Sport on TV: They had faces like bulldogs and bodies like bulls

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The Independent Online
ON WEDNESDAY'S Match of the Day (BBC1) - surely the best of the season - Alan Hansen remarked that, though this was near the end of the campaign, you'd never have guessed it from the way the teams went about their business.

For the commentators, though, the season's exertions have taken their toll. John Motson handled the main game, Spurs v Arsenal, and was unable to avoid a string of cliches, which is not like him (he usually spreads them around a bit). The first goal had "championship quality written all over it" for example. Motty needs a proper close-season break.

Still, Liverpool v Manchester United was handled by Big Bazza, or Lord Davies of Barryshire, so that made up for it. He was as cultured and verbally dextrous on Wednesday as on the first day of the season.

Motty's professionalism did shine through a couple of weeks ago, during Chelsea's demise in Mallorca. The picture suddenly vanished (a tender mercy for Chelsea fans), and for a while he carried on as normal until he was informed of the situation, switching immediately into a radio-style commentary.

When vision was restored, there was a time lag before Motson was told, so it was possible to compare his account with the pictures. He was spot on.

One thing he missed on Wednesday - to his credit, as his eyes should have been on the game - was one Spurs supporter's reaction to Nwankwo Kanu's wonder goal. He was eating a bar of chocolate (the Spurs fan, that is, not Kanu) as the ball went over poor Luke Young's head. The fan froze, chocolate poised next to his wide-open gob, his jaw descending ever further as the Arsenal man turned and scored. He was still open-mouthed as Kanu was heading back to the centre circle.

One of the most intensely debated episodes of the evening was the penalty awarded to Liverpool by David Elleray after Jesper Blomqvist's alleged foul on Oyvind Leonhardsen - an incident that demonstrated the limitations of new technology.

The thought did occur last week, when watching an item on Tomorrow's World about a pair of spectacles containing a tiny camera, that perhaps the best solution would be to give the referee his own pocket-sized telly (they'll soon be available as wristwatches, if they're not already). Using the kind of interactive set-up cable companies have experimented with, he could quickly consult his televisual oracle and reach a verdict before you can say "who's the bastard in the black?"

However, even with video evidence, the Blomqvist tackle retained its mysteries. The next day in the office, there were as many opinions as there were armchair pundits. And anyway, although Hansen remarked that the controversy, and that surrounding the Denis Irwin sending-off, would be with us for a while, the fact is they will be hot topics only until this afternoon, when the next one comes along. If referees and technology were infallible, what on earth would we all have to discuss?

There was video evidence of a different kind in the Trevor McDonald current affairs show, Tonight (ITV Thursday). An investigation into unlicensed boxing consisted largely of men with faces like bulldogs and bodies like bulls butting, stamping, gouging and occasionally punching each other into glassy-eyed oblivion.

Tonight is indebted to American news programmes, satellite TV and those real-life disaster programmes that always seem to feature Michael Buerk or Alice Beer. However, Jonathan Maitland's report was perfectly OK, even if touches like having him wince as Brian the Bull, a diabetic, injected himself with insulin erred towards the gratuitous (although the point that his licence was revoked when his condition came to light, and that he is risking his life every time he steps in the ring, was well made).

There's plenty of money in the unlicensed game, and Maitland interviewed Roy "Pretty Boy" Shaw, who made a pile in the 70s boom and has a mansion and limo to show for it. Together they watched one of Pretty Boy's finest moments, against Danny "The Bull" Adams.

The 10-second sequence can be conveyed simply through the words of the cornerman as Pretty Boy stomped on The Bull's head. It went like this: "He's dead, Roy, he's dead! He's gone, he's dead, he's dead, Roy, he's dead!"

Roy watched himself wide-eyed, rolling with every blow, reliving his salad days when he was green with youth and turning other men into vegetables. As Brian the Bull put it, "There's only one guarantee in this world, and that's death." So that's all right, then.

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