Robin Scott-Elliot: A bunch of hairy mammals on the telly? It must be Christmas

View From The Sofa: Olympia Horse Show, Eurosport Today; World Darts, Sky Sports 1
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The Independent Online

Darts players may believe that a Shetland pony is dodgy currency, but there is something that makes these two rotund, hairy mammals unlikely bedfellows. They have come to perform, with no little aplomb, a key supporting role in the British Christmas experience. You know Christmas is just around the corner when the Shetland Pony Grand National gallops on to our screens. You know it's the festive season when the Power, the Artist, the Menace and several thousand merry fans wearing Santa hats or elf outfits invade your personal viewing space.

London is barely big enough to cope with an invasion of the like not seen since Boudicca galloped her chariots through the capital, although she presumably didn't have the problems that dogged the horsey types flocking to Olympia. "Getting your horse into London is a logistical nightmare," pointed out Andy Austin, Eurosport's otherwise jolly studio pundit. "You have to struggle through traffic just to get here." Imagine that, traffic in a city. There are post offices too.

Over on Sky they preferred a more direct approach to getting to Alexandra Palace. A meteor swept across London's skyline and crashed into the Pally. "London will never be the same again," intoned the sort of voiceover artist who normally introduces Hollywood trailers.

The darts has a surprisingly international line-up. Austria, China, Japan, the Philippines, Guyana, Russia and, whatever next, women are represented at the World Championships – baseball it ain't. But it will still be English-dominated, with the Dutch the only threat to home rule. The Dutch and their Total Darts represent a lonely mainland Europe outpost, although it's a mystery why the sport has never caught on in neighbouring Belgium. A country that embraced It's A Knockout and is best known for a little boy having a wee should surely take to it like Bobby George to bling.

The darts establishment is quick to take offence should anyone dare point out the elephant in the room. John Gwynne, a commentator made for this event, spent a chunk of Saturday afternoon lambasting a "cynical" journalist who had dared to raise doubts over the competitors' fitness.

"There's players in every sport who are overweight," went the line for the defence. Er, yes, but you wouldn't back the darts player in Superstars, would you? They are not athletes, nor is Phil Taylor the "finest sportsman in the world", but this is quality entertainment with an atmosphere that puts a number of Premier League grounds to shame.

The atmosphere down the road at Olympia was equally excitable, but there the similarities end. There was no royalty at the Palace, more's the pity, while Camilla turned up to watch the horses. "Great to have royalty here," schmoozed Austin, although he seemed even happier the following day when Katie Price turned up to flog her new range of (largely pink) riding gear. "I'd like to see a bit more bling," Katie informed a bemused Jill Douglas before heading off to "chillax" over Christmas.

It is hard to imagine two more contrasting audiences (memo to Channel 4 – programme idea: Crowd Swap, switch the darts with the horsey lot and film the ensuing hilarity and cultural misunderstandings). But the darters come across as a relentlessly happy lot – a state of mind which may not be entirely naturally achieved – and would relish the Shetland Pony Grand National. Who wouldn't? They are the John Sergeant of the equine world, feisty, podgy and enduringly popular but essentially not designed for athletic grace – which might equally apply to darts.

Hansen helps the BBC regain its Focus

Football Focus comes across as a programme whose heyday is long gone, but occasionally it can still produce a gem. On Saturday, Alan Hansen talked through Liverpool's title challenge while pacing the streets around Anfield. A simple idea, well executed and with Hansen at his best. Great viewing.