Sport on TV: Lady sang the Blues when Barry met Karren

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The Independent Online
LAST year, Birmingham City FC was bought up by David Sullivan, the soft porn baron and owner of Sunday Sport, whose famous 'Insight' team regularly pips the opposition to the major exclusives. Sullivan and Birmingham were clearly made for each other: given the hapless plight of the side, the headline 'Man Invests Millions in Birmingham City FC' is not actually that far removed from 'Hitler's Brain Found On Mars'.

No stranger to women in unorthodox positions, Sullivan promptly appointed his marketing woman, Karren Brady, as the club's managing director. Cue gasps of amazement (a woman in a man's world]) and sundry impolite tabloid headlines ('Up Yer Brum]'). Cue also this week's Inside Story (BBC 1), which went to see how Brady was getting on.

Brady, it seems, is doing fine, even if the team is not. In some respects the most remarkable thing about her is not that she's a woman, but that she's merely 23 years old. Watching how unhesitant she was everywhere (directors' meetings, press conferences, a beery supporters' club Q&A session), it was easy to forget this - which may be why the programme made nothing of it. But football clubs are hierarchies of age: the duffers in the boardroom patronise the manager, who in turn patronises the players. Brady is a revolutionary figure to the extent that she disrupts this - running the club while the age of a player.

Indeed, if she had played, maybe Birmingham wouldn't have been relegated. Instead, she had to settle for getting the squad measured for a team suit and instituting a pounds 5 fine system for anyone who turned up for away games not wearing it. (One doesn't lightly take issue with Brady on a business matter, but looking at those wide- lapelled navy blazers with the yellow buttons, I'd have gone for the fine every time.)

I'd have paid still more not to wear David Sullivan's electric blue match day number. He said he always wanted to play for a football club when he was little, but lacked skills of a sufficient silkiness. Still, no matter: 'The next best thing is to own one.' You hear this argument frequently when a well-

upholstered businessman walks into a football ground carrying a cheque book. But is there necessarily any connection between youthful dreams and the desire to own? As a child, I quite wanted to be an astronaut, but it has never occurred to me to save up and buy Mission Control, Houston. Maybe this little bit of sentimentality is just the way in which businessmen make their motives look more cuddly than they probably are.

When Brady recommended the unashamedly cockney Barry Fry as club manager, she unwittingly pushed herself to the touchline of her own documentary. We watched him pitch up in the carpark, singing a Tina Turner song ('Better'an awl the rest') and basically, from this point on, the cameras forgot what they'd come for and followed him everywhere.

The last time television tucked a microphone inside a manager's Umbro coat during a game, it was to hear Graham Taylor's England career end in a cloud of expletives. In fact, the person who operates the Channel 4 bleeping machine is said to be still off work with repetitive stress injuries. But that must have been nothing compared with the effort involved in expurgating Fry. Every time the man appeared, we heard the Greenwich time signal, speeded up.

This is the second time television has brought us in close on a football manager and we're still no clearer about what they actually do. But if you went into Inside Story looking for tactical tips, statements of policy or direction, what you emerged with amounted roughly to this: if you don't bleeping well go out there and bleep the opposition, then you're a complete bleep and your career is bleeped. Cutting Edge gave us Taylor's baffling 'Can we not knock it?' Now we can add Fry's no more specific: 'At 'em, at 'em, at 'em.' To which one can only reply: 'oi, oi, oi.'

Fry, wildly mixing fairy tales, said he was convinced the club was 'a sleeping giant. And I want to be a part of when it's woken and grows and grows and grows.' If he'd only paused to check the charts at the bottom of the bed, he would have discovered that the giant was, in fact, in a coma. And - to mix a few fairy tales of our own - it was going to take more than a kiss from Barry Fry to rout the big bad wolf of depression and send this team up the league beanstalk. Birmingham went out of the Cup to Kidderminster Harriers and then fell out of Division One.

Oddly, the camera crew packed its bags long before the relegation struggle. This was rather like making a film about the Second World War and deciding to call it a wrap just before Dunkirk. More recently, Brady has revealed that she is involved, in a more than strictly directorial role, with the Birmingham player Paul Peschisolido (Pesch to you and me). And Pesch is now on the transfer list. Unfair to blame programmes when events overtake them; but here was a programme which had, in any case, already pulled over to allow events to pass.

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