In the realm of fantasy with Tarby and Statto

ON FRIDAY night, Fantasy Football League (BBC 2) returned after its winter break, the programme leading the way in adopting a continental-style season, sitting out the dark months to avoid the complications caused by mud, snow and general foulness - or, in broadcasting terms, a series of The Word on Channel 4. And it was certainly welcome back. Football has itself become so fantastical in the intervening weeks (bungs, corruption, drugs, violence, Chelsea doing well in Europe) that what started out as the football fan's favourite comic half-hour now finds itself the last bastion of sober and appropriate analysis.

When you've seen Cantona clash with Simmons in the stands at Crystal Palace, or the shots of Segers and Grobbelaar arrested at dawn, the sight of the former West Bromwich Albion striker Jeff Astle, dressed as the Statue of Liberty and singing "My Way", is suddenly strangely reassuring.

Performances by Astle bracketed this edition, his murderous, scat-karaoke version of the Lambada threatening to close down not just the programme but the entire network. In between came the usual stuff - appearances from a couple of the regular, fantasy team managers (no Paula Yates this week, detained recently by fantasies of a quite different kind, so in stepped the author Nick Hornby) and various bits of chat and nonsense from the presenters David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, seated on the couch in their flat-style set.

Cultural commentators have sometimes lumped Fantasy Football League in with other manifestations of the contemporary form of young, male behaviour known as "new lad-ism", with all that that implies about the programme's thoughtfulness, tact and general standing in relation to women. This is to misrepresent and diminish the programme and to overlook the fact that one of the heroes at its heart - Statto, the figure called in to adjudicate on all matters statistical - is a man who spends the entire show in dressing gown and pyjamas. Statto is about as laddish as the late Arthur Marshall and the way in which the programme harbours a warm place for him is indicative of a broad, imaginative scope.

Television theorists, meanwhile, would wish to consider the programme as a canny piece of post-modern targeting - an after-the- pubs-shut, Friday entertainment which simply holds a mirror up to its audience. You sit on the sofa at home with a bottle of beer in your hand and your feet on the coffee table and the camera cuts to David Baddiel doing exactly the same. But this again is an analysis with limits and one which makes the programme seem less interesting than it is. To speak personally, it's not often in my house that the doorbell goes and Jimmy Tarbuck comes in.

Not that I'm entirely crestfallen about that. The political attitudes of comedians tend to be sulphorous and somewhere to the right of Pol Pot, and Tarby's sta-prest trousers had hardly touched down on the sofa before he was off on some noisy tirade, which may or may not have had as its launch point the sentencing of Eric Cantona. "There's got to be a law for one and for all and not just for that lad," he fumed.

It was hard to know whether Tarby was saying the magistrate had been harsh in handing Cantona a two-week sentence, or whether he felt that the sentence was OK as long as it was applied across the board to offences of this nature from now on. Or maybe he was saying that all of us should be sent to jail for two weeks, regardless, just to teach us all a lesson or two about the randomness of life and the dangers of regarding the law as an ass. Answers on a postcard to: "What the hell was Tarby on about?", at the usual address.

All in all, it was a relief to pop off for the "Pheonix from the Flames" slot in which, this week, Malcolm Macdonald performed a back-garden re- enactment of some of his five England goals against Cyprus, while he was ribbed mercilessly for his appearances on Superstars. There was a moment of consternation seconds later when Baddiel announced that they had run out of Tom Webster clips: Fantasy Football League has built Webster (a haplessly humorous 1930s sports commentator) to cult status, to the point where just saying his name gets a laugh. Luckily, Baddiel was only teasing. The programme then spoiled us with a football Webster and a top-notch tennis Webster: "This is the final of the men's doubles. And the way they're moving around, it's as though they've had trebles." Scintillating.

Much talk of Nigel Mansell's seat during Sportsnight's slick and exhilarating preview of the Formula One season (BBC 1, Wednesday). As the McLaren team have discovered too late, their snazzy redesign didn't take into account Mansell's sheer bulk. There's no room for his broad shoulders in there, let alone the tinned sweets. And Lord knows where he's going to hang the air-freshener, given that strange, snubby shape of the new car. (Johnny Herbert had a point when he argued that the new McLaren "should be illegal because it looks so ugly".) Even so, Murray Walker is backing Nige. And it's a brave person who contradicts Walker on these matters.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home