The Critics: Sport On TV: No Brains, blind faith and a dazzler from Bobby

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The Independent Online
Highlights of the match between England and France will follow this bulletin," Trevor McDonald said on News at Ten (ITV). "Viewers who do not want to know the score should look away now." Which only goes to show that not even Trevor gets it right all the time. In fact, it was people who knew the score who should have been warned to look away, while those who did not could have been saved the emotional wounds which were inflicted over the following 60 minutes.

The idea that people might want to spend the evening of a major international in a flotation tank, just so that they can tune in to Jim Rosenthal and the highlights with their innocence unsullied, seems a strange one anyway in these days of Teletext and the information superhighway. But if anyone did manage to cut themselves off from the awful truth until the opening credits on ITV, they may well have turned over as soon as Rosenthal started talking, in fluent tabloidese. "Defeat tonight could mean that it's Wilko and out," he said. "England have dialled International Rescue, and Howard Wilkinson's first mission is against the team who thrashed Brazil in the World Cup final."

Well, perhaps England did call for the team from Tracy Island, but somehow, instead of getting Scott and Virgil, we ended up with Parker in charge and 11 men playing like Lady Penelope. Over the course of the last eight months, many thousands of England fans had persuaded themselves that if only Graeme Le Saux hadn't left that enormous brain of his in the dressing- room before the Romania match, and England had qualified for the easier half of the second-phase draw, things might have been very different in France last summer. What a sad and desperate delusion that suddenly turned out to be.

Everywhere, from Wembley to the ITV studio, the mood was as dark and grey as John Barnes' favourite shirts (not to mention his suits and ties). Except, that is, for that space just to Barnes's right, where, unless the eyes were playing tricks, the general despondency seemed to have passed Bobby Robson by.

It might just be that after a full and thoroughly successful career, Robson is too old and wise to worry about one bad result. Then again, when Rosenthal asked him about the England manager's job, his replies were straight out of Yes Minister.

"I couldn't possibly comment," he said, before taking a deep breath and doing just that. "The players need someone in charge for the next three matches," he said. "It's a very good job, and I don't think it's the poisoned chalice many people seem to say it is." When David Platt scored against Belgium in Italia 90, you may recall, Robson did a little dance on the sidelines. It would be interesting to know whether he did something similar in the ITV studio when Anelka found the net on Wednesday night.

Perhaps the only consoling thought as the credits rolled was that the result must have annoyed the Nationwide Building Society no end. There were so many bizarre angles to Glenn Hoddle's dismissal that the intervention of Mark Lazenby, Nationwide's marketing director, almost passed unnoticed, but it was far from the only recent sign that sponsors are getting much too uppity for comfort.

All this week, most of the players at Wembley for the Benson & Hedges Masters Snooker have been turning out in identical waistcoasts, presumably as part of a marketing deal. This might not qualify as a cause for concern, were it not for the truly shocking pattern someone has chosen for them, a sort of yellowy-green tartan with a hint of pink.

The point, of course, is that getting noticed is all that matters to the sponsors, and to hell with such quaint notions as taste and tradition. But even so, nothing had prepared the senses - or the stomach - for the scenes at Lansdowne Road last weekend, when the dye in the pitch logos started to run in the rain and instead of 15 players each from Ireland and France, there seemed to be 30 Harlequins.

Since they were first introduced in cricket, these logos have become a pox on pitches everywhere. In last Saturday's game, one team was due to play in green, and the other in blue. So what were the primary colours in the pitch adverts?

The queasy feeling every time a player seemed to run straight through an apparently upright hoarding was bad enough. But it was also very difficult to follow the play when, for instance, the French backs were moving against a blue background. But hey, we're only the viewers. Why should anyone think twice about us?

Thankfully, Nationwide have yet to insist on pitch logos at Wembley. But it may be only a matter of time, and we should make contingency plans now. If the plague ever appears on the face of the hallowed turf, it will be time to pay Mr Lazenby a visit at home - armed with pots of paint in 20 shades of Day-Glo.

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