Sport on TV: Write or wrong, Dunphy outshines dull Rangers

Eamon Dunphy, Millwall midfielder turned acerbic controversialist, is always good value – and so it proved on last Sunday's South Bank Show (ITV 1). In one of his occasional sporting forays Lord Bragg of the Big Quiff, Carlisle United fan turned Arsenal season-ticket holder, was exploring David Peace's dark, gritty novel about Brian Clough's 44 days in charge at Leeds, The Damned United.

Dunphy doesn't rate the book – caricature rather than portrait of Ol' Big 'Ead, he says, although as it's fiction I'd say its relation to reality isn't the point. He didn't rate the Revie years, either, it's safe to say.

"Leeds United were a boil on the face of the game," he says. "They were ugly, they were nasty, they were ruthless – and a lot of the reasons for admiring Clough is that he had publicly said what many people had felt but daren't say. He was against the cult of ugliness."

The programme went on to wonder at the long-standing reluctance of British writers to draw on football. They can't come up with much: Clough's biographer Duncan Hamilton remembers an Alan Sillitoe short story, while Alan Plater cites Bill Naughton's story The Goalkeeper's Revenge and Barry "Kes" Hines' novel Blinder, written from his experiences as a Barnsley apprentice. And how could they forget Terry Venables' They Used To Play on Grass?

But why so little? Dunphy: "Soccer [I think he means football] is a working-class game. It exists in a cultural ghetto. Although it's trendy it's not a place that writers and intellectuals gravitate towards. That ghetto is occupied largely by hacks, I call them. Newspaper hacks, mostly. Word machines."

Eamon Dunphy is a columnist for the 'Irish Daily Star'.

If Peace's novel can be described as an epic, Wednesday's Uefa Cup final (ITV 1), cannot. Except, sorry, it can if you're the match commentator, Peter Drury.

There have been more boring European finals – remember with a shiver the 1986 European Cup final, when Steaua Bucharest stifled El Tel's Barcelona and nicked it on pens – but not many. Which was Rangers' intention on Wednesday: cut out of the game everything remotely entertaining and hope for the luck of the penalty gods. But Dury begged to differ.

"To be here is extraordinary," he said as the game finally, mercifully, picked up for a few final minutes. "If Rangers do go down that should not be forgotten. It has been a privilege. Their hope, their final thrust. Two and a half minutes to find the goal to force extra time, to prolong the epic – and what an epic it has been."

I guess he was probably thinking of the whole campaign of 19 games (with five goals in the last nine). But from my armchair they deserved to lose. I'm glad I missed the other 18. Zenit created, Rangers spoilt. The footballing side won. Cloughie would have approved.

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