Horizontal champs and a heavyweight chump

SPORT ON TV
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The Independent Online
It is such a pleasure when people surprise you. Lee Evans, for instance. You may have thought that his dramatic range started and stopped at gurning and putting on silly voices, but as Lee Evans' Kings Of The Ring (C4) proved, he is far more thoughtful than anyone could ever have guessed.

When he set out to chart the inglorious history of British heavyweight boxers, Evans could have done the easy, obvious thing and made it light, funny and entertaining. Instead, with a stroke of subtle genius, he decided it should be flabby, embarrassing and rubber-kneed, just like all those hopeless fighters to whom he was paying tribute. Clever? People have won Baftas for less.

Or that, at least, is what you have to hope was the idea, because the alternative is almost too dreadful to contemplate. It is that a line like "you've got your light- heavyweights, your heavyweights and the new one, Terry Waite," was nothing more than a straightforward gag. In which case, comedy is dying, and anyone can now get good money for a large pile of the stuff that attaches ships to their moorings.

It is not that Kings Of The Ring as a whole was entirely without merit, merely those parts of it which involved Evans. The moment, for example, when his wildly unamusing "wacky psychiatrist" character demonstrated the effects of a blow to the solar plexus by appearing to thump a little old lady in the stomach. Hollywood, apparently, can't get enough of him just now, which only goes to show that serious substance abuse really does impair your judgement.

The segments that were Lee-free, on the other hand, were often fascinating, particularly the archive footage. Pre-fight press conferences have certainly changed since the days when Don Cockell took a steamship to America to challenge Rocky Marciano. Not for them all that artificial baiting which Don King loves to orchestrate. "Nice to meet you, Don," Marciano said, offering his hand. "Did you have a nice trip over?" "A wonderful trip, thanks," Cockell replied.

Then there was Tommy Farr, interviewed shortly after a mauling by Joe Louis which left him looking like a panda in negative. "I enjoyed every minute of it," Farr said, and as he did so, the scar tissue below his eyes was straining to split open. He was clearly a very brave man, and he deserved a better memorial than to be spliced in next to Evans's feeble jabs at comedy.

In a normal week, Farr would have walked the award for the most courageous sportsman on the box, but even he was forced into a gallant second place by one of the footballers in Louder Than Bombs (C4). The one whose pre- match routine involved removing his artificial leg to pull on a sock over the stump left behind by a landmine.

Louder Than Bombs was about Scotty Lee, a football coach from Britain who spent two years working with the youth of Sarajevo. His training programmes were devised with two distinct aims - to improve his players' chances of making the most of their ability, and to improve their chances of reaching the age of 20 alive.

"Mine awareness" was the lesson which followed basic ball skills, because great swathes of Bosnia have been seeded with devices like the PMA-3. This, as an expert demonstrated, "looks just like a large boot polish tin, so children go looking at it and pick it up". Most of the mines - there could be up to eight million of them - will have to be located by what the man in charge of one clearance team described as "the hand- prodding method". And when they think they have finally cleared a suitably sized field, they test it out by inviting another team of mine-finders over for a game of footie.

Scotty was doing his best to dig the first shaky foundations of peace using the only thing that any of the warring parties had in common. "I don't care if you're Serb, Bosnian or Croat," he said. "Football's football." But he was much too bright, and had seen too many horrors, really to believe that many of the older locals would agree. Scotty knew a Muslim who had been his town's star player until his Serb neighbours burned him out, and he took him back home to see his old coach. But there was a problem. The coach had had a phone call, telling him that his house would be blown up, with his wife inside, if he dared to shake hands with a Muslim.

There was hope in this film, but only in small doses. The mines are being cleared, but so slowly that the grandchildren of the young boys and girls Scotty was coaching will probably still risk being maimed whenever they take a walk in the country. Their stadiums are ruined, and their football pitches have been turned into cemeteries. Yet thanks to people like Scotty, not to mention the bottomless resilience of Bosnian youth, there seems to be a way forward.

Meanwhile, back in Britain, the most constructive thing that one of our top players can find to do is to point his bum at Graeme Le Saux.

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