Sport on TV: Ace-high for Sky as all the BBC can play is joker Crooks

What grates is the disparity between content and delivery
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The Independent Online

Six years ago, when I reviewed Late Night Poker on Channel 4, the game was still something we associated with John Ford: Wild West saloon bars patronised by pencil-moustachioed card sharps sporting pearl-handled revolvers. Or if you wanted contemporary iconography, there was Stu Ungar, maths genius and drug hoover, who won $30m at the tables but died of heart failure, alone in a Vegas hotel room, with $800 to his name.

Now, thanks to the internet, poker has conquered the planet. Accountants play it. Little old ladies play it. Alistair the vet from The Archers plays it. My infant daughter is planning to put herself through private nursery on the proceeds of her nascent career. But even when it was a cult thing, footballers devoted large chunks of their lives to it. And with the likes of Teddy Sheringham looking to it as a post-football earner, those mis-spent hours are proving well spent after all.

Party Poker Football and Poker Legends Cup (Five, Wednesday) brings the two worlds together, featuring Alan "Bally" Ball, Ray "Tonka" Stewart, Norman "Smiley" Whiteside and Tony "Cass" Cascarino, as well as the unnicknamed Tomas Brolin - Jimmy Osmond on heroin - and the former Hamburg goalkeeper Uli Stein. The poker itself was fine but the dressing-up stank. Co-commentator Padraig Parkinson on Bally: "He's everything that's good about soccer"; and his colleague Jesse May: "He was a tenacious striker." At the end it was Bally and Jimmy Osmond toe to toe. Bally went all in on a full house against two pairs and it was over. Next week, England v Germany. Two World Wars, one World Cup and a poker tournament, anybody?

Garth Crooks has a good poker face. Trouble is, he'd put it on for a game of snap. One thing's for sure - it's wrong for almost any job the BBC puts his way, and on Final Score last Saturday (BBC1) he was at his ridiculous worst.

What grates is the disparity between content and delivery: the banalities that spew out of his mouth as opposed to the way he spews them. He was talking about Chelsea, saying: "It's important a crack doesn't appear. If that crack appears, United are in." Harmless enough, if utterly trite - but spat out as if he were reporting from a war zone.

In the same way, he'd been monitoring Portsmouth v Arsenal. "It's been a tremendous game," he said. "Great to watch." But his tone suggested he'd just announced that men from Mars were massing outside the Houses of Parliament. In fact Crooks or no Crooks, Final Score is a pale imitation, a mockery, of Sky Sports' Soccer Saturday. It's like when Live! TV recreated a big title fight with two boxers in the studio watching the TV screen and making their moves. Sky would be suing for plagiarism if Final Score wasn't so inept.

Never mind: there's always Footballers Wives (ITV1, Thursday). Cokehead Liberty's nose came over all Daniella Westbrook, Shannon exposed Callum's mum's terminal-cancer act and Garry the chairman tried to rape Webbsy's wife, Jacky. Webbsy, the manager - blinded, you'll remember, when Amber tried to shoot Bruno - was ushered to his death down a lift shaft by Garry after Webbsy confronted him about the business with Jacky.

But the plot was shot through with Tanya-sized holes. Domestic bliss with Paulo, the Brazilian import she seduced away from Joan Collins? Fighting off a drunken Callum then watching a jealous Paulo trash her gaff and wheels? Small sambuca. Tanya stands for murder, ambition and intrigue. She's not soap. She's Gothic. Give her the storylines she deserves.

Still, there was a story in one of the Sundays that the actor playing Paulo has been sacked for refusing to wear nappies in a kinky tryst with Collins. It's too delicious to be true. But given that we're talking Footballers Wives, can you actually tell?