Sport on TV: From nauseating Naz to Hamed the humble

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The Independent Online
When Michael Parkinson took a swipe at Ian Wright's interview technique a couple of weeks ago, he probably had the very first edition of Wrighty's chat show in mind, the one in which he spent 10 minutes name- checking kit sponsors with Prince Naseem Hamed. That, along with a lot of mutual "respect", was as good as the chat got, so from where the host was sitting, Friday's Parkinson (BBC1) was the ideal opportunity to show the upstart how it should be done.

Naz, after all, is not really a Parky kinda guy. Sporting knights are more Michael's line - Bobby Charlton, or Big 'Enry Cooper, people who are guaranteed to be old and suitably deferential. Hamed, on the other hand, is a mere MBE (and we all know what Cooper thought about that). He is also lippy, with a capital everything.

Or rather, he was. There had been rumours of a rebranded Naz for the new year, and Friday night was when the covers came off. Where once he would have swaggered on and switched his mouth to auto-boast, now he actually seemed to consider the questions. He had done some homework, too, and stored his answers in files marked "mum", "Ali", "booze (avoidance of)" and "next fight" which could be used as required. In short, he was the perfect guest.

It was all rather disconcerting, not least when he made a few stabs at humility, which must be the most unexpected turn of sporting events since Foinavon's National. There was maximum respect for his parents, of course, and Ali, and yes, even for Parky himself. "It's nice to be interviewed by a Yorkshireman," he said. "I give you all the credit in the world." At which point Parkinson's expression tried to be embarrassed rather than smug, and failed dismally.

What Parkinson gave Naz in return was as easy a ride as possible, even when Hamed said, apropos of Ali's present condition, that "he was so extraordinary as a man that I think God just wanted to show everyone he was human". Ah, so it's God's fault is it? Nothing to do with Frazier, Foreman or the profiteers who allowed him to keep on soaking up the punishment for the sake of their bank balance. Boxing, it seems, is in the clear. What a relief.

Now it is true that Parkinson is a chat show, not Question Time, but they do not call it "light" entertainment for nothing. As well as paying homage to his heroes, Naz also got to flash his jewellery, and talk about fast cars. In fact, the most startling revelation at any point in the show was probably that Gary Barlow still can't dance. From Hamed's point of view, the transition from snarling stage villain to mild media darling could hardly have gone more smoothly. You can only hope for his sake that some of the old bite returns when he next bounces over the ropes.

Far more educational was the football on Sky Sports 2 at roughly the same time. Faced with the task of spicing up Mansfield versus Rotherham, someone at Sky had remembered an experiment at the darts a couple of years ago, when they attached heart-rate monitors to some of the players during matches. It was less than successful because - I kid you not - the players' sweat tended to interfere with the contacts. You have to pity the poor technician who was charged with removing them afterwards - an electric shock from Cliff Lazarenko's left nipple would be a somewhat undignified way to go.

But it worked rather better on Friday, when the managers were supplied with monitors and their readings flashed on to the screen at crucial moments of the match. The doctor who hooked them up explained that 80 beats per minute was a normal, resting pulse, and anything over 120 might give some cause for concern, particularly if sustained for a prolonged period.

This must have been rather worrying for Steve Parkin's nearest and dearest, as the Mansfield manager's pulse rarely seemed to drop below 135. The stress level was particularly high when his side twice had goals ruled off-side, and if Parkin had keeled over in his dugout, there would have been enough evidence from the monitors to charge the linesman with manslaughter.

His opposite number, though, was an oasis of yogic calm by comparison. While the match ebbed and flowed, and Rotherham were denied an obvious penalty and then hit the bar before scoring three goals, Ronnie Moore's pulse rate barely wavered from a very healthy 85. Balding and middle-aged he may be, but the Rotherham gaffer is seriously cool.

The whole thing was a gimmick, of course, but a good one, although the producers should think carefully before using it again. Consider what might happen if they attached a monitor to Gordon Strachan during even a training session. The cost of the paper and ink could swallow up their programme budget for the next three seasons.