The past master's body-shot for prince of smirk

Sport on TV
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The Independent Online
There is cheese, there is extra-ripe Stilton, and then there is the annual celebration of everything cheesy which is the Sports Review of the Year (BBC1). Daft games, chummy interviews, backslapping and commiseration, the routine never changes, and the best thing of all is that somehow they keep getting away with it. When the credits finally roll, the conclusion is always the same. We have seen the past - and it works.

Or rather, he works, since the entire edifice still rests on the shoulders of one man: Des Lynam, the Delia Smith of sports broadcasting. Just as Delia lets the upstarts rush around the country entertaining the locals while she sticks to the same familiar home kitchen, so too the Des approach to presentation has not altered one jot in two decades.

There he was in a brief clip from 1983, slimmer of figure and darker of crown, but identical in manner to the late-Nineties model: razor-sharp, bone dry and half asleep, all at the same time. For a precious moment or two, it was almost as if the arrival of Sky and the in-your-face school of presenting had been nothing but a bad dream. Then normal service - and the "Pictures courtesy of Sky Sports" - resumed. A good thing too, really, since even Des's banter would lose its sparkle after two hours linking from bowls to swimming.

He can get away with anything, and he knows it. Steve Rider, on the other hand, should be a little more careful. For some reason, mockery of Seve Ballesteros turned into a running joke, but while from Lynam it sounded almost affectionate, his sidekick was pushing his luck. "The phrase 'Seve's all over the golf course', we've become a little used to it in recent years," he said, as he prepared to present Ballesteros with an award.

Seve's mouth mustered a weak smile, but his eyes did not, and if Steve tries the same trick at the Masters in April, the next thing he remembers may involve an Augusta hospital, a seven-iron and a surgeon wearing shoulder- length gloves.

The Spaniard's evident tension did at least substitute for the lack of it when the final envelope was opened by Sir Peter O'Sullevan. Everyone knew that Greg Rusedski would be named sports personality of the year, and the bookies stopped taking bets on him weeks ago, although no one seemed to have told the Voice, whose attempts to pronounce Rusedski's name betrayed a lack of his usual careful preparation.

It would not have been a problem in former times, of course, when winners had honest, British names like Cooper, and Windsor. These days, Prince Charles could probably score the winning goal for England in the World Cup final and still not make the top three, while the Princess Royal surely deserved more credit for her role in the most perplexing moment of the sporting year when, for reasons best known to herself, she unveiled a bronze bust of Ho Chi Min - or perhaps it was Arthur Askey - at Aintree racecourse. They may claim it is actually O'Sullevan, but I, for one, will never believe them.

The most obvious missing person when the serious votes were counted was Prince Naseem Hamed, despite the fact that, unlike Rusedski, he is both British and a world champion.

For that matter, he also has a personality,but not one you would want to take home to your parents, as a link-up from a New York gym helpfully reminded us. Hamed vs Lynam was a far more equal match than he is used to, though, and after 10 seconds transfixed in a laughable groin-out pose, he took a body shot which clearly left him winded. "I thought it was a still picture," Lynam said when Naz finally deigned to speak, and the tone was spiked with just enough contempt to prick Hamed's bubble.

There was barely any more movement when Hamed finally got to grips with Kevin Kelley early on Saturday morning, or at least not once he had finished proving - at great length - that he dances like a shy 13-year-old at his first school disco. Countless thousands who had shelled out their pounds 9.95 must have woken up with a start on their sofas at around nine o'clock yesterday morning, to find that the last thing they could remember was resting their eyelids during the overblown "Ring Walk".

Those who made it to the big fight itself soon began to suspect that it was money well spent, as Hamed pretty much stood still and invited Kelley to thump him. Repeatedly. When Naz hit the floor for the second time, viewers everywhere started to imagine what the look on Frank Warren's face might be as Hamed was counted out. It could, most decided, be even better than Michael Portillo on election night.

This time it was not to be, and some may claim that it was all a conspiracy, a teaser to convince the viewers that they would happily pay pounds 50 to see someone wipe the smirk off Hamed's face.

But of one thing at least you can be sure. The first person who does will be a shoo-in for Sports Personality of 1998.

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