The curse of Fry and Frankie's dirty secret

Sport on TV
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The Independent Online
WHAT with Jimmy White's early exit from the Masters snooker and the (relative) serenity of the wicket in Trinidad, it had started to look as if the week's most entertaining televisual sporting moment would be Monday's episode of The Simpsons (BBC2), the one which features guest appearances by nine of America's biggest baseball stars.

Almost all of the jokes are strictly for aficionados, but even those on merely nodding acquaintance with the boys of summer would have appreciated Don Mattingly's aside when kicked off the power plant's team by Monty Burns, for failing to trim a dodgy haircut which he didn't have. "I still like him better than Steinbrenner," the first baseman muttered, and you did not need to be too familiar with the New York Yankees' famously tyrannical owner to know what he meant.

In the end, though, the sight of Homer being knocked unconscious by his first pitch was overtaken by a glorious 10-minute feature in Friday's Fortean TV (C4), which examined the gypsy curses which have supposedly been placed on two of our more famous football teams.

A great deal of the stuff on FTV is dubious with a capital everything, but since the teams in question were Manchester City and Birmingham City, it is hard not to feel that there just may be something in it after all. Both are big-city teams with a large and loyal following, yet utterly incapable of keeping up with their neighbours, and both are regularly struck by ill-fortune just when it seems that their luck is changing (Uwe Rosler's penalty miss against West Ham springs to mind).

It was probably taking things a little too far to recall the clubs' "glory days" using ancient Pathe newsreels with packed terraces in the background, but you got the point. Something has gone badly wrong at both grounds, and what is keeping both teams down, it seems, is a Romany hex, which in the case of Man City was hurled in the general direction of Maine Road by gypsies evicted to make way for the stadium.

You can almost picture the scene as the wizened old gypsy screamed her vengeance from the back of the last caravan off the building site. "You'll pay for this," she cackles. "I see a tall, dark stranger in your future. No, I tell a lie, the mists are still clearing. In fact, he's a short bloke with red hair. And when this squeaky-voiced stranger, the one that Trevor will insist upon calling Bally, sets foot upon this accursed patch of earth, you will all be doomed ... DOOMED!"

At St Andrews, meanwhile, there is not just a curse, but apparently a ghost as well. (We can only speculate as to the dreadful earthly sins the spectre must have committed to be condemned to watch Birmingham City through all eternity.) As for the hoodoo, the then manager Barry Fry certainly seemed to take it seriously, while neglecting to say whether he was a victim of the curse, or a result of it. "A gypsy told me that I could lift it by peeing on all four corners of the pitch," Fry recalled, and then, being Barry, proceeded to demonstrate. Whoever takes City's corner kicks should wear a long stud.

This was not the only unexpected revelation from the world of sport this week. Until Thursday, Frankie Dettori was as close to the status of sex symbol as jockeys ever get, but that was before he told The Truth About Women (ITV) that "for myself, what I really like to see in a woman is dirty fingernails". Nor did it do much for the hot Latin lover image when his favourite "come back to my place" gambit turned out to be: "Would you like a cup of coffee?" To which any sensible woman would surely reply: "Sorry, but I've got to go home and clean my fingernails."

For anyone still resisting the call of the satellite dish, these unexpected sporting crumbs were welcome indeed, and the situation did not improve yesterday. With both the Second/First Test and England's opening game in rugby's Five Nations' restricted to Sky, this might have offered plenty of ammunition for Rupert Murdoch's critics, had the BBC not reminded everyone on Thursday night of terrestrial television's desperate shortcomings for sports fans.

In the opening frame of Steve Davis's Masters quarter-final against Ronnie O'Sullivan, a re-run of last year's final, the Nugget was fighting back after O'Sullivan had taken a healthy lead. With just the colours left, Davis sank a magnificent yellow and cannoned into the green and brown, which had been covering each other on a side cushion. The green was now on, but still tricky.

At which point, David Vine cut in to tell us that it was 7.30, and time to leave Wembley. "We'll be back after Newsnight at 11.15." How many televisions, you wonder, were hurled through living-room windows in frustration?

Any gypsies who were among the thousands of viewers left foaming at the mouth are hereby invited to pay a visit to Television Centre, Shepherds Bush, London W12, and do their worst.