Sport on TV: Cue the totally potty and The Full Motty

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The Independent Online
ON THE face of it, the first half of Wednesday Night Live (ITV) - a "lively late-night debate" - did not offer much of specific interest to sports fans. An assortment of wild-eyed folk with even wilder ideas involving flashlights, Fiat Unos and MI6 floated their conspiracy theories about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, while the football fans in the audience, both at home and in the studio, waited patiently for part two - Gazza: Is Hoddle Mad, Or What?.

And yet as it turned out, what had gone before was an ideal preparation for a discussion of the merits of Glenn Hoddle's selection policy. After the preceding 30 minutes in the company of the crackpots, the Claptrap Radar was ready for action, and seconds later it was blipping away like mad, as incoming nonsense came from all directions.

He was rubbish in Morocco. He is only 60 per cent fit. It's all Chris Evans' fault. All the theories which have been peddled since last Sunday got an airing, and few could survive even the most cursory inspection. If performance in your last couple of matches were among his criteria for non-selection, then Hoddle would surely have sacked the lot of them and gone with a Nationwide League XI. Alan Shearer, meanwhile, would have spent Euro 96 in his track suit. Fitness? Well, pardon me, but was that not Gazza who worked his way into a scoring position not once, but twice, in the final moments of the match with Morocco? Hardly the actions of a man who is, if you reverse the proposition, 40 per cent dead.

The WNL crew worked hard to find the truth, which unfortunately seems to be that Hoddle is either unwilling, or more probably unable, to exploit the most gifted English footballer of the last 15 years. Terry could, but Glenn can't, and he does not like it. Instead, he will travel to France with a grimly functional side, rather similar to that which went to Spain in 1982. They did not lose a match, and they were home before the semi- finals. Suddenly, the threat of militant technicians disrupting the World Cup coverage does not seem quite so dreadful.

Watching the debate was a doleful business, not least because so many apparently sensible people seemed to feel that Hoddle had made the right decision. Still, the depression was leavened somewhat by the irresistible chutzpah of the programme's caption writer. This is a calling which often goes unrecognised, but anyone who can not only come up with "Kenny Burns - football legend", but also get it broadcast on national television, surely deserves an award. It was enough to leave you wishing that they had invited George Best. The caption "Bestie - notorious piss artist" would have been one to treasure forever.

It was impossible to get away from Gascoigne this week, even when someone else entirely was supposed to be the centre of attention. Take, for instance, the excruciating segment of The Fully Motty (BBC1) in which a gaggle of Page Three girls paraded in front of John Motson wearing obscure football strips which the commentator was invited to identify. (It was dubbed, with truly Wildean wit, "Motty's Totty".)

When Gazza sported fake plastic breasts during a celebration parade on an open-topped bus, he was condemned as loutish and puerile. Yet when women with real plastic breasts are wheeled out for the entertainment of Motty, Jimmy Hill and a celebrity audience, it is just a bit of fun. Hmmmm.

That said, you had to take your fun where you could find it in a show which shamelessly ripped off ITV's An Audience With..., but failed to appreciate the dynamic which drives it. The point, after all, is that the subject should be a polished stand-up performer, happy at the centre of attention and positively dripping with entertaining anecdotes.

Motson, for all his experience behind the microphone, falls instead into Category D: none of the above. He is obviously a modest man, and probably agreed to the gig against his better judgement, but at times his discomfiture was painful to watch. Nor did it help that the audience had arrived not to converse, but to worship (while also making sure that they hogged all of the best lines). With the exception of Craig Charles' World Cup poem - performed while juggling a ball on his head - the entire show was best forgotten.

And if anyone thinks that that is a little po-faced, that The Full Motty and its smug gang of celebs was a gathering of the faithful in football's broad church, you probably didn't catch Shot Down In Flames (C5). Justin Fashanu, as even friends of long standing were prepared to admit, had his faults, but his overwhelming obstacle was the bigotry of his fellow professionals.

This account of his life must have been thrown together with the minimum of time and fuss, but the research was sound and the story distressing. Even those who took pride in having nurtured the young Fashanu's career found his sexuality difficult to discuss.

"There was no hint of any problem with his gender," said the scout who discovered him. Which is true enough to a point, since it was everyone else who had the problem. It was Fashanu, though, who paid the price.

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