Sport on TV: Shindler's hiss and the debasement of Des

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YOU might have supposed that if there was one thing that football did not need, it was any new arrivals in the obsessional confessional school of misty-eyed reminiscence. It seems only fair, though, to make room for one final desk, and add to the register the name of Colin Shindler, the latest fan who never quite managed to grow up, because for once here is someone who can truly reach the majority, not the minority.

Shindler's autobiographical drama-doc, Manchester United Ruined My Life (BBC2), was cunningly named, for while it was ostensibly the standard, self- indulgent whining about a wasted life spent supporting a largely unsuccessful team, the fact that the side in question was Manchester City seemed almost incidental. Instead, there was enough visceral anti-Red sentiment to engage the 95 per cent of the footballing population who not only do not support Manchester United, but agree with Shindler that they "get more pleasure nowadays out of watching Manchester United lose than almost anything on earth".

And if 95 per cent seems like an overestimate, simply consider the fact that it is just a week since almost everyone in Britain was willing Arsenal to win the Premiership. Even some Tottenham fans probably decided that, on reflection, this was the lesser of two evils. Such is the loathing which the mere mention of Old Trafford can now generate.

It was not always this way, of course. The Munich air crash made United everybody's team, as several of the older interviewees - the ones filmed against red backdrops - recalled. Again, Shindler had chosen his guests with care, since Eamonn Holmes, Angus "Home Counties" Deayton and Zoe Ball ("I never really bothered with results or tables") seemed a fair reflection of the typical, non-Mancunian, sing-when-you're-winning United fan everyone loves to hate.

In the Blue corner, meanwhile, were some very sad - and in one case, tragic - figures. Shindler himself opted for City at the impressionable age of seven, when United were champions and thus a fair alternative, but City had reached the Cup final. Red and blue lines on a graph traced the teams' progress over the next four decades, although a 50-inch screen would have been required to appreciate the depths to which the blue line occasionally sank (and this, of course, was before last Sunday).

Shindler, clearly, knew that he had made one of those awful childhood mistakes which could never be either rectified or forgotten. The truth, though, seemed to be that it was not Manchester United who had ruined his life, but Malcolm Allison. The destruction wrought on a promising side during Big Mal's second spell at Maine Road was chronicled with pictures of good players you can remember, who were sold, and some bad ones you can't, who arrived to take their place.

Allison's subsequent attempt to defend himself was almost as embarrassing as his concept of style. Dubious too, though, was the sight of City fans casting aspersions at others. One recalled trying to leave early when the Blues were 4-0 down to "those great giants of football, Brighton and Hove Albion".

While this did, admittedly, tweak a particularly personal nerve, it seems only fair to enquire whether this was the occasion in 1983 when the Seagulls beat City 4-0 in the Cup on the way to Wembley, or one of the two earlier games (in 1981 and 1979) when the final score was 4-1.

Still, it soon seemed irrelevant as another fan told of the death of his son - the only one of three who followed him in supporting City - from a brain tumour, just hours before his team were promoted back to the old First Division. "I shouldn't have cared about promotion," he said, "but I did."

Shindler's comment was that "if you want a definition of what it means to support a football team, that's it". Perhaps it is. But while most of us can only hope and pray that our allegiance will never be put to such a grievous test, it was difficult not to wish also for a sense of proportion in life if those prayers are unanswered.

On the subject (vaguely) of Brighton, meanwhile, the most unexpected appearance of the week was surely made by Des Lynam, the only celeb who has had the courage to come out as an Albion fan. Des was fronting a new advertisement for Miracle-Gro, which is apparently a bit like an amphetamine for your herbaceous border. You may not have seen it, because it was one of those excruciating, low- budget efforts which air during Jerry Springer and, for some reason, Channel 4 Racing. But while your brain insisted that it must be an impostor, closer inspection proved that it was definitely Des.

Now this, remember, is a man who must be able to pick and choose his endorsements. Designer labels, Rolex watches, sports cars with supermodels thrown in - all are presumably his for the asking. And yet here he is, advertising fertiliser for people who can't even spell.

What, you wonder, do they have on him? A secret even darker than support for the Seagulls? I think we should be told.