Geordievision - in glorious black and white
Sport on TV
Sunday 13 October 1996
Click! There's a Gazza blubbathon on Channel 4. Click! There's Chris Waddle, getting it all wrong on BBC1. Click! Top Gear Motor Sport on BBC2. Safe at last . . . but what's this? A Newcastle United sports car? There was no escape.
The first fruit of the fog, Gazza's Coming Home (Channel 4), part of the Cutting Edge series, provided some interesting insights into the most examined and least understood psyche in British sport. We followed him from the Villa Gazza in Rome to his new house in Scotland. On the way he gained a new wife, a new son, and 15 yellow cards. For all the clowning, he came across as a desperately lonely figure, terrified by the void that his life would be without football and, initially at least, terrified by the only thing that can fill it.
Told by his wife-to-be, Sheryl, that she was expecting his child, Gazza did not take the news well. "I shit me pants," he said. "I took it in a bad way." Sheryl was not best pleased; nor was she chuffed when he missed the birth because he was on a drinking trip with his club-mates. But by the end of the documentary Gazza was reconciled to his new way of life, contentedly applying cold cream to his son's parts after a nappy change. "I feel like Vinnie Jones," he mused, football never being far from his thoughts.
The nappy-changing took place chez Sheryl in Hertfordshire, and we never did see Gazza en famille in Scotland. So the abiding image of the programme is that of the footballer touring his echoing new house with his chum Five Bellies in tow, a kind of human subsidence meter. Gazza stopped in the dining-room, and pointed to one of the chairs pulled up to the table. "This is for me," he said. Then he pointed, one by one, at all the other chairs. "In fact, this is for me, me, me . . ."
The programme's most controversial moment, the one that generated all the useful pre- transmission publicity, was a blatant case of what is known in legal circles as leading the witness. "Do British clubs encourage you to have a drink to improve team spirit?" the interviewer asked. "Yes," Gascoigne replied, and you could sense the producer nodding gratefully as the player duly provided chapter and verse. Not much of a revelation, really, but good for a couple of million on the viewing figures. The rest of it was pretty low-key stuff, padding out (if that's not too cruel) the footballer's character. Intriguing, but it lacked a cutting edge, to be blunt.
Chris Waddle never did get the hang of They Think It's All Over (BBC1): not only did he persistently answer Nick Hancock's questions, he kept getting them right. This scored a lot of points for his team but none for Waddle as a future guest on the show: he had clearly failed to read the clause in his contract requiring non-stop scatology. Never mind, the regulars, and Jo Brand, the other guest, knew the form, providing a wearisome list of synonyms for genitalia, a kind of gynaecological Call My Bluff. The show is turning into a party for superannuated teenagers: "Aren't we naughty?"
Waddle - intentionally or otherwise - also provided a rare moment of genuine humour in the word-game round. He was supposed to be matching teams to Lee Hurst's prompts, but rather lost the plot. "Clean your bath with it. You can play football against them in Holland . . ." Waddle had it. "Flash," he said. True to form, Hurst's clue for "Brest" was "Jo's got two of them, you can play football against them in France". Once again, Waddle was there. "Bordeaux," he declared. For once, Jo Brand was lost for words.
Lastly, to the appearance on Top Gear Motor Sport (BBC2) of the latest colony of Sir John Hall's sporting empire, the Newcastle United Sports Car Team. Tiff Needell, the show's regular presenter, has been signed as a driver for the team, making him motor sport's equivalent of Alan Shearer. He was to make his debut for the team in an international race at Brands Hatch. Would the presence of the cameras put him off?
Well, something must have done. Tiff's co-driver started the race, and had the big black-and-white car in third place when he came in to the pits to hand over. Tiff leapt aboard, ready to shoot back into the action, but there was a snag: he couldn't find his seat-belt. Finally, he clunk- clicked, but in the process, forgot to keep his foot on the loud pedal, and stalled the engine. He eventually got going, but was so excited by the end of his stint that when he came back into the pits to hand over once more he completely overshot and had to be wheeled back into place by his muttering mechanics. On second thoughts, the Shearer analogy is not quite right: Tiff Needell is Warren Barton on wheels.
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