Sport On TV: A photo-finish in the Blindingly Obvious Stakes

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The Independent Online
So now we know. Thank you, Secret Lives (C4), for revealing that Lester Piggott, sporting legend, is utterly ruthless, has an eye for the ladies and grasps his money so firmly that the Queen's face turns blue. The only question left unanswered, in fact, after its producers had spent an hour rummaging around in Piggott's dustbin was what they proposed to do for an encore. An in-depth investigation of bears, perhaps, and what it is they get up to in the woods?

It is not difficult to take a swipe at Lester. No one forced him to dodge his taxes, or to compound the offence by trying to clear his debt with a cheque drawn on an account he had failed to declare. He has sold pictures of his secretary and their young son to a Sunday tabloid, and never thought twice before stitching up a weighing-room colleague who had a ride he fancied. But if all this truly qualifies as a secret life, you can only wonder how it is that the average edition of Hello! ever makes it past the D-Notice committee.

Piggott, unlike every previous subject of this series, still has enough breath in his body to phone a libel lawyer, a problem which its editors would have been mad to ignore. The high road around it might have been to ask whether the strain of living with a raging eating disorder from your pre-teenage years - not to mention the knowledge that it is essential to your work - might find its expression in Piggott's other personality traits.

But why bother going uphill when you can freewheel on the low road instead? It proved far less demanding to blame his parents, record a voice-over in the style of Judge Jeffreys, and invite various racing figures, hacks and acquaintances to indulge in a spot of finger-pointing. Oh, and to conduct what seemed to be a competition for the most convincing Lester impersonation, even though the speech impediment is the one thing that he cannot help.

It all said rather more about racing than its most famous face, and if anyone emerged tarnished, it was some of the contributors. Robert Sangster's first audacious plunge into bloodstock, for instance, might have floundered but for Piggott's brilliance on The Minstrel in the 1977 Derby, yet here he was adding his two-penn'orth. Charles Benson, meanwhile, cheerfully recalled his trips up and down Fleet Street as he attempted to suppress evidence of Piggott's tax-dodging - while drawing his salary from the Daily Express.

All in all, it was rather a good week for the blindingly obvious, what with the equally lazy look at the state of British football which was Panorama (BBC1). The rich clubs, it seems, are getting richer, and the poor clubs poorer, and it is all the fault of a few chairmen who are exploiting the fans for all they are worth. It is, quite clearly, a Bad Thing.

Which it would be if it were only that simple. In deference, no doubt, to viewers who have no greater understanding of EU employment legislation than they do of the offside rule, Panorama chose to analyse football present and future without a single reference to the Bosman ruling. Instead, the blame - if such it is - for football's growing inequalities seems to lie entirely with Sky's television money, and the reluctance of Premiership chairmen to allow any of it to trickle down to the lower divisions and beyond. Fans, meanwhile, were cast as the biggest losers of all.

This would all have been rather more convincing had one of the backdrops not been Pride Park, where 30,000 Derby supporters were waiting to take their seats in a gleaming new stadium, and watch a side who - like Leicester City - have comfortably crossed the gap between First Division and Premiership which, so we were told, is nowadays all but unbridgeable. Maybe they were just putting on a brave face for the cameras, but they certainly looked like satisfied customers.

And you could only laugh when "Newcastle's latest money-making wheeze" turned out to be the half-time lottery, and it became clear that terrified Geordies were not being forced to participate at knifepoint. Predictably, too, the producer could not resist the ticketless fans with their noses pressed to the gates of St James' Park. It was an undeniably poignant sight, but until someone amends the law of supply and demand to include charity, an inevitable one as well.

A better target, though, was Manchester United's rampant urge to "brand" anything they can lay hands on, which causes no end of annoyance to the 95 per cent of the population who do not support hem. These days, you can even buy Manchester United milk in north London supermarkets - though if it ever came down to United milk or no milk at all, you can only hope that most customers would opt for black tea and dry cornflakes every time.

But if they can brand milk, then nothing is safe. Well, almost nothing. There are no plans, as far as anyone can tell, to market Manchester United toilet paper. Perhaps they suspect it would sell rather too well.

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