Experts lost in space and corners of despair
Sunday 24 March 1996
Only Barry McGuigan, perhaps realising that he was expected to make a fool of himself and leap on the crowded Bruno bandwagon, bravely broke the first law of punditry and stayed on the fence. "Wait until the first bell rings," he said, and a nation of insomniacs, who had been mainlining coffee for hours waiting for that bell to ring, nodded dazed assent.
Bruno's contribution to the seemingly endless build-up was a clip in which he said: "No way, no way, no way." This was no doubt intended to sound like defiance, but it came out as a negative mantra - or the most perceptive prediction of all.
Duke McKenzie was right to pick out Francis as the influential figure in Bruno's corner. At the end of the second round, with his man clearly on the brink of defeat, Francis plugged several square feet of tissue paper into the gaping gash above Bruno's left eye and offered a few quiet words of advice.
"Listen, Frank, this is all you f***ing wanted," he said. "Throw the uppercuts with some f***ing venom. There's nothing wrong with the eye. You know you can win the fight, well f***ing win it." Sky's commentator, Ian Darke, bravely attempted to talk over these words of wisdom, like a referee stepping in to halt a series of low punches, but George got his message across. Difficult to know why Darke bothered: 5am is comfortably later than the 9pm "watershed" for bad language.
A few seconds later, words were irrelevant as Bruno slumped on to the ropes and Tyson added insult to his opponent's injuries by kissing him repeatedly on the head. "Tyson proved all the doubters and critics wrong," Darke observed, omitting to add that he had proved three-quarters of Sky's "experts" wrong as well, seven-eighths if you include McGuigan.
Two little images linger from the late-night vigil: the way Don King kept his hand on his wallet throughout the American national anthem, and the introductory caption for Bruno, which read "Hometown: England". Hell, it's only a little itty-bitty place.
Later on Sunday, the cricket World Cup final provided a contest that was not only a lot longer, but a lot more competitive too. The barracking yobbery of Tony Greig's commentary ("Goddeem! Healy's been done!" etc etc) unfortunately defaced the proceedings, but at least he managed to refrain from yelling "Goodnight Charlie!" at departing batsmen, as he used to. The transparent delight in victory of the Sri Lankan players, in particular the portly captain Arjuna Ranatunga, more than made up for Greig's ejaculations.
But it was a shame that Ranatunga didn't have more time for private celebration. He hardly had the cup in his mitts before Ian Chappell had thrust a microphone at him and was demanding to know exactly how delighted he was feeling. Benazir Bhutto, the prime minister of Pakistan, who had presented the trophy, seemed somewhat affronted. Quite right too: can you imagine Kenneth Wolstenholme shoving the Queen out of the way and buttonholing Bobby Moore on the steps at Wembley?
A final word on the World Cup: it is time to address the matter of Richie Benaud's hairstyle. Some high official with the interests of the game at heart should take the distinguished man aside, hand him a comb, and suggest that he do the honourable thing. Right now he looks like Quentin Crisp, and one can't picture the Naked Civil Servant being welcome at Lord's.
There was some pretty poor stuff on the terrestrial channels, which seem to have given up. Oddballs (ITV) and the excruciating Auntie's Sporting Bloomers (BBC1) both recycled tired old video clips, while The Greatest (C4) continued its fatuous attempt to compare great sportsmen with other great sportsmen, and have celebrity experts score their careers. Who gives a toss what Frances Edmonds and Nigel Havers think about Jackie Stewart? Channel 4 is capable of challenging and unusual sports coverage - all the more reason why this bad joke of a programme should have been strangled at birth.
The only decent live action for the dishless was Nottingham Forest v Bayern Munich (BBC1), with John Motson behind the mike. As Bayern knocked in their fifth, Motty noticed that "Frank Clark is almost in a no-win situation". Just like his namesake. It was not a good week to be Frank.
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