We know it's only rock and goal, but we like it

Sport on TV
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The Independent Online
Sports Filler sounds like a revolutionary kind of glue for repairing cracks in battered cricketers' boxes and over-used training shoes. In fact it is a kind of television programme, increasingly common on ITV, intended to hang on to the audience after an important sporting event and deliver them, still gripped, to the lucrative advertisement breaks around News At Ten.

There were two wodges of filler after the European football matches last week. One, a pioneer of the genre, was Oddballs (ITV). The other was a peculiar but oddly endearing newcomer called The Rock and Goal Years (ITV).

Both have the kind of catchy name that television executives come up with in the bath and then inflict on their juniors: "I don't care what's on it, just make it odd and give it balls!" Instead, they made it plod and filled it with balls-ups.

The key problem with Oddballs is that there aren't enough comedy sports out-takes to fill more than one programme a year. Once they have shown the good ones - last week's best was the boxer who went down on the canvas at the same moment that his wig went up in the air - the researchers are left scrabbling to splice together endless sequences of slightly inept goalkeepers and wobbly motorcyclists. Their desperation is underlined by the addition of the kind of honks, bonks and whistles that used to accompany the least funny bits of The Benny Hill Show.

But it is still not enough. So step forward Alistair McGowan with his football impressions, which are very good, but then they were the last time we saw them. McGowan is at his best not in his stand-up routine, where the material is not up to frequent exposure, but when voicing-over clips of football celebrities. The one in which Sir Bobby Charlton repeatedly attempted to tell the story of a great goal from the Sixties was spot on: he finally sat down next to an ornamental pond, but even the goldfish succumbed to tedium and swam away. Bonehead still carping on? The carp were off.

McGowan can't fill up all the gaps, though, so the producer falls back on Eamonn Holmes to fill some time with celebrity guests, and this is where the programme really drags. The interviews are set up to allow the chubby Irishman a little bit of "business" with each star. So Frankie Dettori brought along the high-tech hobby horse on which he practises at home, and Roger Black had with him a relay baton. Some comedy potential with those props, one might have thought.

But no: Holmes seemed somewhat reluctant to, or quite possibly was simply physically incapable of, getting his feet into the hobby horse's stirrups. Perhaps he feared for the safety of his seat. And there is all sorts of fun one can have with a baton - we were after the 9pm "watershed" after all, but Holmes and Black merely demonstrated how not to pass it.

The Rock and Goal Years sounded even less promising, but turned out to be a gem. It was dead simple: football highlights and hits from two selected years, 1979 and 1990, were replayed, along with comments from players (musical and sporting) and fans, the whole minimally but informatively linked by Michael Parkinson.

The joy of it was in the combination: so Margaret Thatcher's arrival in Downing Street as Prime Minister for the first time to the accompaniment of Ian Dury and the Blockheads singing "Hit me with your rhythm stick/ Je t'adore, ich liebe dich, hit me, hit me, hit me!" Roy Hattersley's bitter memories of the Winter of Discontent, Labour losing the general election and Sheffield Wednesday losing to Arsenal in the FA Cup, segued into Abba's "I had a dream, a fantasy..."

Even Brian Clough was not immune from attack by innuendo. "Take your hands out of your pockets, young man," he said, presenting Trevor Francis with an award, only to have the theme taken up by the Village People: "Young man, there's a place you can go/I said, young man, when you're short on your dough..." They didn't mean Nottingham Forest, and Brian Clough is unlikely to have approved of what went on down at the YMCA.

There was a great clip of Frank Worthington's finest moment, knocking the ball over his own shoulder and Terry Butcher, then swivelling to volley it into the corner. Worth watching the programme for that alone, but the researchers had gone further, and tracked down the ball boy who had cavorted joyously behind the goal as the ball went in: Julian Darby, now a player himself with West Bromwich Albion, his career inspired by that moment of magic.

1990 provided the moment when Rock and Goal combined in the first ever non-lousy England football team song, New Order's "World in Motion". John Barnes recalled the selection process for the rap sequence. "It was down to me, Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle, Paul Gascoigne - and Des Walker. Now if I couldn't rap better than those three Geordie boys I couldn't show my face anywhere, so then it was down to me and Des Walker, and I won." Say what you like about Barnes the midfielder, he's never been afraid to take the rap.