Daley delivery soothes the Beeb's running sore

SPORT ON TV
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The Independent Online
HE'S CHEERY and chatty, he's laid-back and good-looking. Hell, he's even got a bushy 'tache. Somehow, though, Daley Thompson couldn't quite fill the hole left in the BBC's coverage of the World Athletics Championships by the untimely departure of a man called Des. Still, he tried his best - and as numerous administrators, not to mention Carl Lewis, will testify, Daley always could be a little trying.

Thompson's most endearing trait was always that he did not seem to take anything, even the Olympics, too seriously. It has not withered with age, as one glance at him draped across a chair between Sue Barker and Sally Gunnell proved.

Daley, basically, is one of life's lollers, a man who could no more sit up straight than he could resist the temptation to whistle the national anthem all those years ago. Roger Black, on the other hand, not only sits up, but juts his body forwards and sticks his chin out when he wants to make a point. He is as earnest as Thompson is easy-going. More than once this week, you could imagine Roger wincing off-camera as Daley threw in yet another joke. What was interesting, though, was that behind all the banter, Thompson was making some serious points.

Athletics commentators have always had a low excitement threshold where the Brits are concerned, but when Dean Macey won silver in the decathlon, Stuart Storey lost it completely. "The people in charge should give this young man whatever he wants," he screeched, "because in Sydney next year, they will have a serious gold medal prospect on their hands."

A few minutes later, Thompson pointed out two things. First, and not before time, that someone else had actually won the decathlon. And then, that "he doesn't need things like a house or a fast car. I need things like that, but if you give him too much, he won't stay hungry." The producer was probably aghast. Daley had just introduced a sense of perspective to a BBC athletics broadcast. You have to wonder whether they'll ever invite him back.

Macey's silver was a godsend for the broadcasters, who had just seen one of their bankers for gold, Jonathan Edwards, come up miserably short. And miserable is the word. Edwards sulked through the medal presentation like a five-year-old, wearing a look as black as a Kiwi's running vest. Storey, typically, preferred a more generous reading. "He's a very thoughtful man," he said. "A very deep man."

Christina Boxer, though, is made of sterner stuff. By the time Edwards made for the exit, most of the spectators and reporters had long since left. Up in the commentary box, Storey and David Coleman had switched Brendan Foster to auto-drone over a heat of the 5,000m and popped out for a beer. Boxer, however, still had a job to do. "I'm at a loss for words," Edwards said, as she blocked his route to the door. Boxer didn't budge. "If you could just go through it," she said gamely, "could you tell us what you felt when you did your first jump?" Good for her.

There was another tetchy encounter at St James' Park on Wednesday, as Garth Crooks tried to tease out of Ruud Gullit exactly which planet he had been visiting when he wrote out his team sheet before the Sunderland game - his last as Newcastle manager.

"I didn't gamble, because it paid off," was the first of several entertaining gambits from Gullit. "When the two [substitutes] came on, then we got some goals against. When we were 1-0 up, everything was OK. Then in the second half we conceded a goal from a free-kick, and then you have to try to get back to basics. And then they scored again."

In other words, we scored one, and that would have been fine and dandy with everyone but for the slight and unexpected irritant of them scoring two. Even as you shook your head at such palpable nonsense, you could not help but admire the man for having the gall to stand there and spout it.

The match itself did not make for pretty viewing, as the rain turned St James' Park into a tributary of the Tyne. The best way to follow it, in fact, was on Sky Sports, where they get around the restrictions on showing live footage by employing a star of yesteryear to watch it for you and provide a semi-running commentary.

The man sitting in front of the live feed from Newcastle on Wednesday night was Rodney Marsh. The frontman, as ever, was the unflappable Jeff Stelling. Even he, though, must have been a little startled by some of the noises emerging from Rodney's end of the room. As fortunes ebbed and flowed on the pitch, he was ooh-ing and aah-ing like a squaddie in the Toon Army. It was all rather endearing.

Hold on, rewind that. Can it really be that the words "Marsh", "endearing" and "Rodney" appeared in the same paragraph? The game, it seems, really has gone mad.

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