Sport On TV: Dreaded certainty of the lawnmower man

BEFORE THE start of the second half of Lokomotiv Moscow v Leeds United on Thursday (Channel 5), the home side stood around for a few minutes waiting for the Leeds players - who, 7-1 up on aggregate, were presumably still in the dressing-room trying to decide whether it was worth coming back out or not. Back home in Britain, half the population was probably doing something similar to Leeds, slumped in the kitchen, tea brewed, while they wondered whether they could be bothered going back in the living room.

With Leeds 4-1 up from the first leg, even before the start there was something of a dead-rubber feel to the match, and three first-half goals killed it off. Add to that the end-of-term feeling in the Champions' League, and it was a fairly dispiriting week in Europe. As several commentators observed after last weekend's events on the rugby field, the lure of the unexpected is a large part of what makes sports-watching so compulsive, and there was precious little of it around. The burgeoning numbers of group games will only make things worse. When will Uefa realise that large doses of knock-out football are a necessary part of the game's lifeblood?

With the exception of events at Stamford Bridge, it was a desultory week all round. On Tuesday, we had Arsenal and Manchester United, both of whose games were meaningless in their different ways - that dread phrase "playing for pride" was uttered during the Arsenal match - and then in Thursday's second televised game (BBC2), Celtic, 1-0 down from the first leg, went another goal behind to render proceedings effectively meaningless. All the din that Parkhead could muster could not mask the dead weight of the occasion.

Possibly the most entertaining moment of that match, for me at least, was a mishearing (for which I have an unrivalled talent). "John Barnes has a false eye," I distinctly heard Barry Davies say as the teams took the pitch, though I now concede that it might have been, "John Barnes has a full side."

This propensity for getting the wrong end of the aural stick provides constant amusement. During the player introductions before one of the games in the baseball World Series recently, I was left wondering at "No 10, playing for space, Chipper Jones!" and "No 27, playing the field, Gerald Williams!" It was only after I thought about it for a bit that I realised the announcer had probably been referring to "playing first base" and "playing left field", though I preferred my version.

This happens to me alarmingly frequently. On a train to the Highlands, we were standing at Aviemore when a young rail employee walked up the platform past the two little old ladies sat at my table.

"Will you look at that tart in uniform? It's a disgrace," one of the little old ladies said. I looked at the tart in question. She seemed perfectly respectable. Then it struck me the little old lady had in fact said, "Will you look at that tartan uniform? It's a disgrace."

In a film in the Metroland London magazine series, "Five Men Went To Mow" (ITV, Tuesday), the Nicholls brothers plus assorted certifiable cousins and friends were making a disgrace of themselves, indulging their passion for lawnmower racing.

As they gather for a meeting at an agricultural show, it is clear they are not held in the highest regard by the great and good of the British lawnmower racing establishment.

"Their lawnmowers always seem to be a last-minute thought," said Howard Ansett, of the governing body. "I'm not sure how many races they've finished - there's always some problem, when something flies off the lawnmower."

The madness of cousin George is typical. "Possibly a bit erratic," says Ben, one of the brothers, of him. "An absolute nutcase. He'll fly past anyone and then smack into a corner." Unless it was clever editing, at that moment cousin George was doing just that.

"Silly mistake," said Ben as he surveyed the carnage. "We're going to beat him up now. He'll be absolutely gutted. What he'll be feeling now is... worse than anything he's got to go through later in life, worse than any of the divorces that are coming up, inevitably."

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