James Corrigan: Hall lunacy lends meaning to hyped fight for fourth

View From The Sofa: 5 Live Sport, BBC 5 Live
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The Independent Online

What makes the general election so exciting? That's simple. It's a sporting event. In fact, if Sky had their way they would buy up the rights and hold one every other month.

Yes, yes, the election is dressed up as politics, as the chance for the people to decide on the people's future. But deep down the people know that's bunkum. In truth, it is not too dissimilar to the Grand National (notwithstanding the fact that the contestants in the horseboxes only need grooming once a day). On Thursday, after much agonising with a pin in our hand, we will head to the polling booths, mark our selection and then settle down to see if we've backed a winner.

We will cheer our party's victories in the marginals like goals going in; and when the declarations go the other way, bury our heads in hands like we do when our centre-half is sent off. We will eventually go to sleep either feeling our life has just become immeasurably better or irrevocably worse. And then we will wake up mid-morning in the realisation it was all an illusion and doesn't really make any difference to our existence either way. So it will be time to focus on the next winner-or-loser scenario to assume critical status in our psyche. Who will finish fourth in the Premier League?

In this regard, BBC Radio Five Live was the place to be on Saturday, unless you are one of the few yet to have Od'd on Jeff Stelling. Mark Pougatch presents a gripping, fast-paced programme that can transport you from midday to 5.30pm in the time it takes to pass two junctions on the M6. But by the time the M5 appeared in the distance, the boys were beginning to get carried away as they breathlessly considered who was now in pole position to claim the honour of being knocked out by Unirea Urziceni in the Champions League's qualifying round in August. What was needed was someone to remind that, in the great scheme of footballing things, fourth place is perhaps not that important. Step forward Stuart Hall, that one-off, undeniable national treasure.

For years, they've employed the former It's A Knockout maniac as just one of their reporters from one of those godforsaken grounds. For a raconteur who seeks to use at least one literary reference while describing the milk he pours on his Frosties of a morn, those 30-second wrap-ups must have been hellish. They weren't too great for the listener either. It's been like William Wordsworth reading the weather forecast. Granted, that's all very nice about wandering around on your tod like a cloud, but what we really would like to know is should we bring in the washing?

At the age of 80, Hall has at last found his Five Live niche. On Saturday they let him watch his beloved Man City, sit in the press box, bother no one and then, almost an hour after they had beaten Villa, deliver what Pougatch called "his unique perspective". To the uninitiated it may have sounded like Reg Gutteridge on LSD, but to his many fans these were the best two minutes of the week. Idiosyncratic, witty, just plain barmy. Nothing cuts through the hype with the nonchalance of the insane.

"The most momentous match in 40 years at the Theatre of Base Comedy," he began. Thereafter he mentioned "the famous Latin poet who wrote 'Love, Hate, Die'", "the Dance of the Seven Veils with one tatty veil remaining", "Vieira inspired, ageing limbs in youthful propulsion...." And then his crescendo. "Will this victory unleash the billions? Mr Mancini, grazie mille. SPURS HERE WE CO-OME!" It sure beat Cameron versus Clegg (with Brown in the Villa role.)

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