Like Manchester City victories, you wait all season for an intelligent football history and suddenly two appear in the same month

Jim White ON SATURDAY
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The Independent Online
If you want to watch your armchair football in style, take a tip from Mongo Faya, a serious bigwig in Cameroon. Mongo likes to tune in to the televised footie from the comfort of his harem, sitting on a throne, surrounded by scores of wives and a small army of children, one wife at his feet gently fanning him with a banana leaf.

At half-time, to tide him through the adverts, Mongo summons up his own personal band, to which a chorus line of wives perform a jig. This is a saucy little number involving much pelvic thrusting which suggests the dancers are offering up something of a commercial of their own, personal service.

Mongo then has his half-time snack. No Wagon Wheel and Bovril option for him. He is presented with a full four-course dinner, which three select wives proceed to spoon feed him. Talk about fantasy football.

You can see Mongo in action on The Final Kick, on BBC2 tonight. An update of the old Jeremy Beadle line about "you watching us watching you watching them", the programme placed cameras in 40 different countries to observe the locals as they tuned in to last year's World Cup final, the broadcast that accrued the biggest audience in television history, an estimated two billion.

It makes compelling viewing: the German with a belly the size of Romario hauling a barrel of beer up to his flat; a group of prisoners in Belorussia male-bonding more intimately than might be deemed strictly necessary; the family gathering in Buenos Aires who get a bit confused and start chanting "Argentina" at their telly. Indeed, it is something of a relief to discover, from this insight into the world's viewing habits, that pointless screaming at the box during football matches is not a characteristic restricted to our household.

Significantly, since the film was produced by a German, no cameras were pointed at Britons. Our contribution to the football event of the millennium was restricted to commentary on the match. But it seems our lads got everywhere: the locals listened to Barry Davies in India; Martin Tyler talked the patrons of a Tokyo sushi bar through the tension; and in Kingston, Jamaica, a bunch of noisy fans were informed by Trevor Brooking that possibly, perhaps, maybe the Italians might just about be perhaps on top, possibly.

The programme's climax is, inevitably, the same as the match's: the penalty shoot-out. Tears tumble in Rio; an Italian in a Turin bar breathes nervously through the party squeaker he had been blowing enthusiastically all night; in Malaysia a bunch of fishmongers look sick at the end. They had doubtless put a couple of thousand each on Roberto Baggio scoring.

What the programme's emotion-racking coda reminds us more than anything, however, is this: no greater drama has man contrived than the penalty shoot-out. The moment Baggio missed was a demonstration of nemesis which could not be bettered by any Greek tragedian, a definitive exposition of hubris - pride coming before a fall witnessed by a third of the earth's population.

I have learnt analysis like that, incidentally, from watching the television this autumn. As if the schedules weren't furred up enough with coverage of actual football matches, my video has been working overtime picking up the numerous histories, sociologies and nostalgia-fests presently being offered up. As Wordsworth might have said: bliss it is to be alive in that dawn of multiple television channels, but to be a football fan is very heaven. For the selective viewer, every night is football night.

Monday saw the end of Kicking and Screaming, a series which combined sociology, nostalgia and sheepskin coats to considerable effect. And last night Football, Fussball, Voetbal continued its history of the game in Europe with a look at British involvement on the Continent (the focus was historical, fortunately. Had it concentrated on this year's performance, it would have been a very short programme indeed).

Like Manchester City victories, you wait all season for an intelligent football history and suddenly two appear in the same month. What's more, both series were on BBC2. As is tonight's delightful programme, as will be the new series of the unmissable Fantasy Football League, which begins an 18-week run on 22 December, and as was last year's eight-hour fest of footie, Goal TV.

Indeed, under Michael Jackson, its programme controller, BBC2 appears to have become the football sociology channel, the place where the nuances are explored, a sort of Hornby-vision.

On it you rarely get to see anyone kicking a ball, but boy do you see a lot of comedians howling with laughter about dodgy side-burns. And for the sad and socially dysfunctional like me, that makes it essential viewing.

In the end though, as the memory of Baggio's ballooning miss proves, nothing can ever substitute for the game itself. However hard you try, you cannot imagine Mongo Faya hunkering down in his harem in Cameroon to watch Fantasy Football League. Even if Patsy Kensit is one of the captains.

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