Taylor made for a week of England excess

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The Independent Online
"If you've got it," runs a maxim favoured by the nouveau riche, "flaunt it." Sky, who are fairly nouveau and definitely riche, had the England game in midweek and they were flaunting away for all they were worth. Previews, profiles, interviews... no angle was unexplored, no gimmick was under-used in the relentless assault on the viewers' consciousness: "Sky has the match, mortals. You will watch it." If there was a European directive on flaunting, Elizabeth Murdoch would be up before the beak in Strasbourg right now.

The assumption seems to be that purchasing a dish or hooking up to cable induces a form of amnesia in the viewer that can only be cured by constant propaganda. The fact that the Michael Caine Italian Job promotional clip was an amusing departure from their usual flash graphics/ doomy voice format does not excuse them from showing it every half hour. A jaunty flaunt is still a flaunt.

Most of the preview stuff was well-packaged guff (something of a Sky trademark) but tucked away late on Tuesday night was a little scoopette on the Footballers' Football Show (Sky Sports 1), who had persuaded Graham Taylor to give his thoughts on the forthcoming game - something of a turnip for the books, to get the root-vegetable gag out of the way early on.

The host, Brian Woolnough, lobbed the odd question at his other guests, Alan Mullery and Phil Thompson, but Taylor was the interesting one. Not least on the subject of the fixture meeting, which is a kind of footballing summit conference that takes place before all major international tournaments to decide who should play whom where and, most importantly, when.

It sounds quite straightforward, but, to hear Taylor tell it, such gatherings would make Machiavelli blanch. What happens, it seems, is that all the cunning smaller nations such as San Marino and Norway go into a huddle and come out chuckling smugly while the decent English, who have been waiting for the negotiating to start, suddenly find that it is already over and they have been done up like a kipper.

If this sounds like a typical everybody-hates-me Taylor whinge, just reflect for a moment on England's final game in the World Cup qualifying group, away to Italy, and wonder what sort of concession they won in return. The chance to play their home games at Wembley?

Taylor was startlingly prescient in his reading of how the match would pan out. "The Italians will be content to take away a 0-0 draw... But they are very good at assessing what stage of the game it is. [They think] 'Is this the time we can break at them? Can we nick it now?'" Yes, as it turned out, they could, and Taylor had delivered what we might call a pre-mortem.

For the post-mortems the terrestrial channels could finally get in on the act. The discussion on Sportsnight (BBC1) was, as usual, well-informed and informative, but was handicapped a little by two things. First, the Beeb seemed to have inferior camera positions to Sky: Sol Campbell's deflection of Zola's goal-bound shot was less easy to see than it had been on Sky, and Sol will be hoping that most of his friends are dishless. And secondly, just what was it that Ruud Gullit and Alan Hansen were snickering about? Whatever it was, it was lost on Jimmy Hill, who looks increasingly these days like the boy left out of the playground gang.

Under the Moon (Channel 4) featured as a guest the Labour sport spokesperson Kate Hoey, who revealed (a) that as a junior high-jumper she preferred the straddle method to the Fosbury Flop, and (b) that she deeply disapproved of live coverage of such an important game being restricted to Sky's subscribers. Hooray. Perhaps we may soon have the chance to see how well she straddles the fence trying to do something about the power of Sky without offending certain related newspapers. The headline "Kate Whoey?" is no doubt standing by.

Do I Not Like That? (Carlton) is not shared by all the ITV network, so to those who can't see it: you aren't missing much. It is a vehicle for Richard Littlejohn, the shouting man's Jeremy Paxman, who once a week for the next three months will be airing sporting matters with the subtlety and nuance of a knicker salesman in Leather Lane market.

His guests last week were Howard Wilkinson, Robbie Earle and Steve Davis, there on the basis that he knows sod-all about football but at least viewers who knew sod-all about football would recognise him. Wilkinson was thoughtful, Earle articulate, and Davis - let's face it, one of our more interesting sportsmen - was very funny. What was needed was a little less Littlejohn.

Much the best sporting reflection of the week was not to be found on television at all, but on BBC Radio 5 on Friday night. Rugby's Brian Moore, cricket's Angus Fraser, the journalist Donald Trelford and - once again - football's Graham Taylor chatted amusingly and perceptively for an hour and a half that didn't seem a minute too long. The host, knowledgeable and with a wonderfully light hand on the tiller, was Michael Parkinson. They should put him on the telly.