Monster week for Eric and a pink rubber suit

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The Independent Online
IF AGENTS had agents, Eric Hall's would be rolling in it. No branch of the media was immune from a dose of his unique brand of wit last week: he pontificated on the leader page of the Independent, he banged away on a mobile phone on the obscure cable station Channel One, he tasted Matzo wafers in the Evening Standard, and he tested the boundaries of the English language on News at Ten (ITV). Asked to comment on the present football transfer system, Hall let his passion get in the way of his syntax. "It's total, total disgraceful," he blustered, his spectacular eyebrows bristling like two caterpillars disputing a twig. "Monster disgraceful."

The canny Hall has realised that one of the quickest ways to achieve fame is to implant a catchphrase in the national consciousness by repeating it at every opportunity: expect further frequent monstrosities. The rest of Graham Miller's report on the Bosman judgement was, in contrast to Hall, comprehensible. His choice of Barnet as an example of the clubs at the bottom level of football's financial pyramid was convenient for two reasons: Underhill Stadium, the club's ground, is (a) only half an hour's drive from ITN's HQ, and (b) a tip.

More complaints about the surroundings at Celtic Park, venue for the Old Firm match on Tuesday (Sky Sports). They are half-way through rebuilding the stadium, so on one side of the pitch you see a pounds 17m grandstand, and on the other a construction site. The former Celtic player Charlie Nicholas, sporting a bizarre lapel-less pinstripe number, didn't like the look of the place. "The two ends being left barren look a little bit silly," he said, which was pretty rich coming from a bloke in a half-built suit.

It was Paul Gascoigne's first Old Firm game, and to point up the atmosphere of sectarian aggression the producer had put together a selection of particularly crunching challenges from past matches between the two rivals, set to a doomy passage from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet.

"Will the hurly-burly pass Gascoigne by?" Richard Keys, the presenter, asked. It didn't. Within seconds of the kick-off, the burly Gascoigne hurled himself at the first Celtic player to come near him and conceded the first foul of the game.

Sky are so keen to extract the maximum possible mileage from their expensively acquired events that, like eager schoolboys, they always show up hours before the scheduled starting time.

Their Ryder Cup coverage teed off as the sun rose over Oak Hill, which meant that unfortunately not much was happening. David Livingstone, the anchor man, called up Peter Oosterhuis on the practice green. "What's going on down there, Oosty?" "Er, not a lot, David," Oosty reported, peering at the camera through the gloaming. "None of the players will want to be seen on the putting green until they are absolutely ready." And, he might have added, absolutely awake.

Undaunted, Livingstone turned to his studio guest, the American Ryder Cup veteran Larry Mize. "The players must be feeling nervous about now," Livingstone said. "Larry, what was going through your mind before you teed off?" "Well," Mize said. "I don't really remember." It was going to be a long day.

They Think It's All Over (BBC1), the sports quiz which, in the words of the compere Nick Hancock "says `No' to casual knitwear", is coming along very nicely. The captains, Gary Lineker and David Gower, and the regular guests, Lee Hurst and Rory McGrath, have quickly realised that answering questions is secondary to exchanging insults and making racy asides. Thus McGrath referred to Gower, the very bald Hurst and their thinning guest Clive Anderson as "Fluffy and the Slap-heads". Lineker taunted Hancock with "You're such an anorak" and Hancock replied to a later sally with "You'd best piss off, mate." Hancock tried to intervene in a particularly lurid and extensive fantasy constructed around Gower's wedding night ("Howzat?" "You're out", etc) by warning the teams: "This is the kind of conversation we're supposed to have after the show."

The banter is what makes the evening so appealing, but it's all-boys- together stuff, and Tessa Sanderson, the other guest, barely got a word in. You have to wonder how long it will be before a woman is brave (or foolish) enough to appear in the "Feel the sportsman" round, in which the blindfolded regulars have to identify a silent mystery guest by feel alone. One of last week's gropees was Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, announced with what must have been one of the most unnecessary captions of all time. Some pillock walks on wearing pebble spectacles, a pink rubber suit and skis. It's not going to be Linford Christie, is it?

The other mystery guest was John McCririck, and he obviously found the experience a trial. It wasn't the fondling that upset him, though: it was having to keep quiet while it went on. Watching racing's loudest mouth squirming with the effort of keeping schtum while Messrs McGrath and Lineker ransacked his person will have given many followers of the Turf particular pleasure.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to allow the public to vote for future victims. Do I hear a nomination for Eric Hall?

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