Flight from fantasy as Statto has ball in China

Sport on TV
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The Independent Online
ANGUS LOUGHRAN, the football expert better known to Fantasy Football League viewers as Statto, is so fearsomely dedicated to his craft that he regularly flies all over the world to watch obscure teams in action. He has become so well-known to airport staff that he can often wangle a seat when planes are supposedly full. Having witnessed this feat at Charles de Gaulle, another would-be passenger begged Statto to get him aboard.He agreed and, after much pleading, the woman at the check-in desk eventually relented. "What's your friend's name?" she enquired. "I've no idea," Statto replied, turning to the desperate passenger. "What's your name?" "Bowie," the man replied, "David Bowie."

Had the Thin White Duke been a central defender for Mansfield Reserves, Statto would have clocked him immediately. Or indeed, the left-back for Guangdong: for Statto's latest role is commentator for Chinese Football (Channel 4).

Naturally Statto could not resist the opportunity to add to his air miles, and leapt on a jet to the People's Republic. Once he got to the Provincial Sports Stadium in Guangdong, he certainly let the viewers know where he was. "There's a really tremendous atmosphere," he yelled. "You can sense a really big occasion here. The passion that's being generated here is certainly being noted, er, here." Message received, Statto: you're there. "Yes, certainly Guangdong have got tremendous support here in the stadium, and you can appreciate just what a big occasion this is." You don't say.

His location and the size of the occasion firmly established, Statto got into his stride. His commentary style, no doubt developed over many years' devoted viewing, is an eerie amalgamation of other commentators' accents and tics, without an individual voice of his own. It's like listening to Barry Motson-Tyldesley.

But he is extremely smooth, and his Chinese pronunciation was exemplary. Just as well: the Guangdong v Beijing top-of-the-table clash is no place to be if you don't know your Bings from your Dongs.

The match turned on the sendings off of two of Beijing's key players, Cao Xiandong, the captain, and Xie Feng - a double order of hot and sour midfielder. Guangdong capitalised, mainly through China's most expensive player, Li Bing.

Li Bing's big thing is leaping: he set up the first goal with a towering header, then hurdled the Beijing keeper, Fu Bin, before shooting wide. "Phew," thought Fu. But moments later Li lashed home a second, and shortly thereafter Ma Mingyu walloped in the third. Anything Li can do, Ma Mingyu better. Fu's view? "Boo hoo."

Channel 4 has developed an insatiable hunger for far-flung sports, and as well as the Chinese football they are transmitting basketball from the American NBA. They commenced their coverage last Sunday with the All- Star game from San Antonio, Texas, where the atmosphere, according to the hosts, Mark Webster and "Scoop" Jackson, had been festive. "It's been party, party, party, all week," Webster reported. "Party big time, Texas- style," Scoop affirmed. "Everybody from all over the country been kickin' it, large." Scoop's role is to explain in plain English the finer points of the game. We may be in for a long season.

But Scoop, an engaging little bloke with a ready grin, and Webster, who has an in-your-face presentation style and, to be blunt, an in-your-face face, are not the real stars. The stars are the players, and with the likes of Pippen, Olajuwon, O'Neal and Jordan on display, staying up late on Sunday has suddenly become an alluring idea.

The All-Star Game was played just for fun, which allowed some even more outrageous stunts than usual. The players attacked the hoop with overhead shots, underarm lobs, slams, deflections: you got the impression that anyone attempting to score points with a straightforward throw would have been hauled out of the game.

No such confidence on display in Top Gear Motor Sport (BBC2), in which the journalist Tony Dodgins was allowed behind the wheel of a Tyrrell Formula One car at a test session in Spain. To make matters worse for the team's mechanics, it was raining, rendering the track extremely slippery. The spanner-wielders looked distinctly apprehensive as they prepared their precious vehicle. Dodgins just looked sick.

But he managed to get the thing going without stalling, and got halfway round a lap. "Hey," he said into the on-board microphone, "this is quite easy." Seconds later he was revolving to a gentle halt on the grass. "I didn't hit anything," he said, plaintively.

The tolerant team got Dodgins going again, but once more he found it difficult to keep the car in a straight line. He even managed a high- speed wobble on the pit straight that had the mechanics diving for cover. Two laps, four spins, one wobble, no damage: take a bow, Tony Dodgems.

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