Sport on TV: The long journey from Scunthorpe to Sofia

  • @cmaume
IF CHANNEL 5 aren't careful, they are going to make a name for themselves as producers of high-quality sports documentaries.

On Tuesday, the eve of their first England game, they put out Kevin Keegan - Football Messiah? As it turned out, the question mark was highly appropriate given that the film was sandwiched by two England performances about as exciting as a dead dog.

It was far better than anything ITV would have come up with, and wouldn't even have looked out of place on BBC2. Though it had a bold style, it was not art-directed by a colour-blind acid-head and not edited by a veteran of late-60s pop promos. There was no irritating early-70s porn-film music playing under the interviews, the titles were not ripped off from a bar- b-q restaurant menu and, best of all, the script was not written by someone sacked from Sunday Sport for being too downmarket.

As a bonus, the voice-over by Craig Brown (the Scouse actor, that is, rather than the Scotland football coach or the dotty-looking columnist) was delivered in a manner that was dramatic without being melodramatic. The interviews were all letter-boxed, with nicely stylised backdrops. The quality of what was said was faultless, and the makers showed a bit of imagination in getting hold of people.

So, for example, there was Tom Taylor, local journalist and Graham's dad, commenting on Keegan's time at Scunthorpe, salad days when fans turned up just to watch him train.

My favourite sequence was from those humble beginnings - a beautiful piece of film in crisp monochrome, presumably from a regional magazine programme, of Keegan on the training ground. It looked like a kitchen- sink drama, and when they interviewed the young lad, he was the role model for young Billy Casper in Kes.

There were also contributions from his Hamburg team-mates, most of whom were sufficiently jealous of him at first to keep him starved of the ball. In a presumably related development, they also advised him to put out his magnificently bad pop single in Germany (the programme's credits were over footage of him performing his magnum opus over Tales of the Unexpected visuals).

Another smart move was enlisting the journalist Patrick Barclay, who is always good to have on programmes like these. He was certainly value for money this time round, doing an Alf Ramsay for Keegan. He declared boldly at the beginning: "If Keegan stays with England three years, then England will win the World Cup under him." Quite remarkable.

The last word was left to Barclay, too, by way of explaining his opening salvo: "It's acknowledged by experts all over the world - " i.e. Barclay and one or two of his foreign journo chums - "that between the ages of 18 and 25, England have the best players in the world. So the man who reaps that at full national level is going to be a very lucky boy - a knight, probably a peer, maybe even the first president of the republic. It's going to be a very exciting phase, and... I have reason to believe that Kevin Keegan wants to be around to be that man."

I wonder if Barclay felt quite as confident after the Bulgaria game. The honeymoon was only going to last as long as England kept on winning, of course, and journalist Steve Curry, who's clearly not a Keegan fan and is well versed in the ancient art of handing out serious stick to England managers, did a bit of anticipatory sticking the boot in.

"Just as he walked away from football and went to Spain for seven years to play golf" - as if that somehow disqualifies him to coach England - "so he can walk out again."

Of a similar viewpoint was Mark Hardy of the Newcastle Sunday Sun, who drew on past experience. "Somewhere along the way there'll be bad results," Hardy said. "The grief will come his way and he'll revert to type, as he did at Newcastle." Ouch.

There's not a lot of bad stuff to rake up, but the programme was no hagiography. There was evidence of his willfulness, for example, Ray Clemence revealing that at Anfield, if Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan wanted Keegan to play, say, slightly deeper than usual, they would simply tell him to play as far forward as possible.

His lack of regard for tactics carried over into management, and it was interesting to be given a few insights into how he operates. He's not a great tactician, it seems, appearing to follow the Matt Busby Coaching Manual.

"He puts no restrictions on the player," David Batty says. "He can go where he wants and everyone else has to fill in."

That last bit's slightly worrying, don't you think? But then, as Kevin Keegan discovered on Wednesday night, there is nothing to fear but Sofia itself.

Judging by the performance of his pygmies last Tuesday and Saturday, what Keegan needs is a giant of a man, a Colossus to bestride the Low Countries next year. What he needs is football's equivalent of Plugger Lockett.

Lockett - real name Tony - will be familiar to Aussie Rules fans as the baobab of a man who kicks goals like Rupert Murdoch buys up football rights. He just can't stop himself, and in the early hours of Thursday morning, Channel 5 showed the Sydney Swan's record-breaking achievement in scoring 1,300 of them in his career.

The delicacy with which this huge bloke plucks the ball out of the air is miraculous; his eye for goal seemingly infallible. He needed to score three against Collingwood to break the record; he scored nine. We need a bit of that spirit here, I reckon, before Keegan can start thinking about trips to Buck House.