Sport On TV: Football the forgotten game but the scoring mounts

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The Independent Online
If Stan Collymore thinks he's stressed, he should try being a) a woman, and b), a member of the side who feature in Playing The Field (BBC1), which returned for a second season on Thursday. Anyone who caught the first series will recall that it charts the bed-hopping antics of a fairly useless female football team (not so much Sex and the City as Sex and Manchester City). But if real-life amateur leagues are anything like this, it is a wonder that any of the players on Hackney Marshes have the energy to stand up.

We returned to south Yorkshire to find that Geraldine, the Castleford Blues' sponsor, is seven-and-a-half months pregnant. Then again, she is getting rather huge, and there was that unfortunate fling with Rick, her brother-in-law, precisely nine months ago. Oh dear. Rick, as it goes, wants a child too, but somehow it just isn't happening with his wife. This (possibly) explains why she feels the need to dress up as Baby Spice when the mood takes her. Jo, who recently discovered that her sister is really her mother, has taken to picking up strangers on buses. As for the rest of the Blues, their lives continue to show all the long-term stability of the San Andreas Fault.

But wasn't there something missing somewhere? Ah yes, football. Apart from a little juggling in the opening credits, not a boot was laced nor ball hoofed in anger during 50 fun-filled minutes. At a time when football is used to spice up everything from Newsnight to Noel's House Party, this did not make a great deal of sense.

Not, of course, that it was much of a flaw. In fact, anyone who endured the so-called action sequences in the film When Saturday Comes or, more recently, Casualty (BBC1) will agree that the lack of anything similar in Playing The Field was an immense relief. As Dream Team (Sky One) demonstrates twice a week, the only thing less convincing than a footballer trying to be an actor is an actor pretending to be a footballer, even a bad one.

Still, there was serious competition for the lot of them in the plausibility stakes this week, as David Davies tried to persuade a sceptical press and public that he has even the faintest clue where England's national team are going. Either a mischievous hack had knocked six-inch nails through the bottom of his chair before Thursday's press conference with Kevin Keegan (Sky News), or Davies is finally beginning to wonder if it is really worth the hassle.

If you want a temp, any normal person might feel, you go to Alfred Marks. But who ever said that the Football Association were normal? The assembled reporters were so perplexed by the idea of a four-match manager that their questions had more to do with explaining it to themselves than getting any enlightenment out of Keegan.

"Are you really going to go back to Fulham?" was the gist of half of them. "Why should the players feel any long-term commitment if you don't?" pretty much summed up the rest. For his part, Keegan failed - or refused - to see any contradiction in repeatedly claiming the England job to be "the biggest in football", while also confirming that he will treat it like a four-month, part-time sabbatical. When Glenn Hoddle said something only marginally more loopy, it cost him his job.

It was left to the scientific mind of Professor Susan Greenfield, a panellist on Question Time (BBC1), to pose the best question of the day. "If there is such a shortage of candidates now," she asked, "why should there be any more in four months' time?" David Dimbleby brought the programme to a close soon afterwards, but they could have sat there all night and not come up with an answer.

So it was that the Keegan Era creaked into life, although that does seem a rather overblown description for what boils down to six hours' of action. (Perhaps we should call it the Keegan Er, which would also commemorate the limited list of applicants.)

And since there was no time to waste, it was not long before the first, subtle digs at the new manager appeared. Sky were running clips of Keegan the Medallion Man and his feeble attempt to storm the mid-1970s pop-charts by the middle of Wednesday afternoon. It can be only a matter of time before one of the golden-oldie stations digs out the edition of Superstars in which he fell off his bike.

What no one has raised so far, though, is the one unarguable reason why the FA should do all they can to ensure that Keegan becomes the full-time manager as soon as possible. It is, quite simply, that it would save us all a good deal of time and stress if England ever make it to the knock- out stages of a major tournament - because instead of losing 5-4 on penalties, we would just lose 5-4.

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