Robin Scott-Elliot: Real and fantasy football collide on streets of Raith
View From The Sofa: Off Kilter/Champions Trophy/Carling Cup, BBC 4/Sky Sports/BBC 1
Monday 28 September 2009
Being Scottish is, to paraphrase Trainspotting, not all it's cracked up to be. What with the shortest life expectancy in western Europe, ditto one of the highest murder rates, ditto obesity, alcohol-related illnesses, heart disease, cheapest heroin in western Europe. What's more, according to the UN, you're more likely to be assaulted in Scotland than any other developed country.
And that's before you get to the football. Which is what the TV listings had it that Jonathan Meades would be doing in the final part of Off Kilter, his peculiar rummage around the land of his grandparents. He did meander through the lower regions of the Scottish League; in the odd moment between divulging facts on how rubbish it is being Scottish. It was all a bit harsh, especially for a nation that, as the naming of its football teams proves, specialises in escapism (five million inhabitants and a 50-million strong diaspora, according to Meades).
Down south, if a town has a team they call it Mansfield Town, a city – Manchester City, a hamlet – Dulwich Hamlet. In Scotland, it's Queen of the South, Raith Rovers, East Fife, St Johnstone, St Mirren and Albion Rovers. Anything, it seems, to get away from the pebble-dashed reality of Methil, Coatbridge or Paisley.
Meades toured Fife and the grounds blurred into one, crumbling, dreich, yet stubborn survivors, and all equipped with extra-thin turnstiles, which in a country with more than its fair share of the big-boned explains the paltry attendances.
Turnout, or the lack of it, was the theme of the week. Along came the Carling Cup and Champions Trophy, two competitions that only matter if you win them – check with your nearest Tottenham fan. West Indies even managed to send out a line-up worthy of the Carling Cup and that gave Ravi Shastri something to talk about, and that was a mistake because he needs no encouragement to talk. Shastri is part of the international commentary line-up assembled for the event. Sky have packed off Bob Willis and Nick Knight, ie Gary Neville and Danny Welbeck, but you will be lucky to hear a word out of them as Shastri rabbit, rabbits (check with your nearest Tottenham fan) on and on. He is the most literal of commentators. He calls a spade a spade and tells you what the man is doing with it. He keeps on digging.
One of the arts of television commentary is silence and in cricket it is easier to practise than in most sports, unless you're the great David Coleman, who could practise it at any event. Legend has it that he was once lauded for his remarkable reticence during a marathon, uttering not a word until the race was a long way down the road. The scurrilous legend has it that he didn't actually arrive in the commentary box until the race was a long way down the road.
The BBC was all for keeping its commentators quiet during its Carling Cup highlights, reverting to dubbed reports for many of the games – add that to Mark Lawrenson's weary impression of someone who would rather be tucked up in his king-size with the latest Harry Potter and it didn't impart a sense of worth.
It did though feature Tony Gubba, the master dubber, who produced the line of the week-that-didn't-matter by claiming Burnley's Steven Fletcher was displaying the sort of form against Barnsley that once attracted Real Madrid. He's Scottish, Tony; he's more likely to be mugged as he leaves the chip shop after a night on the Buckfast in Raith than play for Real.
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