Sport on TV: The pathetic parody of a professional football fan

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IF CHARLIE WHELAN is attempting to leave spin-doctoring behind and forge a new career as a media front man, his appearance on Leviathan (BBC2, Thursday) was the equivalent of phoning work from an Amsterdam brothel.

In his history of the two Uniteds, Manchester and Newcastle, in the FA Cup final, Whelan, a lifelong Spurs supporter (they're always "lifelong", these professional football fans), attempted to convey the atmosphere by having himself filmed at the recent League Cup final, chanting along so limply it seemed like a parody. He sleepwalked his way through like a man who's just smoked a stiff joint. He has surely already reached the end of his brief flirtation with the telly.

The programme was redeemed by a couple of nice interviews, such as the one with Vic Keeble, who played for the Toon in 1955 and spoke of Jackie Milburn nipping off to the toilets for a pre-match fag while the trainer went round administering nips of whisky.

Little has changed in half a century. Alfred Thornton was a Man Utd fan up in London for the first time in 1948. "It took us four hours to get to Notting Hill," he said. "We ended up in a pub in Chelsea, I think. I went home skint, I know that."

In the unreal world of satellite TV, Stretford's finest are not playing Newcastle United but Harchester United. On the morning of the final in the footy soap Dream Team (Sky One, Thursday), chairman Jerry Block (a comic-book villain who for all his wide boy demeanour should have a twirlable moustache) is up to something dodgy. His wife, who's what used to be known as a dolly bird, is planning to run away right after the game with sultry player-manager Luis Amor Rodriguez.

Then reality is booted firmly into touch. With a few minutes to kick- off, bad boy Alex is shopped by his mum for spiking team-mate Leon's drinks with speed, so Alex is sent packing and Leon summoned to Wembley because captain Steve, who's risking his career by playing though an injury, needs him beside him in the back four.

Half-time. All square. As Luis is about to give his team talk, his embittered predecessor, who's turned to the bottle and has somehow infiltrated the stadium despite being drunker than an Arsenal defender, comes into the dressing-room, smashes his bottle of vodka against the wall and holds it to Luis's throat. Someone has the gall to tell him: "Don't do it, Ian! It's not worth it!" In those actual words.

Second half. As Mrs Block is telling Jerry about having it away with Luis, the lubricious Latino scores twice to overturn Man Utd's lead. She goes back to the Royal Box while Jerry takes out his mobile and the dodgy business becomes apparent. "Do it," he says.

You don't imagine he means, "Open the shampoo, we've won the Cup." Oh no. Instead, a hit man slips on a steward's blouson in the lav, takes out his bits of rifle from an attache case then climbs to the top of the stadium. As Harchester do their lap of honour, he has Luis in his sights.

Suddenly Jerry wants to take the missus on the pitch (you know, that bit of the stadium that only he and the hit man know is about to become a killing field). Suddenly she's cuddling up to Luis, the hit man's finger twitches, Jerry looks a mite perturbed. Credits. "Harchester are FA Cup winners in improbable circumstances," the commentator observes. You can say that again.

If it goes to penalties today, those involved will do well to have watched On The Spot: The 12 Yard Club (BBC2, Wednesday). The secret to winning shoot-outs, as evinced by Jurgen Klinsmann, is obvious. "Maybe it's part of the mentality of my country," he said. "We had to rebuild ourselves twice after two world wars."

I was thinking of expatiating at length on the Reputations film about Matt Busby (BBC2, Monday). Suffice it to say that it highlighted the shortcomings of the "secret life of..." genre: once you've chosen your subjects, you've damn well got to make sure they fit the bill.

There was nothing the film could pin on Busby that wasn't standard practice. He operated in harsher times. One example: Bill Foulkes blamed Busby for the fact that he and other Munich survivors received no redress. But that didn't happen in those days - the compensation culture came later.

No, as far as I can see, the only thing Busby did wrong was selling Johnny Giles. Other than that, lay off.