Sport On TV: Hardly crisp and well past the sell-by date

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The Independent Online
SORRY, DID I miss something? Have the BBC abandoned their charter and started selling advertising space? Having sat in a state of increasingly pronounced jaw-drop through They Think It's All Over (BBC1, Thursday), it is hard not to conclude otherwise.

Though Gary Lineker was dumped from a crisp advertising campaign in favour of the flavour of the year, Michael Owen, he has missed no opportunity during the present series, however small, to plug his former employers' product. The first time it raised the faintest of smiles because it was Lineker taking a rise out of himself for having been sacked. The 473rd time it was irritating and tawdry. But I wonder if he's not still on the payroll, and the Beeb with him: the last few programmes have compounded the sin by bleeping him out every time he utters the product name, which I guess is also supposed to be funny but is also priceless publicity. The marketing suits must be hugging themselves. Then on Thursday, disgracefully, the entire guess-the-name round was given over to sportspeople who share a surname with that particular brand of potato-slices-fried-in-lard-and- chemicals. They might have well finished the programme three minutes early and gone straight to an ad break. What's worse, it wasn't even funny.

Though none of the terrestrial channels appear to be planning a proper look back at the World Cup for the end of the year (which is surely missing a trick), there has been something of a surfeit of France 98 docusoaps in the last couple of weeks, of which Come On England (BBC2, Tuesday), was by far the strangest.

Though England's progress as seen from back home provided a peg, the film, part of the Modern Times strand, wasn't really about football at all, being more of a meditation on childhood, a tone poem on life as a young Scally when Michael Owen is capturing the heart of a nation. Thomas lives in what is apparently a poor area of Everton, though there's not much in the way of grinding poverty. We saw him with his mate on their bikes, spying on courting couples in back-street, back-seat assignations - "They had no clothes on, nothing" - walking through streets that could almost be immediately post-war, being taught by his dad how to sex pigeons, kicking his mum up the backside in pain and frustration when Batty's penalty fails to hit the spot. It was Kes reworked by the BBC2 arthouse, tangential but oddly compelling.

More conventional was Reggae Boyz: The Fans (C4, Monday) part of the Return of the Ba Ba Zee black culture slot. This one focused on British Jamaica fans, the most entertaining of which was Dennis Smith, a Peckham barber known as Father largely on account of his 15 kids. Something of an operator, Father is arranging coaches to France for Jamaica's games, and one of the saddest sights in all the post-World Cup programming was John-Paul and Taddo, American citizens without visas, being turned back at Dover: as the ferry pulls away the camera remains, unflinching, on their desolate faces.

Over in Lens, where the Boyz are playing Croatia in their opening game, Pauline, one of Father's ex-wives, is doing the cooking.

"I like women around me," says Father, because that's the beauty of life." It turns out that he has five present and past spouses in various states of civil and common law. "I always have a beautiful woman in my life," he says, "because when all's said and done, one woman is good, but a bird never fly on one wing. So that is why I have two wife. If you can have three wives, it's good."

Though Croatia are too good for the Boyz, there's some good news: John- Paul and Taddo have turned up.

"We got the Sea Cat to Ostend in Belgium," one of them says, "then a train to Lilly Flanders [sic], then we took a train to Lens. No one ever asked us for a passport or ticket. We just walked into the World Cup." Father, though, is not so happy - he's lost money on the outing. By the second match, though, he's back in France, selling Jamaica shirts on the street to make up his losses, standing out from the other hawkers with his graceful little dance. The Boyz, though, fall again, this time 5-0 to Argentina. Still, the party goes on.

In Lyons the team is playing for pride alone, and Father is back, this time a lone figure padding the rainy streets - no entourage, not much gear to sell, no ticket even. But he is confident one will turn up - and at a good price. And incredibly, he gets one - in exchange for a replica shirt. And the Boyz turn up trumps, too. Father is an engaging character, but that's enough flies on the World Cup wall, thank you.

The investigative programme Here And Now (BBC1, Monday) took on the racing industry's shadowy premium-line tipsters, who achieve the numbers of winners they do by the simple expedient of tipping every horse in every race. So somewhere, on one of their lines, you'll find the winner.

Here And Now put a couple of them to the test, up against the kids of Bollings Primary School in Altrincham - to embarrassing effect. Anna Openshaw made her entry into the Racing Post tipsters' table, backing a winner "because I liked it." They gave her another go, but her nap for last Tuesday at Huntingdon was sadly a non-runner. Still, Channel 4's The Morning Line should give her a go.

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