Sport on TV: Two Trevors and a football-less football show

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The Independent Online
The only good thing about those wretched Vauxhall Astra adverts which polluted ITV's World Cup coverage was the thought of the poor sap who had commissioned them sitting at home in a smoke-filled living-room and weeping uncontrollably into a large whisky. It was obvious within a day or two that the idea - clips of footballers holding "humorous" imaginary conversations - was a stinker, but with prime slots already booked for the duration of the tournament, Vauxhall's (probably ex-) marketing director had no choice but to run with it, then sit and suffer. The car-buying public may never forgive them.

So it seemed a little strange to find Alistair McGowan adopting the same formula for Alistair McGowan's Football Backchat (C4), unless of course he had some injured pride to soothe. The idea that anyone but he should be asked to serve up football impersonations must have hurt (unless, that is, he was offered the Vauxhall gig but got himself out of it). But it is not a mistake that anyone is likely to make again because, as he ably demonstrated, when it comes to the field of sporting impressions, McGowan stands alone.

Such is his gift for mimicry that he could probably chat on the telephone to the wives and children of his subjects without anyone realising they were being had. His Seaman, Shearer, Hansen and at least a dozen others are flawless, with every vocal tic polished to a shine. For half an hour or so there was no need to do anything more than enjoy and admire a unique talent.

Trouble was, the Channel 4 schedulers had asked him to stretch to a very ambitious 60 minutes, by which time the script, or lack of one, was all too apparent. Some of the material had a very familiar feel too, in particular a protracted - and utterly humourless - clip of Dean Saunders, which first got an airing (if memory serves) during the annual Sports Review on BBC1. A talented mimic he may be, but a natural comic McGowan is not.

Still, you can only be grateful for the effect he seems to be having on Trevor Brooking, who these days is not so much a parody of himself as a parody of McGowan doing Brooking when he is not quite in the mood. Impressionists' subjects sometimes seem consciously to play down the intonations and phrases which mark them out, but in Brooking's case, they seem to become more exaggerated by the week. Close your eyes and you might not be able to tell them apart, were it not that McGowan's spoof always talks more sense.

Then again, when Glenn Hoddle can tell Sky News that things might have been different in France had Eileen Drewery accompanied the squad, the line between satire and reality is becoming too blurred to distinguish. This, after all, came at the end of a week which saw the debut of a new Monday night football programme with a difference - they left out the Monday night football.

Sky Sports, admittedly, would have been barmy to allow Match of the Day Extra (BBC1) to show highlights of Arsenal v Nottingham Forest a few minutes after its customers had switched off. For Ray Stubbs and his talking heads, however, the lack of action from Highbury was an embarrassment which needed to be covered up, and to their credit they did so rather well.

Even Mark Lawrenson managed to add a worthwhile point or two to the debates, while Patrick Barclay did much to enhance (or should that be "begin to restore") the reputation of football journalists. The undoubted star of the show, though, was Harry Redknapp, a man who never bothered to enroll at the Pussyfooting School of Punditry.

He did seem to be taking the plain-speaking Cockney approach a little too far, though, when he was asked about the reception David Beckham could expect to receive at Upton Park yesterday afternoon. As 'Arry pointed out, it was inevitable that some would hold Beckham responsible for England's exit against Argentina, while there was also, of course, the fact that "he picked up some skirt before the World Cup". Now, Posh Spice has never quite been the Harpers & Queen material that her nickname might imply, but even so, this description seemed a little extreme. Fortunately, a nervous prod of the rewind button revealed that what Harry had really pointed out was that Beckham "was pictured in a skirt". I hope.

For all that the debate was smart and stimulating, though, it was still an uncomfortable reminder of what will be available to the average viewer when Sky finally succeeds in buying up every last morsel of live sport. A second-tier anchorman, a couple of pundits and who knows, perhaps the odd moment of light relief from McGowan. Match of the Day Extra is the future - and it is all talk.

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