Sport On TV: The unique sounds of Alliss in wonderland

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The Independent Online
Oo-ooo", said Peter Alliss, as Frank Lickliter's putt set off towards a not-very-distant hole during the first round of the US Masters (BBC2). And at that point you could look away, safe in the knowledge that Lickliter's putt was not going to drop, because Alliss, unlike any other commentator in history, can tell the whole story of a tournament using nothing but gasps, groans and chuckles.

"Oo-ooo", for instance, is bad, very bad. In fact, "oo-ooo" means that a disaster of apocalyptic proportions is about to befall the unfortunate golfer who has just let fly. A second or two later, as surely as thunder follows lightning, you will either see spectators diving for cover, or ripples lapping gently against the banks of Rae's Creek.

"Hoo-hoo-hooo", on the other hand, is invariably positive, a sign that the ball is about to vanish, or at the very least, roll to within a foot. Then there is "aaaaaah-ha-ha' (good), "hmmmmm" (fairly bad) and the sharp intake of breath, at the exact moment that club makes contact with ball. This is almost as bad as "oo-ooo", but not quite.

And as if this were not enough, you get the Alliss verbals too, which are not so much off-the-wall as at the bottom of the garden. If the BBC ever goes pay-per-view, they will be worth the fee on their own. "He looks a bit gaunt," he observed, out of the blue, of Greg Norman. "The fittest people always look poorly. Have you noticed that?"And this despite that the fact that Norman, who had apparently been suffering with a stomach bug, looked as Bondi-Beach beautiful as ever.

Weird. But not nearly so strange as the juxtaposition of Alliss's sublimely surreal commentary and the contributions of the BBC's new recruit, Howard Clark. These are early days for Clark, it is true, and the standard to which he must aspire could hardly be higher. To put it bluntly, though, he does not have much fizz.

Come to think of it, he does not even have any plink, plink, which is possibly why he talks as if he is suffering from the mother of all hangovers. Take, for instance, the moment in the first round when David Duval managed to land his ball on a tiny strip of green between the pin and a water hazard, and then stop it almost dead.

"That's amazing," Howard muttered, in the sort of listless way that the rest of us would ask someone to pass the butter at breakfast. As sportsmen- turned-pundits go, he is at present playing off 28. Alan Hansen, by contrast, is already down to scratch when it comes to football, and heading into the low teens at golf, judging by The Magic of the Masters (BBC2).

Hansen, it appears, took a long look in the mirror a few months ago, and asked himself why it was that one of the channel's most valuable assets spent all his time sitting in a hot studio. His bosses clearly agreed, and the results so far have been Football Millionaires (which was a bit of an "oo-ooo") and now a trip to Georgia, just as all the flowers are coming into bloom.

Hansen obviously loved every minute of it, and the good ol' boys who run the course will have enjoyed the results too. Augusta National looked effortlessly magnificent, and the script was just like a good tee shot - straight down the middle. This was no time to introduce words like bigotry, or question the committee's miserly attitude towards television coverage.

Then again, a brief shot of them all gathered together sometime in the mid-1960s told you all you needed to know. Every last one was fat, white, male, balding and smug - just like in England, in fact, only worse, because this lot have custody of one of sport's great treasures. Suddenly, the men running rugby seemed like a half-decent crowd.

Sadly, there was no chance for Hansen to comment on the European Cup semi-final between Manchester United and Juventus (ITV), not that anyone needed his prompting to understand what was unfolding. For most of the game, United were humiliated by the sheer simplicity of the Italian side's thought and movement. Wasn't it great?

Well, not according to Clive Tyldesley, no. Victory for United, he claimed just before kick-off, would be "in the national interest". It was an interesting choice of phrase, a particular favourite of governments and dictators who are seeking to justify some unspeakable act of barbarism, and one which should always set alarm bells ringing.

Success for United would certainly have been in ITV's interest, but for the majority of football-going fans, the ones who support clubs in the Nationwide League, probably not. Anything which is good for Manchester United these days is, almost by definition, bad for at least the 72 non- Premiership clubs, and probably a fair number of those in the top flight too.

People who really care about the fabric of English football, something which it seems a few chairmen would happily tear to shreds, should sit in front of their televisions on Wednesday week dressed in black and white and shouting: "Forza Juve". And Tyldesley should stick to commentating on the action.

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