Wisdom of our Father whose heart is in Peckham

SPORT ON TV
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After the pitiful England- Argentina retrospectives less than a fortnight ago, it seemed that the only people holding a video camera last summer who had even half an idea of what to do with it were French policemen on surveillance duty. Three lions on a shirt was as far as anyone wanted to look.

But that was before two very different films managed to pull off one of television's most powerful tricks, by finding heroes in the most ordinary surroundings. In their own ways, Thomas from Everton and Father Smith from Peckham are as worthy of a place in World Cup memories as either David Batty or David Beckham.

You may have missed Reggae Boyz - The Fans (C4) because it went out close to midnight and with precious little fanfare. If so, you failed to make the engaging acquaintance of Dennis "Father" Smith, who is a barber in Peckham and, while he does not drive a yellow three-wheeler, is rather like an ageing, Jamaican version of that manor's most famous fictional resident.

His nickname is Father on the not altogether unreasonable grounds that he has 15 children. He also boasts an entrepreneurial streak every bit as vibrant as the replica Jamaican team shirts he was knocking out on the streets of Paris, and an interesting line in laddish philosophy. "One woman is really good," according to Father, "but a bird never flies on one wing."

Father was instantly likeable, and he just kept getting better. Having hired a coach to take a few dozen locals to Jamaica's first game against Croatia in Lens, he also had the foresight to arrange "what people call a rave" afterwards, by way of celebration. At the pre-match drink-up, meanwhile, Father's first wife (of five) - "and still my best friend" - was mixing rum punch in what could easily have been the hot water tank. The recipe, if there was one, must have gone something like: "Take three crates of tropical fruit, add 20 gallons of rum, and then a little orange juice, but only if there's room."

In the end, of course, there was not a great deal to celebrate, and Father lost a packet, which is why he was so keen to shift his shirts and flags in Paris a few days later. But even to him the profit motive was fairly incidental, and like the other Jamaican fans who the cameras accompanied to France, he was something of a novelty to jaded followers of England. They were football supporters who were as interested in the game and the experience as they were in the result.

Not for them the fear and apprehension which most England fans will recognise as the normal precursors of a match. These days, after all, it is not so much the worry about whether England will win, but about what some of the fans will do if they don't.

Such concerns did not arise if you were supporting Jamaica (or, to be fair, almost any of the other 31 nations in France), no matter how much rum punch had been consumed beforehand. To share it with them was to feel exhilarated and enlightened, but also to realise that following England can never be as good.

Back in west Everton, meanwhile, the week's other World Cup hero was plotting the progress of Owen and company on his wall-chart, in Modern Times - Come On England! (BBC2). Eleven years old, Thomas lives on an estate where, as one resident put it, "you don't cheat the system, you survive the system". He goes to Steve McManaman's old school, and he watches the World Cup wearing outsized, football-shaped slippers. When he and his friends grow up, inevitably, they want to be footballers. "I'll be Ronaldo Mark Two," one of them said. "No doubt about it."

Whoever picked Thomas and his gang to be the focus of the film chose wisely. They were old enough to think and talk about football and life itself, but still too young to do so self-consciously. "Michael Owen was on for 10 minutes and he scored one goal," Thomas said after the Romania debacle. "If he'd been on for the 90 minutes, he'd have scored nine." Well, perhaps the Romanians would have triple-marked him after the first five or six, but you could see what he meant. Pity Glenn Hoddle couldn't.

The penalties against Argentina did not look any better through the eyes of an 11-year-old, either. "If David Batty was here now," one of Thomas's friends said afterwards, "I'd punch him in the face." Which would, of course, have been a totally unjustified use of violence in response to an honest mistake on the part of an experienced professional.

But if anyone was looking for another reason to bear a grudge against Batty, this surely was it. He missed the penalty, he put England out of the World Cup, but above and beyond all that, he made Thomas sad.

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