Sport on TV: Gunners, Ghana and a gallon of Wright-wash

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The Independent Online
It is widely assumed that when the Arsenal striker Ian Wright is finally surplus to Arsene Wenger's requirements he will pursue a second career as a television presenter. In recent months he seems to have been positioning himself carefully for the move, promulgating the idea that inside the feisty forward is a cheeky chappie just longing to get out. Just occasionally, though (for instance at Leicester on Wednesday night) the lines get crossed and Wright is cheeky and feisty at the same time, which may go down well with the fans but is not appreciated by referees.

Wright has presented Top of The Pops. He has joshed with Clive Anderson, who for a change barely got a word in edgeways. It can only be a matter of time before he is shooting the breeze with Dipsy, Lala and the other Teletubbies. Last Tuesday night the image got a further buffing when he featured in Gooner Ghana (ITV).

This was the story of a Ghanaian football team, Berekum Arsenal, who, as their name suggests, model themselves on the Marble Hall Mob. When Berekum's striker Kingsley Mensah wrote to the Arsenal match-day programme requesting a penfriend, he got more than he bargained for. The penfriend, Peter Jones, travelled to Ghana to visit the team, bearing a holy relic: a signed letter from Peter Hill-Wood, the north London club's chairman, offering fraternal greetings.

Back home, Jones contacted Ian Wright, who summoned him to Highbury for a briefing. Tell me all about the West African connection, the striker requested, as they walked along the touchline, for all the world as if a documentary crew were not stumbling along in front of them. "Actually," Jones said, "I made a video diary while I was there. Would you like to see it?" He would. So we did.

Very interesting it was too, especially the bit where Berekum Arsenal, on their way to a vital promotion game, sang one their favourite songs. It went "Ole, ole ole ole... ole, ole," and will have been familiar to many football fans. In the interests of wider understanding, the programme- makers had provided subtitles, which went: "Ole, ole ole ole ... ole, ole."

"Wrighty" as Jonesy called him, will have enjoyed the footage of African huts plastered with his image. He will also have been chuffed to hear Kingsley's eulogy: "Ian Wright! He's my main man. the goal machine. If I met him, I would die." But the goal machine will have been over the moon at the praise heaped on him, not by his African fans, but by the documentary's voice-over man.

"The man himself," he voice intoned, as Wright, in a sharp suit, kicked a ball around at Highbury. "Star striker for Arsenal and England. But he is not just a footballer. In fashion, music and street cool, he is a cultural icon, as well known for his cheek" - Wright leant in to the camera and gave his trademark laugh - "as his talent". From this rather nauseating moment on, there was a certain inevitability about events.

Kingsley (Kinsgley-ey?) was flown to England to watch Arsenal play at Highbury, but in true This Is Your Life fashion, he didn't know that he would get to meet his hero, the cultural icon.

When the great moment arrived Kingsley was speechless with joy, although luckily for the jaunty tone of the programme he did not remain true to his word and drop dead on the spot. The master of music and street cool drove Kingsley to a north London pub, where he cruelly abandoned him to a merry mob of beer-swilling Gooners who taught him, at unnecessary length and volume, how to sing "One nil to the Arsenal". Then it was off to the stadium, where Kingsley, grinning fit to bust, was given a guided tour before running out on the pitch with the Arsenal team in front of thousands of cheering fans. This was all very touching, but spoilt by the voice- over solemnly declaring that "African clubs don't have marble halls, sideboards of silverware or centuries of tradition." After all, if they did, there would be no reason to make documentaries like this, would there?

It was a good-natured, warm-hearted programme and will have brought smiles to the faces of Arsenal fans everywhere. Only the cynical will suggest that Wrighty's public relations operatives had anything whatsoever to do with it. In any case, they may find that their man shortly has rather a lot of time on his hands for image work. Now, is Mother Teresa, by any chance, an Arsenal fan? And is she up to flying?

The historical documentary series Leviathan (BBC2) also dealt with sport's ability to cross broad cultural divides by relating the tale of the first- ever Australian cricket tourists, the Aboriginal side who visited in 1868. Their first game, against Surrey at The Oval, was watched by a crowd of 20,000. According to Kev Carmody's fascinating report, they played another 46 games over the next six months, made a profit of pounds 1,100, and were warmly received everywhere, except at York, where they were refused admission to the luncheon tent. It seems that hostile attitudes to those born outside the county are nothing new.

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