Motty's bons mots and the curse of Sitton

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WEDNESDAY night's international between Norway and England, Football Live (Sky Sports) brought the usual grumbles from Skyless fans about the satellite station's exclusive right to show the game live. But for once it was appropriate: you need a dish to serve up a dog's dinner.

BBC viewers were doubly fortunate. The corporation's editors had time to snip out the worst howlers of an error-strewn evening, and the remaining "highlights" benefited from the expert and enthusiastic commentary of John Motson, restored to us after a sabbatical.

But even Motson's practically limitless appetite for the game was jaded in Oslo. "That was one of the most insipid 45 minutes of international football I've seen in a long time," he lamented at the end of the first half. "Dull, drab and uninspiring," he pronounced at the end of the match. He sounded a little hoarse: perhaps the famous vocal cords were feeling the strain of his comeback. Or perhaps he had a touch of the Flo.

Motson's companion in the commentary box was Trevor Brooking, not a man you would normally rely on to enliven a dull evening. But Trevor came up trumps when Stig-Inge Bjornebye went down. "He's worried that he's broken his nose," Trevor observed. "And if there is a little crack, that's not one of those things that's easy to breathe through." Big cracks let the air through a lot better.

Motson also showed up on They Think It's All Over ... (BBC1), where his knowledge of arcane goal celebrations soon established a sizeable lead for his team. Rory McGrath, on the opposing team, was stung into a rebuke. "You know your problem?" he jeered. "Anoraxia Nervosa."

It was one of the show's more tasteful jibes. David Gower was particularly smutty: on the cricket circuit his nickname was Lubo, but nowadays he'd be better known as Lewdo. He also ought to go easy on the gags about Graham Gooch's hairline: pots, kettles and blackness spring to mind.

No worries about offensive language on Club For a Fiver (C4), a video diary of a season at Leyton Orient. That is to say, nobody at Channel 4 had worried about offensive language, which was just about the only kind used by the beleaguered then Orient manager, John Sitton.

An instantly engaging, painfully honest man with a face that was not so much lived-in as forcibly entered and squatted, Sitton specialised of necessity in inspirational half-time team talks. Orient were usually 3-0 down at this juncture.

"You're a f---ing disgrace," Sitton told his players. "F--- the technical sh--... In the words of Graham Taylor at f---ing Crewe, when he was Aston Villa manager, 'You got us in this f---ing mess, now you get us out of it.' No more to be said. F--- off out on the pitch, the lot of you."

Sitton was fond of quoting former England managers, which may explain both his limited vocabulary and his limitless optimism in the face of inevitable failure. He had just finished reading a book by Bobby Robson, and his favourite line was: "I'm not in the game to make friends." Sitton took the lesson to heart. At his next half-time cheer-up chat he called one player a "little c---", another a "big c---" and wound up his speech by inviting them both around later for a fight.

Not that Sitton was an unsympathetic character. You couldn't help but admire his courage as the penniless club crumbled around him, and when the boxing promoter Barry Hearn arrived to take over, all shiny leather jacket and shiny teeth, the last act of Sitton's personal tragedy was about to be played out. A caption at the end informed us that he is currently unemployed; an inexplicable state of affairs when at least one national newspaper is short of an editor.

The People's Century (BBC2) addressed the way in which sport had been taken from the fans and exploited as a focus for national prestige. Inevitably, the most apposite and chilling example was the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, when Hitler hijacked sport for the greater glory of Nazism.

The producers had tracked down Fritz Schilgen, who as a young, blond athlete had carried the Olympic torch into the stadium. "I was not chosen for my athletic ability alone," he gamely admitted. Now a bespectacled old man, Schilgen shambled down the same steps and peered around the vast, empty arena. One can only guess at his thoughts.

The British water polo team refused to respect the Nazis. "Certain countries would line up in the water and give the Nazi salute to Hitler," Robert Mitchell, a team member, recalled. "We stood and lounged against the goal- posts, and tried to look as lounging as we could." You could imagine the German top brass turning to one another. "Mein Gott, look at those Britishers lounging. We'd best not invade Poland after all."

The plucky Brits did not win anything, but those who did had to keep their wits about them, as the American sprint gold medallist Helen Stephens revealed. She gave the Fuhrer "a good old Missouri handshake" and received a hug, a pinch and a squeeze in return. Adolf Hitler: genocidal megalomaniac and groper. Another black mark in a very black book.

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