Sport On TV: Des's hair may be bright but the future is dark

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The Independent Online
I THOUGHT I was going mad on Wednesday night - virtually blinded by Des Lynam's hair. Must be hallucinating, I thought. I presumed I must have been overdoing things. Then they showed a clip of him from the weekend - and there was the proof: on Saturday night his barnet was silvery grey; on Wednesday, a white so bright that TV screens up and down the country fizzed and exploded with the intensity, cathode ray tubes buckling under the strain. Des dyes his hair! This was the most extraordinary revelation in a fairly extraordinary week, a week in which we witnessed what eggheads call a paradigm shift, the fundamentals of football undergoing a radical revision.

For a Manchester United fan of more than 30 years' standing (and for any fan), the prospect of supporting a club owned by Rupert Murdoch is sickening (though I can hardly complain, having spent Saturday afternoons in his employ for a while in the late 80s).

It's difficult to convey the desolation, the feeling of powerlessness - because it's not as if one can turn it on and off. If things were that simple, I'd defect to my father's side of the family - Clayton Labour Club and Manchester City. But as any real fan knows, you might as well try changing your fingerprints.

Sky's reporting of the saga seemed fairly straight, though their midweek phone-in, surprise surprise, ran 3-1 in favour of the deal (a Manchester Evening News telephone poll, by comparison, went 96 per cent against). There was more balance, predictably, on the terrestrials. On Monday's Newsnight (BBC2), the super- smooth chairman of Southampton, Rupert Lowe, was salivating like a Murdoch lapdog at the very idea - an odd response, given that one of the main effects of the takeover would be to make it even more unlikely that clubs like his could ever win anything again. But, then, he was looking at it as a businessman, not as a fan, and he probably sees a place for himself in this grave new world once he has outgrown the Saints.

He was pitted against Jeremy Corbyn, one of the Labour MPs on the Parliamentary Football Group. The pair of them couldn't have dressed more appropriately, Lowe in something sharp and expensive, the bearded Corbyn in a crumpled tweedy number that only needed leather elbow patches. The Newsnight anchorman was worrying at the conflict-of-interest issue, but Lowe was having none of it. "The world today is fraught with conflicts of interest," he said blithely. "The main issue is to manage this conflict of interest correctly."

Corbyn aired sentiments that were to be echoed many times over the next few days. "This isn't about sport," he said, "it's about Rupert Murdoch making a lot of money... He's not interested in sport."

The Newsnight man asked uncomfortable questions: "Why should Rupert Murdoch be interested in sport?" And in a way he's right - the head of a pharmaceutical company need have no particular passion for aspirins beyond taking them when he has a headache. But that's precisely one of the most unwelcome ways in which football has changed - big clubs aren't run by the town worthies and pork butchers of old, who may have been incompetent and class- bound, but were, as the phrase puts it, "football men". Now a tycoon in front of a screen anywhere in the world can call up the company figures, like what he sees and make a bid.

Lynam had it about right (Match of the Day, BBC1, Wednesday) when he commented, after film of Wimbledon's improbable comeback at West Ham. "We should buy them," he said of the Dons.

On Wednesday, Bill Clintonknocked the story off the top of the charts. With all the footage of fans in the vicinity of Old Trafford, there was confirmation of the cosmopolitan nature of United's support. "Murdoch couldn't name two players on the United team," said an Irishman on News at Ten, while on Match of the Day an Arabic gentleman was all for the deal. "We want Batistuta, we want Salas, we want real men at Old Trafford!"

Andy Walsh, of the Independent Supporters' Association, spent the week enjoying his 15 minutes, and proved an impassioned and articulate critic. "He's used the legend of Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson's success to make a big fast buck," he said of Martin Edwards.

But though Walsh tried his best to drum up support for Tuesday's open meeting to discuss ways of standing firm against the evil empire, it was difficult not to think that, though the sentiments were admirable, the prospects of achieving anything are minimal to zero. The future's here, and it stinks.

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