Sport On TV: Ecclestone's Adolf-style formula for riches

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The Independent Online
WATCHING PANORAMA'S account of the giddy rise of Bernie Ecclestone (BBC1, Monday), I was reminded of The Nazis - A Warning From History, BBC2's excellent documentary series which came to an end a couple of weeks ago.

Don't get me wrong (Mr Ecclestone's lawyers, especially: please don't get me wrong). Obviously the comparison is wildly far-fetched - but one of the aspects of Nazism I've always found fascinating is the way in which the boy Adolf managed, in double-quick time, to establish total control over his new empire. Ecclestone's success in centralising most of Formula One's power and money in his own hands while everyone else not only stood by and watched but actually assisted in his campaign of global domination, has been equally mesmerising. Team-owner Eddie Jordan, for one, is not complaining: "He's a dictator," he says of Ecclestone. "But this sport needed a dictator." Sound familiar?

Having already earned disgustingly large amounts of money, Ecclestone now wants to raise pounds 2bn from a Eurobond issue. I don't want to sound like an ageing hippy, but you have to ask: why? He's already stupendously wealthy; what can he possibly want with any more? Acquisitiveness on that scale, is, I think, a disease, and Ecclestone is a sick man. The European Commission hates what he's doing - his activities are "the worst example of anti- competitive behaviour" they have seen, they say - and they're out to get him. Good luck to them, I say.

There's a lovely shot at the beginning of the programme, as Ecclestone wanders around the starting grid. Up comes Chris de Burgh, who I believe is a popular recording artist, m'lud, to shake the maestro's hand. He actually bows as he does so, though perhaps that's because Ecclestone is approximately 4ft tall, looking like his own Spitting Image puppet as he patrols his Sunday afternoon fiefdom, his walkie-talkie looking huge against his shrunken little head.

It is Ecclestone's wife, Slavica, who has most to gain, nominally at least, from the Eurobond issue. It will all be in her name, making her the second wealthiest woman in Britain. As his chum Max Mosley says, he has made multi-millionaires of all the best team owners and drivers." Oh, that's all right, then.

BBC2's lovely afternoon series, Match Of Their Day, has been evoking more innocent times for the last fortnight. On Tuesday it was the turn of Rodney Marsh, that archetypal swinging Sixties footballer.

There was a nicely poetic account from Marsh of what it felt like to score for Queen's Park Rangers in the 1967 League Cup final: "the crowd and the smell of the grass and the sweat of the players when they jumped on top of me - it was all so completely overwhelming, my head wanted to explode ... it was surrealistic, it was an out-of-my-body experience."

There were promising beginnings for Marsh, although he was released by West Ham because they thought another youngster, called Geoff Hurst, had more potential - "good call", said Garth Crooks, a little cruelly. His potential, though, was never fully realised, and the series being essentially hagiographical in nature, the matter was never quite addressed. He went to Manchester City, and famously "lost" them the championship by unbalancing the side, and he is happy to hold up his hands - sort of. "When people ask me whose fault it was," he says, "I have to say - Joe Corrigan's." As he remarked, though, it was City that wanted him, not the other way round. All he could do was play football.

"What hurts is that people still remember it - it was 25 years ago," he said. Football folk do have long memories. In the middle of the next century, there will probably be Marshes going round fed up of being asked why their great-great-great grandfather lost City the League title all those years ago.

I keep waiting for the They Think It's All Over formula (BBC1, Thursday) to grow stale - and perhaps too much of the repartee is knee-jerk scatology - but most of it works in a brazen kind of way. Sue Barker had, apparently, laid into her foul-mouthed rivals. She believes that TTIAO is not as funny as A Question Of Sport - "because," said Nick Hancock, "it contains too many remarks that aren't witty. Like this: piss off Sue."

Even the panellists baulked at one of his observations, that nice Gary Lineker rolling around his seat crying, "No!"

"In 1996 Gazza bought Sheryl a new pair of breasts to try and cheer her up," Hancock said. "But it didn't work and now she's looking for a new arsehole."

It was difficult not to sympathise with Lineker.

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