Chris Maume: Street football scheme fires up the homeless

Click to follow
The Independent Football

As a London dweller for 20-odd years I'm used to seeing the homeless, experiencing those jarring stabs of pity and guilt. But never once have I thought: "I know, I'll pull them together into football teams, get Premiership coaches and start a five-a-side league.''

Damian Hatton, a young doctor at University College hospital, did just that and "Home Goal'', in the Metroland series (ITV, Tuesday) recorded the inaugural one-day Street Football League Cup. People come up to him and say "but they don't look homeless.'' Which is the point, really.

It was fascinating to see the usual order of things assert itself, with one thing far outstripping the rest. London Connection train at Highbury and look like any fired-up amateur side. We even see the manager sack the captain in a dressing-room bust-up. On the day, they romp through the league format, scoring 57 goals and conceding one.

But winners and losers all testify to the benefits. They say you only need one win to get your confidence back, and that holds good off the pitch too. Indeed, the programme devotes a substantial chunk to the captain of one of the also-rans, the De Paul Hostel.

Tommy McDowell, the black sheep of his family, left Northern Ireland at 14. His mother told him she didn't want him anymore, and he took it to heart, jumped on a lorry and took the ferry to Stranraer. When he arrived, it was sleeting. He wanted to get to London but he was too young to hitch. So he walked. It took him the best part of two weeks.

He's been in London ever since, and he's just done a pre-access course to get into medical school. Now he's in the hostel with his own room, sometimes he lies on the roof under the stars until he's too cold then comes down and gets into bed. Then he knows how far he's come. Maybe one day you or I might have the privilege of being attended to by Dr McDowell.

Neither Nick Hancock nor snooker pop my cork, but Steve Davis's appearance on the This Is Your Life rip-off, You Only Live Once (BBC1, Tues), told me at least 10 things I didn't know about "The Nugget".

For a start, I didn't know he was called The Nugget; or that he worked as a cashier with Billy Idol. Or that in his Romford days, when Barry Hearn was setting him up against all the pros, he played Alex Higgins over four days and the best of 65 frames.

I thankfully had been spared, up until now, the spectacle of him trying to play piano on The Leo Sayer Show (Les Dawson was more tuneful). And I definitely didn't know that at four in the morning after he'd lost to Dennis Taylor in the 1983 world final, he and Hearn executed a "double Glasgow kiss'' on a bothersome hack. Now that's Interesting.

Most interesting, though, was his gruesome attempt at a snooker chat show, A Frame with Steve Davis, featuring Jeffrey Archer. It's worth quoting in full as he asks Archer about the writing process (which is a bit like asking a man from the Taliban about Buddhist statuary.)

Davis: "You start? – You don't start – how many? – how many people? – any successful ones start with 'Once upon a time' any more?''

Archer: "Hans Christian Andersen did well at it.''

Davis (after a slight pause): "Oh yes. How do you start your books? What's the first word of your new one?''

Archer: "Failure''.

As they say, there's no answer to that.

There's a whole new world of bowls out there, as consumers of afternoon BBC2 might have noticed this week. Shorter games (so more sudden-death finishes), blue carpet and colour co-ordinated bowls and kits (shell suits with attitude). I hate to be cruel but, for the unconverted, I suspect it was like watching different-coloured paint dry.

Still, blacked-up players in black shellsuits could play it in a darkened hall, with black bowls on a black carpet, and it would probably still get better viewing figures than your average live football match on ITV Sport.

Following my observations the other week about the channel's dwindling football audience (I say "dwindling'', but it's a bit difficult to dwindle from almost nothing), and my speculation about whether the football bubble has burst, I've had the people from Sky bending my ear, telling me that their bubble is still very much inflated, thank you all the same, with more than a million watching each of their first seven games this season. But they'd better hope that the Premiership players' strike doesn't go ahead. Otherwise they might have to get Cilla Black in.