Brian Viner: Sport and adverts go together like Capello and Redknapp

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The Independent Online

As exclusively predicted by The Last Word, Niall Sloane, the former Sheffield Wednesday footballer and, more pertinently, former head of BBC football, has joined beleaguered ITV as head of sport. Sloane is a highly competent operator and I'm sure he will rid ITV Sport of the lingering whiff of Tic-Tacs, but he will nevertheless have to get used, like Lord Desmond of Lynam before him, to the blasted inconvenience of the commercial break.

Because even before an unscheduled advert for Tic-Tacs obliterated the only moment worth watching in two hours of FA Cup football between Everton and Liverpool last month, namely Dan Gosling's winning goal, we all knew that live sport and the commercial break were, on occasion, about as compatible as King Herod and the St Winifred's School Choir, or Fabio Capello and Harry Redknapp.

No sport exemplifies this better than Formula One. I can't claim that there haven't been times when I would rather have been watching an advert for Tic-Tacs, or even diarrhoea tablets, than racing cars whizzing monotonously round a track, but in strict accordance with the dictates of Sod's Law, the producer's of ITV's F1 coverage have all too often cut to an advertising break just as something momentous was brewing.

Petrolheads recite the litany of episodes missed live like cowled monks muttering psalms: Damon Hill spectacularly passing Michael Schumacher in Hungary in 1997; Fernando Alonso and Schumacher going hammer and tongs at each other at Imola in 2005; Lewis Hamilton's gearbox failure in Brazil in 2007. Indeed, I'm told that you could fit 31 races into the time eaten up by all the commercial breaks during the 206 grands prix ITV has covered "live" since 1997.

That's an awful lot of action missed, and why there was much rejoicing in the ranks of those with Castrol GTX flowing through their veins at the news that F1 coverage had been seized back by the BBC. Whatever happens to Hamilton in Melbourne tomorrow we can at least be sure that we won't be watching the Andrex puppy when it does.

In the meantime, all parts of the corporation are revving up interest: even Radio 4's Today programme, where the definition of sport is a livelier-than-usual exchange in the House of Lords about farm subsidies, yesterday had a feature on the forthcoming F1 season, albeit squeezed in after a longer item on the morality of boiling crabs alive. And while ITV will always have the satisfaction of having covered Hamilton's first championship triumph, they are again victims of Sod's Law in that the BBC's first season since 1996 coincides with a series of changes in the regulations that looks like making F1 more than a toss-up between McLaren and Ferrari. Even those of us whose interest in the sport is somewhat sporadic could yet have cause to celebrate the passing of the commercial break.

I am losing my doubts about who deserves dreaded drop

Manchester United's loss of form and Liverpool's revitalised title chase is good news for all neutrals who like to see as much competition at the top of the Premier League as at the bottom, although come the last few weeks of the season the relegation dogfight will again produce most of the thrills.

I have an idea of the clubs I would not mind taking a plunge, although this has changed. I never thought I would want to see Newcastle relegated, but for the way Mike Ashley and his predecessors have run the club, hiring and firing five managers in as many years, it would be just deserts. Of Middlesbrough, the reverse is true, I would hate to see Boro's admirable owner Steve Gibson put through the agony of relegation. This week he reiterated that even with the club in the bottom three he has no intention of sacking Gareth Southgate. I hope his loyalty is rewarded.

I still think that United will enjoy a comparative romp to the title and, with that in mind, it is worth recording that no fewer than 925 league managers have lost their jobs since Sir Alex Ferguson took up the reins at Old Trafford. As Gibson knows, stability is vital in football. On the other hand, not even Southgate's mum (who famously asked why he didn't "just belt it" after his calamitous Euro 96 penalty miss) would claim that he is the next Fergie.

Planets may be key to being sports star

The Last Word has no time for astrology, as noted three weeks ago when swashbuckling Sir Viv Richards shared a birthday with Ivan Lendl, who never buckled a swash. But on Monday it was many happy returns to both Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Chris Hoy, so maybe there's something in those signs of the zodiac.

A bit previous

Roger Federer's partner, Mirka Vavrinec, is expecting the couple's first child in the summer, and Ladbrokes are offering 200-1 about Federer Jnr winning Wimbledon before 2035. Now, I know it's just a bit of fun, but isn't it a little warped to load sporting expectation on a foetus?