From moving start to monstrous finish

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The Independent Online
Olympic Grandstand (BBC1) wound down the Centennial Games in Atlanta with a suitably elegiac tone last Sunday night and Monday morning, as the realisation that Britain would not add to its single gold medal sank in. This denied those who had slaved away in the BBC video editing suites the chance to put a triumphal gloss on their traditional closing montage of sentimental images and predictable pop songs, with the result that it all sounded and looked like the Peugeot advert, with an American baby gymnast taking the place of the little girl walking in front of the truck.

You suspect that the task of assembling this party piece is some kind of reward for the tape-editors after weeks of cutting together canoeing repechages in the middle of the night. I wouldn't wish to deny them a brief burst of creativity, but one time it might be fun to allow a film or video director to make a more personalised, maverick piece - until then we are destined to hear the likes of Spandau Ballet's "Gold" every four years.

In the end, though, the most memorable images couldn't be tinkered with - Muhammad Ali book-ended the Games in a way that will stay with us forever. The frisson created by his tragi- triumphant lighting of the Olympic flame was matched by the re-presentation of his gold medal, 36 years after he had tossed the original away in anguish after being denied access to a whites-only restaurant.

Those who criticised the Atlanta Games for its computer glitches, its transport failures and excesses of commercialisation - and laughably IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch was among them - seemed to me to be missing a more positive subtext. The historic contributions from Ali, and the likes of Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis and Gail Devers, reaffirmed the gifts of African-Americans to the USA's culture. The laser-lit skateboard and roller-blade show, which seemed to borrow heavily from Andrew Lloyd Webber, were either an attempt to elevate these activities to the status of demonstration sports, or a subliminal bid by Las Vegas to be the next American host city.

So, flawed they may have been but Atlanta's Olympics offered many ripostes to the notion of white supremacy, as Josia Thugwane became the first black South African to take a gold medal, and France's Marie-Jose Perec gave twin jolts to Jean-Marie Le Pen. Those rednecks thinking of taking more non-Olympic torches to the black churches of Southern America may hear the patter of Johnson's golden running shoes behind them next time.

The bleary jet-lag of two weeks' late night viewing was hardly helped by the return of Match of the Seventies (BBC1) on Monday night. Guaranteed to make you feel older than you are by turning what you thought was just recent past into ancient history, the first programme had a particular resonance for this reviewer. The sequence where a convoy of trains left Lime Street station en route for Liverpool's 1977 European Cup triumph in Rome included, I think, a brief glimpse of myself hanging from one of the windows. That special edition red shirt, those white cotton loons, the Leo Sayer haircut - then again we all looked the same in the 1970s.

More relevant contributions came from one of Alan Shearer's predecessors in the Newcastle No 9 shirt, Malcolm Macdonald, who, we learned, supplemented his wages with a column in the Tiger comic. How far football has come since then - and it may be a "Dissent of Man" rather than an assent - was emphasised on Friday night with a tedious half-hour Filthy Rich - Monster, Monster (Ch 4), dedicated to the football agent Eric Hall.

In a week when the fossils of martian worms were announced, Hall signalled an earlier period of alien invasion. Apparently proud of being voted into fourth place in a poll of the most loathed men in football - God help the top three - Hall "ished" and "monstered" his way through an account of his assorted attempts "to make poor players rich, and rich players richer". The principal means to financial fulfilment appeared to be frequent transfers between clubs to collect percentages and signing-on fees. This may explain why Hall was filmed at a Birmingham City game, the club's dressing room having been fitted with a revolving door during Barry Fry's reign as manager.

Hall was glimpsed at his best when trying to negotiate a suit deal for client Dennis Wise and his Chelsea team-mates at an Yves St Laurent shop, the attempt on Mothercare having presumably failed. Hall duly got the deal and may even have tried to get Yves himself to sign on at The Bridge, so transparent was his ignorance of the game itself.

The documentary lowered the spirits; the only uplifting moments came with the sight of Des Lynam ducking away from Hall's intended kiss on his cheek at a restaurant party, and the complaint from Hall himself that the football authorities have yet to grant him a licence for his activities. Get down to the post office, Eric my son, they're only 7s 6d.

Andrew Baker is on holiday

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