Chris Maume: Sport on TV

A footballer for whom life means more than money
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The Independent Football

But is it too much to hope that one or two might have taken an evening off from all that roasting and pillaging this week to take account of the world that lies outside their drink-sodden, cash-rich bubble? They could have watched A Game of Two Halves (BBC2, Tuesday), part of the World Weddings series, which followed the nuptial preparations of Mohammed Allach, right-back for the Dutch team VVV Venlo, a man who makes it possible to utter the words "professional footballer" and "social conscience" in the same sentence without inducing howls of derisive laughter.

Mohammed, or Mo, is of Moroccan descent. The voiceover describes him as Venlo's "defensive linchpin", and his coach is a big fan. "He has lots of experience, he's ruthless in the tackle and he lives like a pro." A pro who lives like a pro? Radical.

The halves in question are Mo and his fiancée, Sanne, who enjoy a starry lifestyle. "If Mo loses he can be so grumpy," Sanne says. "If he wins it's perfect. We order Chinese takeaway. Everything is OK."

We see the pair strolling around Sanne's home town, Veldhoven, on the country's national holiday. "Queen's Day," Mo says. "The Orange feeling, a feeling of togetherness, solidarity. That's what the Orange feeling is about. A day to be aware that you're Dutch."

Then there's the other side. The country's festering race problem blew up last year with arson attacks on schools and mosques following the murder by a Muslim fundamentalist of the director Theo van Gogh, who had dared make a film criticising Islam's treatment of women. In the ensuing anguished debate Mo became a spokesman for progressive Muslims.

He set up a foundation called Moroquistars, using sports events to improve relations between white and Moroccan youths. It's as if the Doncaster Rovers right-back (to pluck a team from thin air) were to form a think tank aimed at eliminating world poverty. And Sanne, who would put most footballers' wives here to shame, gave up her job as a marketing manager to run the organisation.

After one game the Venlo fans, a relatively peaceful lot for Dutch football, talk about the racist chanting and sheep noises (made because Arabs eat lots of mutton) that even they go in for. "Why do we do it?" one says. "It's purely to unsettle them. Whatever we think gets to them." Another one says: "It's not a reflection of society. Most people don't discriminate outside the stadium, but inside the stadium it's acceptable."

Not for Mo. "Sometimes the chants are funny," he says. "But sometimes they hurt."

Another bunch of footballers were recently made brutally aware of the real world, and on Monday night (on Channel Five) they played their first "home" game of the season - in New Jersey, hundreds of miles from their own stadium, which has recently been put to somewhat different uses.

In the New Orleans Saints' opening game of the NFL season, at the Carolina Panthers, they won with a field goal three seconds from time. On Monday, they would surely dispose of the New York Giants and take another step towards a glorious Super Bowl win in the new year.

That last bit could still happen. But there was no happy ending on Monday, more of a horrible beginning, when a fumble from the kick-off turned over possession to the Giants. On came their Winnebago-sized running back Brandon Jacob to batter his way through the Saints' wall of muscle. Touchdown, 6-0. Extra point, 7-0. Time elapsed: 1min 35sec. Things didn't get better, the Saints losing 27-10. Still, this is probably going to be an emotional season for them, whatever happens.

It already is for one nutter from west Wales, who emailed Five to say that earlier in the evening his expectant wife had prematurely started contractions. He'd driven her to hospital, 70 miles away, but was so desperate not to miss the action that he'd left the nurse in charge while he went off to procure a television.

He'd installed it in the waiting room and was settling down for a night's gridiron. More important than life and death? More important than life and birth, clearly.

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