Keegan's gusset embraced by golden age

Sport on TV
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The Independent Online
FACTOID reconstructions of plausible but unproven events are all the rage in television these days - why should television columns miss out? Here's one concerning the genesis of Sky Sports Gold. The scene is the Osterley boardroom of Sky Television. Rupert Murdoch is briefing quivering executives on recent trends in broadcasting. "Those bastards at the BBC are cornering the market in sports nostalgia," the mogul snarls. "Get me some of that nostalgia stuff - we'll do a series. Nah, bugger it. Get me loads of it. We'll do a channel."

The opening programme on Wednesday night, This Is Sky Sports Gold, called to mind a couple of alternative titles for the channel. The luxuriant locks of Dickie Davies, happily restored to our screens as the channel's star presenter, suggested Sky Sports Silver. Bobby Charlton, another presenter: Sky Sports Bald. And once the clips started rolling, we were watching Sky Sports Old.

You might have thought that with thousands of evenings to fill Sky would be wary of shooting their bolt, especially on their opening night. But in the very first programme they got through more bolts than a crossbow convention.

Bobby Moore holding the World Cup aloft, Bill Beaumont chaired from the field at Twickenham, Brian Lara lashing a record innings in Antigua; Mary Peters, Red Rum, Monica Seles and Nick Faldo. More potent clips than a Kalashnikov - but how soon is Sky Sports Gold going to run out of ammunition?

By showcasing so many spine- tingling moments on their very first evening, the Golden boys risked devaluing the programmes still to come. There were hints even in the introductory show that some of the bullion in their safe may be less than 22 carat.

Bobby Charlton's Football Scrapbook, which will be opened for the first time tomorrow night, contains many wonderful memories, not least the long- range goals of Sir Bobby himself: in his pomp Charlton disdained to score from less than 35 yards. But he also promised coverage of the late and unlamented Home International Championships, which won't distract too many viewers from modern action.

But Sky Sports Gold has one sure-fire winner: Superstars, which, for readers who had to go to bed very early in the 1970s, is a bizarre contest in which stars from a wide variety of sports competed against each other at events such as swimming, weightlifting and basketball. The briefest of highlights last week revived the comic potential of removing sportsmen from their elements. The combination of boxers and kayaks was particularly profitable in this regard: John Conteh seemed paralysed with fear, and Alan Minter led with his left too often and ran aground.

But the star of the show was Kevin Keegan, cyclist. "Keegan's wobbling a bit at the start," the late Ron Pickering commented as the chunky Newcastle boss-to-be put the power down. Outside him, an obscure Dutch sportsman moved smoothly into the lead, but there was a kind of doomed inevitability about Keegan's progress. Gritting his teeth as his back wheel slithered on the track like an eel, the diminutive dynamo headed into the first corner with a look of grim determination and fell on his nose.

As he lay on the track, legs apart and skimpy shorts awry, the camera lingered. One can imagine the present Newcastle squad replaying the gaffer's gaffe again and again: but one look at the gaffer's gusset will probably suffice. And Superstars will be cult viewing beyond St James' Park.

The BBC continued their own nostalgia festival with Kicking and Screaming and Football, Fussball, Voetball, but the scheduling clash reduces the appeal of both excellent series. Last week, for example, both covered the Munich air disaster: you can have too much of a bad thing.

The same maxim applied to Top Gear Motorsport (BBC2), a breathless guide to goings-on in the junior branches of the sport which was completely incomprehensible to the non-fan. The programme's chief presenter, Tiff Needell, a former driver, is motor racing's equivalent of Trevor Brooking: earnest and clued-up, but about as charismatic as a kipper.

One brief segment of the programme, concerning Formula Ford racers, provided plenty of what the casual viewer requires from televised motor racing: ultimately harmless crashes that nevertheless supply a satisfactory number of barrel-rolls, somersaults and shuddering impacts. But then Tiff tried to breathe some life into a lengthy sports car race and the tedium level went off the scale.

Murray Walker can get away with banging on about slicks and wings and pit-stops because he doesn't let what's actually happening on the track get in the way of his own excitement. Needell got too bogged down in technical minutiae and forgot to yell enough. Perhaps the producer should have ignited his trousers. "Who said endurance racing was dull?" he asked at one point. We all did.

Last week Needell told Autosport magazine that he planned a return to the track. "I'm keen to prove I'm a racing driver," he said, "not a Blue Peter presenter." The nation's children can rest quiet in their beds.