Sport on TV: Forget about Des and bring on Barry Davies

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The Independent Online
WHAT? AN EXTRA pounds 24 for the BBC from digital licence holders? And no Des Lynam? You must be joking.

This must be the biggest shock to the nation since the abdication. First, the Beeb lost the football, then the rugby, the motor racing and the cricket, and now it's Super Des, the anchorman who's cooler than liquid nitrogen, more laidback than Lenin, as imperturbable as an ashram full of yogis.

A book has just been published about the England managership called The Second Most Important Job In The Country. I think that should be the third most important, judging by the number of words expended by pundits this week on the Lynam succession issue. John Inverdale, Gary Lineker, Steve Rider and Sue Barker have all been touted as the new uber-anchor, but I have only two words to say on the issue. One is Barry, the other is Davies.

Lord Davies of Barryshire, as he is usually referred to in this column, has all the attributes to make the Corporation forget Des ever walked the face of the earth. He's cultured, witty and, I'm sure, though I've never met him, a great bloke.

Which is more than can be said of Robbie Fowler, at least on the evidence of Tonight With Trevor McDonald (ITV, Thursday). What a thoroughly unpleasant young man he came across as. It is not fair to round on footballers for being as articulate as artichokes, but that was not what was so offensive. It was Fowler's complete abdication of responsibility for anything he's ever done.

His inquisitor, Martin Bashir, came on like the soft cop, in a not-angry- just-disappointed kind of way, gently probing Fowler's defences. The young Scouser's refusal to admit any culpability for his stupid, childish actions was breathtaking.

He could not for the life of him, for example, see what he'd done wrong over the Graeme Le Saux incident, when he bared his backside to the admittedly over-sensitive Chelsea full-back.

"But you were making a homophobic gesture," said Bashir. If in doubt, deny everything, was Fowler's approach.

"I don't think so," he said. "If he'd have just took the free-kick, nothing would have been said about it. He took it too deeply." So there we are. It was all Le Saux's fault.

Fowler was equally brazen over the incident in the Merseyside derby, when he celebrated a goal by pretending to sniff the by-line, for which he was also fined and suspended.

Bashir missed a trick here - he should have pushed Fowler on why he stitched up his manager, Gerard Houllier, who when interviewed afterwards without having seen the footage, said in good faith that the gesture had been a tribute to the grass-eating Cameroonian, Rigobert Song. Presumably Fowler thought it was a bit of a giggle to make a prat of his boss in public. At least he finally admitted that he was answering the Everton fans' drug taunts - "apart from scoring a goal, it was the only way of getting my own back," he said. He wasn't in the wrong, of course. "I took the punishment - I didn't agree with it."

"But you deserved it," Bashir insisted.

"Why did I?" he came back, his big, bovine eyes shining with sulky defiance, before coming up with a piece of glorious logic.

"Graeme Le Saux got a one-game ban. What happened to the Everton supporters who provoked me?"

I think what he meant was that as both parties in the first incident were punished, so should both parties have been in the second - that all those fans should have been hauled up for bringing the game into disrepute, and fined 30 or 40 grand each. A fascinating concept, and an intriguing glimpse into the strange world of Robbie Fowler's mind.

But you're paid to do your job, Bashir said. "Who's to say that's not part of my job?" Fowler responded - another interesting idea. But you're paid to handle the pressure. "I'm not paid to handle it, am I? You get paid to play football full stop, and yeah, maybe act professionally and all that, but" - and this is the best bit - "there are certain times you're not going to act professional, and that was one of those times." So that's all right then.

Still, I don't want to go on about it too much. The summer's football issues have increased my conviction that there is too much opining these days. I reckon global warming is linked to all the hot air around, most of it from sportspeople. In particular, can we please declare a moratorium against the Man Utd FA Cup saga being talked about on television, in print, by semaphore, smoke signals, sign language, chimpanzee key-tapping or those chemicals ants use to communicate? Please.