Sport On TV: Frankie goes to pieces, Sid and Steve go shopping

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The Independent Online
A pretty ropey week all round, prompting cynical reflection. Given the total powerlessness of critics of sport on television, for instance, it is perhaps time to extend the disciplinary sanctions of sporting bodies. In future, all bans slapped on competitors for misdemeanours in the course of competition should also apply to television appearances. Such an edict might have kept Ian Wright off Top of the Pops last year. It would prevent Gazza from indulging in silly publicity stunts for the next five weeks. And it would have done both Frankie Dettori and the viewers a great favour by keeping the ebullient jockey well away from They Think It's All Over (BBC1).

But keeping Dettori out of a television studio is much harder than keeping him off a horse. And the chance to share a stage with such sporting luminaries as Gower and Lineker, and to learn a thing or two from another professional loudmouth, Lee Hurst, was clearly irresistible.

For Dettori, though, this was a programme too far. Like a hurdler facing steeplechase fences for the first time, he tripped up. Nothing in his previous experience as a chat-show guest had prepared him for the ordeal of TTIAO, which in Frankie's case was encapsulated in a simple request to read out a statement from a card. The statement (never mind why) read: "Luther Blissett is the name of an Italian anarchist guerrilla organisation."

At least, that is what it said on the card. Frankie got as far as "Italian" - which is fair enough - but after that suffered a total pronunciation breakdown. "Anar... anartchie gooer... goo..." he broke down giggling, and Hurst had to take over the reading duties. The experience seemed to traumatise the young horseman, and he spent most of the rest of the quiz laughing at other people's jokes, which made a refreshing change from his usual habit of laughing at his own. But the televisual stewards had ruled, and Dettori had been punished for excessive use of the lip.

While we talk of compulsive talkers, the most vociferous of the lot, "Ramblin" Sid Waddell, took a sabbatical from his darts duties to present the World Pool Masters (Sky Sports 3). The dislocation of a familiar voice from its usual surroundings was a shock, as was Steve Davis's new perm when the artist formerly known as "Interesting" strode on to show the poolsters how to pot.

But most disconcerting of all was the location of the table: next to the lift in the middle of the Lakeside Shopping Centre, a mega-shopping mall in Thurrock, Essex. A little horseshoe grandstand accommodated 60 or so spectators, including one child of perhaps nine months old who gnawed dejectedly on a dummy throughout, having clearly left home on the understanding that he was heading somewhere interesting, like Mothercare. It is possible that the child had been giving his parents a hard time at night, but as treatments for insomnia go, watching Steve Davis play pool in a shopping centre seems unusually harsh.

Waddell was doing his usual best to keep the television audience awake, declaring, as the newly bouffant Davis dispatched the final ball, "Davis a bit chuffed! Probably off to the unisex barber for a quick trim! He's got time - he's in the last eight! And that was a masterclass in adapting from snooker to the razzle- dazzle yet sophisticated world of nine-ball pool!"

The audience shuffled away, preoccupied with the razzle-dazzle yet sophisticated business of working out whether the tinned peas were cheaper at Kwiksave or Tesco, and the producer faded up the soundtrack, the classic blues with the line "I owe my soul to the company store", which might have given Waddell pause for reflection. Whatever Sky pay him, it can't be enough: he could inject life into a wallpaper-hanging contest.

They should put him on to Best and Worst II - The Sequel (Sky Sports 3), a lash-up of a sporting bloopers programme that managed to make ITV's Oddballs look entertaining. The clips weren't funny - a high proportion being dreadful racing-car crashes - and they weren't improved by the adornment of a comedy "boing" at the moment of impact. But worst of all was the commentary, crammed with knee-jerk puns. You get more laughs at a cremation.

The Footballer's Football Show (Sky Sports 1) promised a little much- needed substance. They had assembled a team of managers and ex-managers to discuss the job market now that Christmas is coming and the loose are getting sacked.

Given his recent unfortunate experiences at Sheffield Wednesday, David Pleat's appearance was something of a coup. But more disappointment lurked. Jeff Stelling, the presenter, asked for his views on his enforced exit. "That is the past," Pleat gravely remarked, "and the past has no future. That is something that I don't wish to dwell on." Oh well, thanks for coming anyway.

There were high hopes, too, for the half-time entertainment at yesterday's Iran v Australia World Cup game (Eurosport). Sadly, it was another let- down. It seems you can't find a decent cheerleader for love nor money in Tehran these days.

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