Sport on TV: Having a bawl, wish you weren't here

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The Independent Online
I THINK I may have stumbled upon a new game show idea for ITV last week - it is a celebrity interview, which is prefaced by showing the audience all the adverts which have been booked around the celebrity to reflect his or her personality. Then, before the subject is brought on, they have to guess who it might be?

So if, for example, you were shown adverts for two types of beer, an accident insurance plan, football boots, a chocolate bar, a beef spread, Italian holidays, a sports deodorant, mad kids enjoying a dizzy drink, and last but not least, a DIY roof sealant, you would have a pretty good idea of who the interviewee might be, wouldn't you? Judith Chalmers? Lord St John of Fawsley, perhaps?

It was, of course, Gazza's Italian Diaries (Chrysalis Television, for Channel 4, Monday) which prompted these thoughts, as the still-wounded Geordie - flanked by the above-named products - offered the latest bulletin on the state of his body and, perhaps more importantly, the state of his mind. Screened two hours before the 9pm watershed, the potential for controversy was clearly diminished right from the start, despite some strategic feeding of headlines to the Sunday tabloids (' 'I'm worse off than Princess Di]' says Gazza').

Indeed, the overall feel of the programme seemed to have much more in common with Michael Jackson's eerie declaration of his own integrity, broadcast live from his ranch, called Neverland, last year, with Gascoigne clinging to two themes: his apparently eternal youth - 'I'm only a young lad'; and the machinations of the evil, outside world - 'I shouldn't have to take all this'.

The opening sequence, in which Gascoigne explained a bizarre superstition about leaving a bath-towel in the correct formation, could have come from the mouth of an eight-year-old going about his bed-time ritual. And you didn't have to be Nostradamus to see that the crumpled towel, which wouldn't lie straight, offered the perfect symbol of Gazza's view of his own life.

The programme spanned the two seasons Gazza has now spent with Lazio in the Italian Serie A, which resumes today, via Chrysalis, on Channel 4. Most of it was old footage, covering such well- worn incidents as the belch into the reporter's microphone, the cheekbone injury which led to the grotesque plastic mask, Lazio's worries about his weight, a

sending-off, the brawl with an Italian photographer, the break-up with his girlfriend and, most recently, the broken leg in training. This is a Bayeux Tapestry among bath-towels.

James Richardson's linking interview, however, offered Gascoigne the opportunity to make some sense of the turbulence, and although there were a few moments of quiet reflection - 'football's all I know' - the discourse consisted largely of accusations against all those who had been imagined to conspire against him. 'When you're on your own, nobody gives a shit about you until you're playing.'

The technical term is, I believe, 'persecution complex', which roughly translates into Geordie as 'you bastards'. Among those listed were the referee who didn't spot Wouters's elbow which caused the cheekbone injury, the English press, his one-time assistant, Jane Nottage, who wrote a book about working for him, the Italian press, the Lazio club and its doctor, and even poor Richardson himself for once criticising Gazza's England performances. Everyone was in the wrong.

Only once, when the delicate subject of beating his girlfriend Sheryl came up, did the mask of self-righteousness lift. 'I was taking it out on her, I suppose, so I had to ask, 'Why am I like this?' ' Even then, we were reminded that Gascoigne - in what was plainly an agent-organised, pre-emptive strike - had gone to the News of the World to confess his domestic violence.

His vainglorious comparison to the life of Di, at least highlighted the paradox which these two Nineties icons share, in that they cannot find the strength to walk away from the media beast which they accuse of consuming them limb by limb. 'I find it very hard to trust people now,' Gazza said, 'you say something, and next thing it's in the papers,' but the line could easily have come from that car-seat interview Di did with the Daily Mail's royal reporter.

Given the fact that Gazza is Chrysalis's main focus for their coverage of the Italian League, we were never going to get a truly challenging attempt on his psyche, but there was the hope that Richardson might suddenly lose his grip and say something like: 'Listen, you whingeing git. Half the unemployed kids in Britain would give their right knee to do what you're doing, why don't you grow up and make the most of it, you infantile prat?'

But he didn't. And nor, in the end, did Channel 4's ad-sales team get it right - there was no Optrex, no bile-beans, no vinegar, no nappies and no Comfort for that sad, crumpled towel.