Classical football gala is music to the ears

Sport on TV

Andrew Baker
Saturday 11 May 1996 23:02

The seasonal football round-up is the equivalent of Sunday supper. The viewers will have seen most of the ingredients before, but the producer too often reasons that if the mixture is spiced up with some snappy editing and a pop sound-track then no one will notice that the fare is slightly stale. So when Clive Tyldesley served up a Premiership review on Sportsnight (BBC1), the indigestion tablets were standing by.

No need. This was a beautiful piece of work, evidently put together with great care. Tyldesley's commentary was economical and - for him - remarkably cliche-free, a fitting end to a season in which he has played a blinder for the Beeb, operating in the pocket behind John Motson and Barry Davies. There is transfer talk in the air - Eurosport are said to be interested - and the corporation would be well advised to have another look at their coming man's contract in the summer.

But the best thing about the retrospective was the music. It wasn't rock. It was classical, and it worked a treat. Not just a reprise of the "Nessun Dorma" World Cup theme, but a varied selection of well-known tunes and obscurer stuff which tallied perfectly with the emotions on display.

The early-season skirmishes were played out to the melodies of Verdi's La Traviata and Janacek's Cunning Little Vixen - a backhanded compliment, presumably, to the skills of Ruel Fox. For December it was Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Janacek was back in March - a snatch of Jenufa - and the season closed with Smetana's The Bartered Bride, perhaps a harbinger of the wheeler-dealings of the transfer system. Gamblers looking for omens for Euro 96 might like to note that Italy beat the Czechs 3-2 in the final composer-count.

It was a delightful exercise, and a timely reminder that Tina Turner need not be obligatory accompaniment to any sporting activity. And it was appropriate: the Premiership has never been short of prima donnas.

No such subtlety at Maine Road for Super League Special (Sky) where the "Clash of the Codes" took place after an unlikely concatenation of "Simply the Best" andCarmina Burana. The latter, better known as the music from the Old Spice advert, is actually based on the writings of romantically inclined 14th-century monks. Whether or not this has influenced the severe tonsures worn by many of the Wigan players is open to conjecture: certainly Shaun Edwards otherwise has precious little in common with Abelard and Heloise.

The vocal build-up was as hysterical as the backing music. Eddie Hemmings had been at the hyperbole bottle before the transmission started, and assured us in all seriousness that the match "has grabbed the imagination of the entire country". He should know by now that the only things that can do that are the Princess of Wales's thighs.

Still he banged on. It was an "earth-shattering" encounter, and twice we were told that it was "ground-breaking". What it patently wasn't was ground-filling. It was also, naturally, "historic", although in Bath's case a better adjective might have been "prehistoric", given their dinosaur- like reactions to Wigan's first-half speed.

But Bath applied themselves, and there was a lovely moment when Jon Callard finally succeeded in grabbing hold of Gary Connolly's ankle: he just hung on, refusing to let go even when Connolly had struggled to his feet. Callard's face had a look of innocent determination, like a dim but keen gun-dog who had been chasing birds all day and was not going to bloody well let go now he had finally caught one. Penalty to Wigan.

Sportsnight's coverage of the match was more restrained than Sky's. But Eddie Butler was generous in his praise of Wigan. The skills of Martin Offiah, he said, were "one of the finest sights in any sort of sport". Butler reckoned Bath would win the rematch under their own rules. Shaun Edwards agreed, noting the intellectual difficulties of the rival code. Shaun reckoned that six O-levels was the minimum requirement for understanding the rules of rugby union: it strikes me that anyone brainy enough to know what a ruck is ought to be brainy enough not to get involved in one.

This is not a Sport on Radio column, which is probably just as well since there is only so much you can say about Cliff Morgan's interviewing style ("Now Jonathan, let's take the gloves off. How does it feel to be the greatest player the game of rugby has ever produced?").

That said, it would be a shame to let BBC Radio Five Live's coverage of the Clash of the Codes pass unremarked. This, you will have heard if you have tuned in for two minutes in the past couple of weeks, is the National Radio Station of the Year. They promised us: "You won't miss a tackle." First of all they couldn't raise their touchline team, then they lost the game altogether, leaving us with the embarrassed blatherings of the poor bloke covering the European Cup-Winners' Cup final. Tricky stuff, hubris.

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