SPORT ON TV: The night when the BBC played ITV off the park

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The Independent Online
EDWARD WOODWARD must have been a bit miffed. There he was, sitting pretty in Tuesday's post-News At Ten slot, investigating old crimes on In Suspicious Circumstances. In the event, the only suspicious circumstance was his last-minute extraction from the schedules in favour of the old crime of getting one up on the opposition. The BBC's Argentina v England film was on the Wednesday, you see, so ITV's version was hurriedly brought forward as a spoiler. When England Played Argentina might have had the desired effect, a) if anyone had known about it (I happened on it entirely by chance) and b) if it was any good.

To be fair it wasn't all bad, and it certainly didn't have the feel of something thrown together in spiteful haste. There were even a few nice edits, like the one immediately before the first commercial break: talking about Paul Scholes' miss late in the first half, a fan says, "he can't be blamed for the whole World Cup. Not like Beckham." Cut to ads.

The whole thing was bright and breezy, and whereas the BBC concentrated on the match - their fan interviews were with people in St Etienne - ITV gave an account of what it was like watching it on telly in the living room (which, after all, is how most people these days experience most of their football, not just World Cups).

So, for example, there was Theresa Brushette, whose waters broke as Michael Owen scored his wonder goal and who pushed out baby Kane as the baby-faced Owen's shoot-out penalty went in ("my husband kept telling me the score. I couldn't concentrate, but the midwife kept asking"). There was the Alwooley Bridge Circle, Alan Bennett-types who had the TV on with the sound down, whose rubber fell by the wayside as tension mounted in St Etienne. There was the shed that burned down in Falkland Road during the second half ("we thought it was a wind-up," said the fireman, while the owner "didn't know what to watch - the telly or the fire"). There was Trevor MacDonald shaking uncontrollably seconds before he was on air straight after the game. But amusing though some of these tales were, they conveyed little of the excruciating build-up of anxiety and exhilaration.

The BBC's awkwardly named effort, Where Were You? Pride, Passion and Penalties (BBC1, Wednesday) was, as you'd expect and demand, an altogether classier affair, despite having had its thunder nicked by the other side - though the heart sank when it became evident that the narration would be yet another exercise in grim pomposity by Sean Bean, who should be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission for his unwarranted stranglehold on football-doc voice-overs.

The Beeb left all the back-home human interest to the lowbrows and concentrated on the match itself, its stomach-churning twists and turns. There was the obligatory couple of celebs - most notably that England sports groupie, Mick Jagger, who cheerfully admitted to knowing nothing of football, plus broadsheet journalist Patrick Barclay to add a few bon mots (football is art at its best, he said, and this was the Citizen Kane of football matches). For the sake of balance, there was also Brian Woolnough to represent the tabloid tendency - "I can't believe that at some stage we didn't practise penalties", he castigated.

Where Were You? told the story stylishly, with, as usual on the BBC, brilliant music (lots of Verve, Prodigy, Mahler and Elgar) and clever editing - so, for example, as Barclay talked about Glenn Hoddle's expert tactical readjustments following David Beckham's dismissal, telling Shearer and Owen to alternate as lone strikers, you could see and hear the England coach doing just that.

The programme's finest moment was a single camera movement, a giddy zoom in on David Batty's face as he took his fateful penalty and leapt in the air in anticipation then seemed to float slowly to the ground like a deflating balloon. The camera rushed in till his face filled the screen with its remarkable stoic nobility (or is that noble stoicism?).

Belying his Rottweiler image, Batty came over in both programmes as a man of dignity and composure. "I said yes straight away," he said, over film of him and Hoddle deep in discussion before the shoot-out. "I only had positive thoughts." OK, he'd never scored a competitive penalty before, but he'd put away loads in training - "I can even score them with my left foot."

My Left Foot proved to be entirely appropriate, given the way his kick turned out. "My heart was going bum-bum-bum," said young fan Richard Clements (this observer's heart-rate was 160bpm). "You send positive thoughts to your player," said Hoddle (poor Batty - no wonder he missed). Then the save and the ruthless zoom, the BBC camera staying remorselessly on Batty as he rejoined the players. "I phoned my dad two minutes after," he said (on ITV), "and he really gave me a boost by saying, `I knew you'd miss.' " Deep down, I think we all did.

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