Sport on TV: So that's what Ruud meant by sexy football

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The Independent Online
Now let's all be honest about this. When our eager little fingers pressed "1" at 7.30 on Tuesday evening, Blackburn Rovers' chances of making the second round of the Uefa Cup were not uppermost in our minds. The front page of last Sunday's News of the World, on the other hand, was. Not to mention pages 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Sticky autocues, tongue-tied guests, Jimmy Hill - Des had coped with them all during 20 unruffled years in the anchorman's chair, but surely even the old charmer himself wouldn't be able to sashay his way out of this one.

But if there is one lesson which everyone should have learned by now it is that you should never, ever underestimate Des. It looked as if the tabloids had done him up like a kipper, but with one bound - or rather, two jokey asides - he was free. "We always like to give everyone something to talk about," John Motson said as he handed back at half-time, in what may or may not have been a deliberate prompt. "I thought that's what I'd been doing," came the instant response. It might have been set-up, but it worked.

By the time he mentioned to Martin O'Neill that he had been to watch Leicester play Wimbledon last weekend "because I wanted to spice up my Sunday", it was as if he had done nothing more newsworthy than drive through a traffic light on amber. If Bill Clinton could have carried off his television appearances with equal aplomb, Ken Starr would probably have had a little chortle and said, "Hey, fella, why don't we just forget about all this Lewinsky business?"

Of course, in one sense at least, Des's reputation was hardly diminished by his outing in the Screws. For those who missed it, its basic theme was most definitely not "Des reached for my remote but he only put me on standby". Quite the opposite. The man's a machine, by all accounts, the Cal Ripken of bedroom baseball. No wonder he always looks so smug. Who knows what his sign-off might have been on Tuesday night if one of the teams had scored six?

And all this in the same week that Julian Wilson, the BBC's former racing correspondent, published an autobiography which includes extensive recollections of sexual derring-do. Yes, that Julian Wilson, with the Ray Reardon hairdo and an accent so plummy you could make it into jam. Whatever it is they put in the coffee down at Shepherd's Bush, it obviously isn't bromide.

Wilson's book, incidentally, secretes a fair amount of bile too, not least in the direction of his replacement in front of the cameras, Clare Balding, and what he saw as the dumbing-down of the BBC's racing coverage. Some might say that a better word - if it exists - would be de-snobbifying, since there are only so many times that you can listen to Wilson telling you that they're "orff". Still, the former frontman's resentment was apparently so deep that he event sent in a cod fax, signed R Soles, in the hope that Balding would read it out on air. Which only goes to show that even a posh school can't do anything for your sense of humour.

Alongside all this exuberant activity, even Prince Naseem Hamed seemed a little subdued when he appeared on All Talk (BBC1) to indulge in some verbal sparring with the BBC's other resident smoothie, Clive Anderson. It was unfortunate that his host did not appear to have the first clue about boxing, even referring to Hamed's trainer as Bernard Ingle, but the fighter himself might just have been recalling that last time out a relative journeyman walloped him very hard and rather too frequently for comfort. The words "if someone ever beats me" even passed his lips at one point, which by his standards is nothing less than a desperate confidence crisis. It should boost the pay-per-view figures for his next fight no end.

The most instructive commentary on the state of sport, though, came during the closing credits, when a voice-over informed us that the topics for discussion in the Late Review (BBC2) on the other side in half an hour's time included the film which marks Eric Cantona's screen debut. Which was true enough, but Eric actually popped up for all of half a second in a clip from Elizabeth, and rated a single mention in the course of a 10-minute discussion.

This was almost certainly as much as he deserved, but it does make you wonder why the plug bothered to mention Cantona at all. Is the only way to sell arts output to the public via a tenuous reference to football? Perhaps this whole footie thing is finally getting just a little out of hand.