On the floor, bellies up, kicking with pleasure

Sport on TV

TAKE THAT. Nick Hancock. Animal Hospital. Stuff like that I just don't get. Then there are aspects of popular culture, like Inspector Morse, Madonna, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, that I can see the point of without grasping why they're so massively and disproportionately popular.

I had a similar feeling on Thursday morning while reading the reviews of Des Lynam's debut on ITV the previous evening for the Chelsea-Milan game. A convulsion of giddy delirium seems to have swept the nation, dwarfing Hurricane Floyd in its primeval intensity.

Now don't get me wrong (I have a terrifying vision of serried ranks of Lynamites marching on Canary Wharf to redress the wrong done to His name). I thought I loved Des as much as the next couch potato, and indeed he must have some strange and intoxicating power to reduce jaded and cynical hacks to quivering, nostril-flaring adulation.

As I read through their paeans of praise the morning after, I pictured them on the floor, bellies up, legs kicking with pleasure as Des walked in laid-back fashion along the row, tickling their tummies.

"Good evening. I had a feeling we'd be meeting again," was Lynam's opener, "twinkling those Irish eyes to camera," as Rob King in the Daily Star saw it. Meanwhile, the Sun's Charlie Yates cooed, "Des's opening line was a gem,", and in the Mail, Martin Lipton was beside himself: "It was Lynam to a tee, a magic moment that summed up his astonishing appeal." Well, it was quite funny, typically coy, and, indeed, twinkly. But he's only an anchorman, for God's sake.

Then he came up with a classic Des line: "The Uefa Champions' League. Seventeen matches to win the thing - and you can't phone a friend."

Again, really quite amusing - and only the 437th "phone-a-friend" joke I've heard this week. "With chat like that you can see why ITV dialled Des," purred Yates.

The eyelash-fluttering Yates even delivered a fashion bulletin: "The pale blue suit, dapper gold patterned tie and dark blue blazer were just right." Dear God. My favourite bit was when the studio lights went out and Lynam dropped his trousers, enabling the show to go on.

Even the normally sober and sardonic Guardian was swept along on the wave of relief that Genius was once more in the house. "Des and scripted wisecracks go together like Gullit and Shearer," Jim White observed breathlessly. Does he really think Lynam had not given even a moment's thought to what his first words on a new channel might be, especially with a breath-baited nation agog on the edge of its collective settee, waiting for broadcasting manna?

My guess is that Lynam, the consummate professional, works mighty hard to make his act look so effortless. To appear polished, one needs to do a lot of polishing. I may be way off the mark, but I bet Lynam did a bit of rehearsing in front of his bedroom mirror. He'd have been a fool not to.

Maybe I just missed the boat on Wednesday night, but my verdict was Business As Usual, albeit on a different channel. It felt, to me at least - and I accept I may be out of step with the rest of humanity - like the BBC. Which is presumably what ITV shelled out all that money for.

It will be interesting to see the ratings for Wednesday's game. At least one colleague on the sports desk here is willing to lay ready money that figures will be up on the average Champions' League match early on last season, but I'm not so sure. Are people really going to watch a game of football they otherwise wouldn't have, simply because Lynam, however dapper and unscripted and twinkly he might be, is presenting it? And conversely, if the BBC had any football to speak of (apologies to Leeds fans), would their ratings go into free-fall just because that nice Gary Lineker is mein host? I can't see it myself.

Now I've said all that, please don't send any hate mail. I do love Des, I really, really do. We all do. It's part of what defines us as a nation. It's just that I believe the football is what it's all about, not the anchorman.

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