Grandstand view of the headcase and the healer

SPORT ON TV
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The Independent Online
Turning forty is not a moment which everyone wants to celebrate, not least because it means there is rather more of your life to look back on than there is to anticipate. Even Grandstand (BBC1) is not immune to the ageing process, with some of its better features receding rapidly, and that layer of padding around the middle of its schedule growing thicker by the year. You don't need to be a doctor to realise that it needs to cut down on its intake of obscure motor sport, and fast.

No matter how uncertain the future, though, the first 40 years were mostly worth celebrating, and Grandstand duly sucked in its tummy and partied. And at Ascot, no less, where the "new-style parade featuring sports and events", as the Radio Times had it, began back in 1958. If you grew up with Grandstand, and at least half of the present population did, then it was a reminder of two things. First, that you're not getting any younger yourself, and second, the incredible upheaval which has come upon sports broadcasting in little more than a decade.

Twenty years ago, Grandstand WAS sport on television as far as most children were concerned. Serious sport, anyway - let's leave Mick McManus out of this. In fact, in the winter months, it sometimes seemed as if Grandstand WAS Saturday, even on those rare weekends when everything was cancelled and scrambling and ping-pong was as exciting as it got. If something wasn't on Grandstand, its very existence was open to doubt. Not any longer. Half of the guests at yesterday's party probably slipped away in mid- afternoon, and popped next door to catch the England game on Sky. Rugby league, the Twickenham internationals, world-class boxing and several of the better racecourses have also deserted them in recent years.

The real problem, though, is not that Grandstand has changed, but that the world has changed around it. Back in the 1970s, we didn't know any better. If Grandstand reckoned that curling or a netball international was the best sport around on a particular afternoon, then who were we to argue? Now, though, live, top-quality sport on television is taken for granted - by anyone with Sky Sports, anyway - and available on a daily basis. The free-to-view alternative will never seem the same again.

Kick-boxing never quite made it on to Grandstand, although it probably got an occasional airing on World of Sport during the close season for cliff-diving in Acapulco. It was the surprise TV hit of last week, though, as John "Boots" Hartson took on a plucky little Israeli challenger at a venue in east London.

Quite why anyone should have been pointing a video camera at the events on West Ham's training ground a few weeks ago is anyone's guess, but it certainly made for extraordinary viewing. And the most telling reaction to Hartson's two-footed assault on Eyal Berkovic, which he followed up with a kick to the chin while his opponent was still taking a count on the canvas, was that of Ian Wright, who is hardly averse to the odd bit of afters himself. As Hartson was dragged away, Wright was rooted to the spot a few feet away, wide-eyed and open-mouthed with astonishment. The whole thing must have been even worse than it looked.

As yet, there have been no reports of schoolboys "doing a Hartson" on an unfortunate playground team-mate, but it was hardly the right example to be giving to the next generation of footballers. Unless, of course, we really want to grow up to be like Paul Ince and David Beckham. Glenn Hoddle was forced to do without both of them against Bulgaria yesterday as the result of stupid lapses into undisciplined aggression, so it seems fair to assume that mental aberrations are beyond the reach even of Eileen Drewery's mystical powers.

Then again, if you had caught Drewery's appearance on Fergie's new chat show - Sarah, that is, not Alex - you would wonder how she can ever be allowed within 10 miles of the training camp. On Surviving Life (Sky One), there could be no doubting the strength of Drewery's faith in God, or her belief in her own power to heal, and while there were probably also Victorian quacks who truly believed that their potent potions would make people better, this is hardly the most dreadful of offences.

More disturbing, though, were Drewery's musings on penance and reincarnation. For instance, she feels that Hitler may be paying for his crimes against humanity with a long series of reincarnations as a starving child in Africa. This probably goes some way towards explaining why Darren Anderton spent his brief time on the pitch against Sweden last month hanging around on the wing like a bemused spectator. He was obviously trying to work out what planet she's from.

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