Sport on TV: Passionate moment becomes trying experience

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The Independent Online
I'VE BEEN hoping for some time now to get my girlfriend interested in football, and Poland v England seemed, on the face of it, ideally suited to arousing her passions. All the ingredients were there: crunch match, a nation expects and all that, plus that nice Jonathan Pearce to give her a sane and cultured introduction to the pleasures of the people's game...

Fat chance. As the nation now knows, it was not so much Our Brave Boys as Our Craven Boys (though as a spectacle it wasn't as bad as the Estonia v Scotland game earlier in the day, which had all the skill of a Highland League game and none of the passion).

Still, somehow she got into it, delivering one or two instinctive judgements that made me think she could have run rings round the C5 pundits, Joe Royle, Harry Redknapp and Mark Wright. "It's like they're all trying to throw the game," she said as another bit of possession dribbled away down the grid of dismal mediocrity. They certainly threw the game away, and it was certainly a trying experience. It just about sums up proceedings that the piece of action that most excited Pearce all night was a substitution: "THERE HE IS!!! MICHAEL OWEN!!!"

By Thursday morning, Kevin Keegan was so traumatised by his experiences that he had lost his capacity for rational thought and was talking up the nation's favourite Fat Boy, whose last act of any note was the goal he scored against Scotland in the European Championships three and a bit years ago.

Earlier in the week, David Ginola, an old Newcastle player Keegan probably wishes he had available - even if he supplies footballing magic as fitfully as Paul Gascoigne, flattering to deceive the rest of the time - enjoyed the dubious accolade of a C5 documentary.

You wonder how much better a player he might be if he laid off the ciggies. David Ginola: Up Close and Personal (Sunday) might well have been called David Ginola: Up Close and Smelling Like An Old Ashtray.

Footballers and fags have an equivocal history. Cruyff, Platini and Vialli are all legendary smokers, while everyone knows the tale of Bobby Charlton puffing away at half-time in the World Cup final. Matt Busby used to hand cigarettes out after Manchester United games, the withholding of such a treat often the only sign that he was dissatisfied with a player's performance.

On the day of this year's FA Cup final, Ginola is in Cannes doing a photoshoot (he earns vast lava-flows of cash for being the Face of Some Brand Of Obscenely Overpriced Cosmetics Or Other). There he is being made up, the smoke wreathing and curling round his face in the mirror like, well, a French arthouse flick (or, indeed, any French movie come to that). You don't see the offending item, but there's no smoke without fags.

And later, on the beach, there he is pontificating sensuously about the travails of fame, gasper in hand. Except that the post-production people have overlaid one of those fuzzy bits usually used to hide the identity of drunk drivers on Police Camera False Arrest or some such poxy old pile of rubbish.

There's some interesting psychology going on here. Do the programme makers believe we - dumb, witless, purblind viewers - are not going to notice the manifestations of Ginola's inconvenient chemical dependency? Surely not. So they must have weighed it up and come to the conclusion that we will be able to see the fuzzy halo between Ginola's first and second fingers, make the logical leap to the fact that he is smoking a cigarette, but on another level forget it entirely.

Ginola is obviously sensitive about it (or his sponsors are) - after he was interviewed for this paper, his agent rang up anxious that all references to his smoking be taken out. If he's that touchy, though, you'd think he would have abstained for the duration of filming. Alternatively, he could go the whole way and become the Face of Gauloise, or Goaloise, as they could call themselves, with all manner of butts/buts puns to play with. Then again, maybe not.

There are one or two priceless moments. At one point, he says, looking through a portfolio, he prefers black-and-white photos.

"It's more..." he ventures.

"It's stronger," says Layla Haddon, another Face of That Particular Brand.

"Yeah, it's more..."

"- less deluded - because sometimes you're overwhelmed by colour without picking up the essence. That's probably what you're picking up - you are a very sensitive person, right?"

Yeah, right.

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