Sport on TV: Spinning out breakfast with a monster on the sofa

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The Independent Online
IN THESE media-driven times, when spin is sadly much more than the minor miracle which David Beckham is in the habit of producing at crucial moments (although on Wednesday it had the unfortunate effect of inducing Barcelona to get up and walk), it was instructive to see Eric Hall in action this week, albeit at 6.15 in the morning.

His ostensible function on GMTV was to review the sports pages, but from the off he followed his own agenda, using his Monday slot to stoke the fires of the transfer saga involving his client, Tim Sherwood, provoking a furious reaction from the player's manager at Blackburn, Roy Hodgson, in the next day's papers.

Unrepentant, Hall turned the heat up a little more, saying that he'd "seriously-ish" been told, "exclusively-ish", that two other clubs were now in the chase as well. He topped off his five minutes by throwing in a few gratuitous insults on the subject of Glenn Hoddle's future, saying: "If he had half a brain - allegedly - or a whole brain, he'd go." And when the presenter said he'd like to have Hoddle in to respond, Hall spat: "I'd kick him." Nice man.

In The Alex Ferguson Story (ITV, Tuesday), the great man said he follows Sir Matt Busby's advice and never reads the papers (although he's twice shown in the programme doing just that). There was a feeling that the PR people had been all over it, although the likelihood is that Ferguson himself made sure he was not going to be stitched up. A programme like this about such a man is never going to reveal his essence.

Unlike, say, the former editor of this newspaper, Rosie Boycott, who spawned a minor Frankenstein when she allowed cameras into our offices (the grim evidence was on Channel 4 last Sunday), Ferguson is far too canny to co-operate with anything other than a hagiography. And why shouldn't he? These days, when Hollywood has journalists by the proverbials, and PR oils every public wheel, why should Ferguson allow a warts-and-all job when he can have a love-in? It takes a huge ego to run the risk of an unflattering portrait, and Ferguson is, after all, an ordinary bloke blessed with a certain talent.

So there are no Reputations-style disclosures here. The worst we discover is that he used to cheat at cards: "He once had five pontoons in a row and told me he wasn't cheating," his boyhood friend from Govan said. OK, so he is a bit of a control freak, but that comes with the job.

He actually spends most of the film singing rather badly, even though he is in the middle of a Champions' League quarter-final tie. There is an impressive Caledonian seriousness about him, though. He refuses to socialise with the players, for example, while at one point, before the second leg against Monaco, he breaks off an interview to take a call from an old acquaintance who is bugging him for tickets. "Nah, they've all sold out 'til the end of the season, Hoppy. Call me at the start of next season." He puts the phone down, saying, "I haven't seen him for 20 years."

The film is cut by graphical passages, from Govan to Ibrox in this first part with behind-the-scenes footage of the Monaco tie. There is a nice touch with the captain of the plane to Monaco announcing their flight path: "We'll be passing over Stoke City on our way past Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion and then passing between Oxford United and Reading." Though the makers would probably have wished it otherwise, it somehow makes for a better film that United lose the tie on away goals: it at least gives Fergie the luxury of displaying dignity in defeat.

It is clear he has extraordinary strength of character - when their teacher was getting married, Ferguson's class trekked to the church and, confronted by ushers reluctant to admit them, wee Fergie hissed: "It's our teacher" - and got them in (and he is there in the photograph, all cheeky-chappie). You would not want to cross him now, and you did not want to cross him then.

I was intending to spend lots of time watching the Commonwealth Games this week, and even stayed up all night on Tuesday hoping to catch the men's ten-pin bowling final. I did drop off a couple of times for 39 winks, I admit, but I saw not a trace of it, submerged as it was under a wave of swimming and athletics heats. The beauty of events like the Commonwealth Games are their ability to offer something a bit different (the last Winter Olympics was great for that). Instead, the BBC played safe, even at an hour when surely only the competitors' families were watching. And me. To keep awake I rather shamefacedly amused myself with some of the splendid names appearing on the list. There was I U Manik, the Maldivian 100m record holder, Silas Helo of the Solomon Islands and Sanusi Turay, the Sierra Leonian prison officer at Wormwood Scrubs. But best of all was the Anguillan sprinter with the Name of the Week. Step forward, Desiree Cocks.

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