Africa area. If he had done something that criminal back at home, they would have taken him to the town square the following Friday morning and chopped something off.

There was a very British bias at Wimbledon (BBC) too, where the main attraction of the first week was not the men's singles, but the Henman's singles.

As France prepared to play Denmark on Wednesday afternoon to decide the winner of Group D, Steve Rider informed us, in the sort of self-consciously pompous manner that is normally reserved for the death of a monarch, that the BBC was spiking its World Cup schedule in order to stay with Tim Henman's second-round match against a total no-hoper. In the light of Greg Rusedski's retirement, apparently, Henman's progress was "all the more important".

There is much to be said for the BBC's Wimbledon coverage (although the mixture of lazy lobs and adolescent giggles which passes for Sue Barker's interview technique is wearing a little thin). It is free, uninterrupted by adverts - unless you count the players' T-shirts - and supported by a richly experienced team of commentators and analysts.

But the Brit bias is in danger of spoiling everything. Great players and fine matches are going unnoticed because they have the poor sense to clash with Henman or Chris Wilkinson. No one expects the producers to ignore Henman and the rest of the British players entirely, but there is a world of difference between a healthy interest and an unhealthy obsession.