Sport on TV: Unfair comment from England-loving pundits

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The Independent Online
WE ARE well used to Anglo-centrism in our football commentators - in fact it seems to be a job requirement (except, of course, for the great Barry Davies, who flies above limited horizons with grace and Olympian detachment). So endemic is it, it's seldom even a matter for comment - except for the millions of Celts who inconveniently occupy the margins of these disunited isles.

Scots fans "dissing" our happy and glorious national anthem is one thing - what do people expect, for God's sake? As Kevin Keegan said: "It's not the Eurovision Song Contest." But we have a right to expect more from our commentators. They are not there to reflect our prejudices, or even our loyalties.

ITV's Brian Moore was the nationalist par excellence, the John Bull of sportscasting, the doyen of football jingoism. His ITV successor, Clive Tyldesley, seems equally patriotic, but at least he has the grace to own up. There were 15 minutes to go at Wembley on Wednesday, with England looking as likely to score as a sloth on Valium, Tyldesley was exhorting them to greater things. "Well, we are English," he confessed.

"While full of admiration for the Scots," Ron Atkinson said. "Just a bit, just a bit," Tyldesley agreed. Having admitted his bias, he felt he could let it all hang out, and a few minutes later, just after David Seaman had parried Christian Dailly's point-blank header and England had a free-kick on the edge of their area, Tyldesley roared, "The free-kick goes to England - blessed relief!"

Other all-too familiar aspects of ITV's coverage were also still intact. The gaucheness of Jim Rosenthal remains undimmed, for example, as evidenced by his first question to Craig Brown in the Wembley tunnel about the Scotland coach's "position". And there was a piece of classic Rosenthalian language- mangling, too, when he said to Brown about the Scots fans, "Go down the barrel and give them a message - straight through from you." Pardon?

Still, at least they've got the Sultan of Smooth on their side, though it was interesting to see the depths to which St Des has sunk, reduced to providing one-man trailers for game shows.

"After this programme," he said towards the end of ITV's transmission, "it's back to friend-phoning and audience-asking - you know what I'm talking about." And straight after the commercial break, Mr Lynam was back in there: "So, England go through to those Euro 2000 finals - and incidentally, who wants to be a millionaire? You do. But it'll follow this."

All that promotional puffing seemed to have him flustered when it came to his sign-off, which must surely be a first.

"Well, Scotland went through," he said - followed by a pause while he digested what he'd just uttered, but chose not to correct himself - "but England weren't very good. But they're in those finals next summer." You can see the headlines: Des makes a mistake. World ends today. They Think It's All Over (BBC1, Thursday) stops using bad language for the sake of it and actually makes this critic laugh.

The TTIAO formula had become musty and the four-letter stuff had long ago ceased to be funny, but the installation for the new series (which began last week) of Jonathan Ross in Lee Hurst's place was just what it needed.

Ross has always struck me as a bit of a ranker (as he wouldn't be able to say), but he has come into his own on TTIAO - even if he knows as much about sport as my dead cat (as much, if not slightly more, than Hurst, in fact).

The thought occurred that maybe TTIAO is growing up, when Ross, talking about an incident in which Manchester United's iffy Italian keeper, Massimo Taibi, let the ball through his legs as he fell on top of it.

"As he was going down, he lost his grip," said Ross. And no one said a word. Did I hear right? Usual service was resumed a little later, though, when, with the opposition well behind, Ross taunted them with "Going down! And I mean that in a purely sporting way." Ah, situation normal.