Sport on TV: The boys are back in town: the effing and the blindingly obvious

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The Independent Online
Swearing on air used to be controversial. When Kenneth Tynan went on Late Night Line-Up in the 1960s and used the F-word in a studio discussion about sex ("Why don't we all say what we mean?" he asked, not unreasonably), it was a cause celebre. Much later, in the early Eighties, Jools Holland was famously suspended from The Tube for a couple of weeks for coming over all foul-mouthed in a trailer.

Nowadays, as the telly finally acknowledges the links between sport and laddishness, a programme like They Think It 's All Over (BBC1) can use expletives as the equivalent of the masons' handshake: if you don't like the language, then perhaps this programme isn't for you. Perhaps you should stick to A Question of F-ing Sport.

The lads were quick to get into their stride for the first of the new series, inserting a few "bollocks" into the opening round, manfully led by Gary Lineker, and scoring a few bonus points by managing to bring things round to the relative size of their penises. Lee Hirst persisted with the penile dimensions line, declaring "I have a huge penis", closely followed by a Rory McGrath buggery gag about Oscar Wilde and guest Steve Davis both bending over tables.

There followed in quick succession jokes about spanking (Frank Bough, as it happens) and premature ejaculation (Stan Collymore so desperate to score that he's started shooting before he enters the box), but it was left to the unlikely figure of David Gower to register the first bleep of the series. His team had to guess what other sports were included in last year's Redneck Games in Dublin, Georgia, apart from bobbing for pig's trotters, hubcap-throwing and the mudpit belly-flop.

"Pig-ing", said Gower, quick as a flash. I'm not saying it's not funny. It's just a bit easy, that's all.

Lee Hirst followed up rapidly with a joke about masturbation, while Lineker showed that his early promise in the programme wasn't a false dawn by squeezing in a "twat" in before the end. This shortly after McGrath had referred to a photo of Fabrizio Ravanelli in hunting gear as "rhyming slang - the Middlesbrough Hunt".

McGrath should have a (four-letter) word with Alex Ferguson, who would be They Think It's All Over's guest from heaven. ITV were probably questioning the wisdom of having dug-out microphones and cameras on Wednesday as the ever-affable, perennially laid-back Ferguson found time to have a bit of a chinwag with his Feyenoord oppo, Geert Meijer, who was busy reviving the ancient Dutch custom of spitting out chewing gum at one's guest.

After Paul Bosvelt had made his presence felt, putting Denis Irwin out of the game for the foreseeable future, Fergie took it as an opportunity to cement Anglo-Dutch relations. "That tackle was a f-ing disgrace," he remarked languidly, politely stifling a slight yawn and taking a sip of his Pimms.

The viewers were invited by Brian Moore to share his sentiments, and indeed, that tackle was a f-ing disgrace, though it was only after the third showing from a different angle that the full extent of Bosvelt's calumny became apparent, his foot slamming down from on high in a manner reminiscent of Graeme Souness's celebrated tackle for Rangers against Dynamo Kiev, when he performed the world's first on-field orchidectomy (that's removal of testicles to you and me). Irwin's leg bent in that horribly unnatural way that legs do when they're in the process of being turned into matchsticks.

On the final whistle, it was back to the United bench, where Fergie could be seen and heard screaming at his players, "Don't swap shirts with those -----" (it was something to do with Middlesbrough Hunts) - a sentiment Moore failed to exhort us to share, for some reason, as the camera cut quickly away.

Similar thoughts were probably going through Greg Rusedski's head at the end of the ITV Sports Awards last weekend. He had just fought off a short-list of Alan Shearer, David Coult-hard, Naseem Hamed and Ian Wright to be voted by viewers the Champion of British Sports, but the compere, Ulrika Jonsson, spoilt the moment for him somewhat.

"We're lucky to have Greg here, actually," she remarked. "It's only thanks to his lovely girlfriend. He was being quite stubborn about turning up." The camera stayed on her as she looked across to Rusedski for his reaction. Nothing. "Oh, he'll have a drink with us later on," she cajoled, trying to gloss over what was obviously an awkward moment. And when the camera finally cut to Rusedski, he was still seething, that smile as wide as Lake Ontario gone, his big, friendly, puppy-dog features frozen in a mask of reined-in animosity. It was clear what he was thinking. Rory McGrath's got a word for it.

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