There's been much grumbling from officialdom lately about all those TV competitions that involve questions so easy you could answer them after having your brains scooped out with a ladle - the "What letter does the word 'moron' begin with?" kind of thing. Because they involve no kind of challenge at all except that of dialling the number, the argument goes, they're technically unlicensed lotteries, and and therefore illegal.
The half-time competition during Villarreal v Arsenal on ITV1 on Tuesday hit a new low. It asked who scored for Arsenal in the first leg at Highbury while actually showing the goal.
It was, in fact, one of the few points of interest in a match that was unspeakably dull (until the last two minutes, anyway). It was like watching paint dry - or Peter Ebdon play Marco Fu at snooker - while having your teeth pulled, with a running commentary provided by Charles Clarke dosed up on Rohypnol. And as neutrals slipped peacefully into comas, you got the feeling that Villarreal were going to go and spoil it all, that Arsenal were going to blow everything by betraying those fine principles instilled in them by Arsène Wenger.
But as the game limped towards the whistle, Paris loomed mistily over the horizon (copyright: Clive Tyldesley) - until Jose Mari's horrible dive. "Clichy did his bit," Tyldesley said as the Frenchman shrugged off Jose Mari and headed away. Then - "He's given a penalty!" Tyldesley roared in disbelief. "The softest of penalty awards given against Gaël Clichy!" He looked at the replay. "Not for me. Not for me."
David Pleat was scathing. "The very slightest of pushes," he said. "And the very largest of dives," Tyldesley added. "Look at that! Complete collapse from Jose Mari. I think the referee has bought that big time."
And so to the penalty - and what TV does so well: merciless, unremitting close-ups, going from the taker, Juan Roman Riquelme, to the goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann, closer in each time like a spaghetti western. Riquelme spat, sighed, and kissed the ball before placing it on the spot. He walked to the start of his run-up, sighing again as he turned to face the goal. He looked weary. He spat again, looked down at the ball, sighed again, spat again, looked up at Lehmann and squeezed in one last gob. He looked resigned to whatever the football gods had in store for him.
After Lehmann had saved and the ball was cleared, the Argentinian stood in the middle of the area, becalmed, as it emptied around him. Finally he trudged away, shirt pulled up over his face. "What a burden," Pleat said over a replay of the penalty.
Tyldesley, as usual, had the right words at the end, with that faint schmaltzy whiff that good commentary can easily accommodate. "Boys became men and dreams became hopes," he declared. "How must Patrick Vieira be feeling tonight? How must Tottenham Hotspur be feeling?"
With their Champions' League hopes looking down both barrels, Tottenham Hotspur were probably entertaining a few negative thoughts. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing.
"I do entertain a lot of negative thoughts and I haven't got any self-belief," Ronnie O'Sullivan said before his World Snooker Championship semi-final against Graeme Dott (BBC2, Thursday). "But I haven't done bad for someone without any self-belief." And he doesn't move like it, stalking briskly round the table, like a motivational guru in full flow. God help the rest of snooker if he starts filling his head with positive thoughts.
Finally, a grim postscript. Last week I wrote about The Forgotten Fan, which detailed the miscarriage of justice meted out to the Liverpool fan Michael Shields, who was sentenced to 15 years for attempted murder last year after a legal process with more holes than Sunderland's back four. He was to hear this week whether he would get a retrial. Yesterday his sentence was reduced - to 10 years. Bulgarian justice? What a laugh.Reuse content