Sport on TV: Surreal Sue, the fall of Ball and figures of fun

Today's sporting great was born on VE Day," Eamonn Holmes said at the start of his interview with Alan Ball (Sporting Greats, BBC2) on Monday afternoon. "For the last 18 years," he added, "he has been heavily involved in the roller-coaster ride that is football management."

This was hardly a promising opening, for at least two reasons. First, as Ball soon admitted, he was actually born on 12 May 1945, and if that was VE Day, you have to wonder what all those happy people were doing outside Buckingham Palace four days earlier. And second, the managerial analogy was hopelessly awry, for the simple reason that a roller-coaster has ups. A better one might have been that 18 years ago, Ball stepped into the elevator of football management at the 32nd floor. And then the cable snapped.

As a study in denial, this interview should be required viewing for trainee psychoanalysts. There is no doubt that Ball the player was both hard and skilful, a real team man. Ball the manager is another matter. Into every life, so they say, a little rain must fall - unless Alan manages your football team, in which case it is time to start building an ark.

Deep down, you think, he must know. For one thing, his life insurance policy probably includes a clause which forbids him from going within 50 miles of Stoke. But if the merest hint of self-knowledge really has penetrated that bullish exterior, he hides it very well.

Holmes is not an interrogator from the bright-light-in-the-eyes school, but after a nervous nibble on a thumbnail, he did manage to ask the big question. "Are you," he wondered, "a good manager?" There was not the slightest pause for thought. "I would like to think so, yes," Ball said. Holmes, who is one of those Manchester United fans who wouldn't recognise the Arndale Centre if it poked him in the eye, somehow managed to stifle his giggles.

To give Ball his due, he is a straight-talker and a trier, who seems to feel the hurt when his teams fail almost as painfully as the fans. But there is an important point here, which British football continues to ignore. It is not simply that good players do not necessarily make good managers. Rather, they often make very bad ones, because they cannot make the most of average players with limited abilities. In the United States, NFL coaches may or may not have played the game at a high level, but they all have to study and qualify in man-management before they are let loose on a team. Here, when a vacancy for manager arises, the chairman - often with the whole-hearted backing of the fans - tends to appoint the last half- decent player they had on the books. It is a strange way for a serious business to carry on.

Not nearly so strange, though, as the shenanigans which Sue Barker was forced to endure last week. Every other BBC anchorperson apparently having decided to take January off, Barker was under orders for both the Australian Open Tennis and the European Figure Skating Championships, and even Superwoman Sue cannot be in Melbourne and Prague at the same time.

Instead, Barker stayed put while the background and pundits changed. One moment, there she was in front of the soaring Melbourne skyline with Jeremy Bates for company. The next, it was the Charles bridge, Vltava river and Haig Oundjian, whose name seems so improbable that he might well be Jeremy after a heavy session in make-up.

They ran an episode of The Outer Limits between the two, and nothing in it was nearly as odd as the sight of Barker, in a fresh shirt but otherwise unchanged, trying to pick up where she had left off on the other side of the world. And while you were trying to digest that, the skaters appeared, locked as normal into a world where Jean Michel Jarre and gold lame will be forever fashionable.

The burning topic on Tuesday was a change to the scoring system. "There is a lot of discontent around the rink about this," Oundjian said. Which may well be true, but you would never have known, because skaters always smile as if the corners of their mouth have been surgically attached to their scalps, even when they have just received a rogue 4.9 from the Hungarian judge.

Nothing bothers them, including the mixture of bad hairdressing and worse costume design which left one man looking like a cross between Michael Bolton and Lord Nelson. They can fall smack on their well-upholstered backsides and still the grin doesn't budge.

This last manoeuvre seems to be the only one in the skating canon which does not have a name of its own. There are the Salchows, Lutzs and triple toe-loops, but nothing for the embarrassing slip-ups which are, let's face it, the main reason that most people are watching. One Russian managed to topple over twice in the course of a three-minute free programme. Perhaps they could call it a double Yeltsin.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee