Ford flambe and Mongo's World Cup harem

Sport on TV
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The Independent Online
THE RAC Rally poses one particular problem for the television crews covering it: it is 1,446 miles long, and the chances of having a camera in the right place at the right time are slim. Cars somersault, hit boulders, zoom into ditches and generally fall to bits, but very rarely do any of these things happen in front of the cameras. So the highlights of the Top Gear Rally Reports (BBC2) were inevitably interviews with drivers along the following lines: "That's a nasty looking dent. What happened there, then?"

Occasionally the camera crews arrived in time to cover running repairs. When Colin McRae hit a particularly hard rock on the Kershope stage he hopped out, found a large log and started to hit the car with it, just like Basil Fawlty bashing his recalcitrant motor in a Torquay side-street. McRae was not taking out his rage on the car, though, merely trying to straighten the suspension.

Kenneth Eriksson provided another memorable image by parking his Mitsubishi in a stream, where it sat looking as comfortable as a fish on a motorway, and the Belgians Gregoire de Mevius and Jean-Marc Fontin won plaudits for a terrific formation bail-out display when their Ford Escort tried to flambe them.

McRae, the eventual winner, has reportedly been working on his interview technique. He has also announced that he wishes to be considered in the same bracket as Nigel Mansell and Michael Schumacher. As a communicator he's right up there with them already, although to be fair talking is not a virtue in a rally driver: that's the co-driver's job.

Later in the week, the Top Gear team foolishly took on the Ford Touring Car team in a build-your-own sports car contest. Predictably the broadcasters came off second best, handicapped chiefly by their understandable but misguided attempt to bolt the long, thin and oily Jeremy Clarkson to the car instead of a driveshaft.

Tiff Needell, the racing- driver/broadcaster previously described in this column as having the charisma of a kipper, leapt aboard the completed vehicle and performed a series of tyre-frying figure-of-eights. This manoeuvre no doubt endeared him greatly to the programme's viewers, and demanded a new metaphor: Needell was positively turbot-charged.

The Final Kick (BBC2) was a fascinating documentary in which 40 film crews watched people all over the world watching the 1994 World Cup final. As every armchair sports fan knows, choice of refreshment is a key part of the enjoyment of televised sport, and one of the most interesting aspects of Andreas Rogenhagen's film was the variety of half-time nibbles and thirst-quenchers on display.

In Peking, fans slurped soup from gourds; in a Czech monastery, the monks sipped Ribena; in Algiers, cous cous ruled; in Bolivia they chewed on what may well have been coca leaves; in Lapland the favoured tipple was Fanta and Finlandia vodka, while in St Petersburg they omitted the Fanta. It was not so much Match of the Day as Dish of the Day.

The BBC commentary on the final popped up in some odd places, which was both comforting and depressing. The world is somehow diminished when you know that you can travel to Sendofbur in India or Kingston in Jamaica and still have to endure Trevor Brooking's vowel sounds.

But the star of the show was Mongo Faya of Cameroon, a man who has the business of watching televised sport absolutely sussed. Mongo, a benign- looking chap with magnificent dreadlocks and a gigantic tea-cosy hat, settled down to watch the World Cup final in the company of his harem.

He sat on a large, comfy-looking throne with his loveliest ladies in their finery alongside him. One fed him tasty morsels as the match progressed while another sat at his feet and fanned him. Cute little children, presumably the fruit of his loins, chattered and giggled all around. Mongo smiled a lot, as a man will in his situation.

At half-time some of the ladies staged an impromptu cheerleading display to the accompaniment of a steel band. All sorts of bits jiggled and wriggled, and Mongo's smile broadened still further. No doubt he was narrowing down his team selection.

The final sequence, the penalty shoot-out, was a masterpiece of editing, intercutting the destiny-bound players with the faces of rapt fans all over the world. As Roberto Baggio blasted the final kick over the bar, reactions varied. They were tearful in Turin, inconsolable in Liege, pragmatic in Prague, rapturous in Rio and pissed in St Petersburg. Mongo was so exercised that he had to call up another fan to fan him.

The only worrying thing about the documentary was the absence of any images from England. The English have worried for years about their team's inability to qualify for major competitions; now, it seems, the fans can't cut the mustard either.