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Diving on the BBC

Cameron Carter sees that diving and simulation has become the BBC's current topic for discussion

The big topic on the BBC last month was diving and, in particular, how terrible and somehow foreign it is. During the last FA Cup quarter-final, Garth Crooks gamely attempted to turn a half-time studio debate into a political bear pit when the subject was introduced by Ray Stubbs. Some days later, on Match of the Day II, Stubbs seemed to get a little peevish when Graeme Le Saux and Lee Sharpe didn’t appear to treat his debate on Didier Drogba heatedly enough. At one point he jokingly asked Sharpe why he was smirking, in the way that someone jokingly asks you why you can’t get your own cup of tea. Stubbs is obviously of the view that there are some subjects one simply doesn’t joke about.

Sharpe explained he was smiling at the way Drogba was being pilloried for a linguistic error in his second language and offered Stubbs the possibility that any of them might struggle with the distinction between “going to ground” and “diving” in African French. Stubbs let it go but signed off at the end with “Le Saux and Sharpe – their names rather than their contribution to the programme”, an ad-lib so weak that it must have been meant to wound. Le Saux and Sharpe possibly entered the studio under the impression they were being paid to discuss the weekend’s games, rather than attend an important tutorial.

On ITV, Clive Tyldesley remarked on the lovely way Arsenal’s Ivory Coast players go round smiling all the time. He wondered why all people from that country seemed to work hard at their smiling, “with one exception”. Drogba had obviously progressed from “diver” to “dead-hearted misanthrope” in two media days. The lesson here for any players watching is smile for the cameras or you may well find yourself in the analysis edit after the game, with Hansen sorrowing over your bad bits.

As an addendum to Simon Tyers’ observations in WSC 230 on Andy Townsend’s pitchside bellowing technique, it is noticeable that he is beginning to use other, more sophisticated techniques to upstage Ally McCoist. At half-time in the Arsenal v Juventus game, Townsend had clearly sidled slightly round his side of the table to be a little nearer the camera and, therefore, more conspicuous and more like the host of the piece. Several times he stretched his left arm across McCoist in what I’ve learned from a programme on Five is a barring gesture, giving Townsend a patriarchal edge while physically disconnecting his diminutive chum from the viewing public.

What I haven’t worked out yet is why they have a little table with them on the pitch. It can only be that ITV are letting their viewers in gently on the fact that the pair aren’t in the studio any more, but have moved outside. This type of departure would normally unhinge your typical ITV viewer (who watches Emmerdale as if it were a drama, rather than the cruel social experiment it clearly is), so the concept has to be introduced gradually for health and safety reasons. Next season ITV will probably introduce a smaller table and finally do away with it altogether by 2008, when everyone is used to the whole Outdoor Pundit idea. By then they may have even dispensed with the captions of “Studio” beneath Gabby Logan in the studio and “Pitchside” beneath McCoist & Townsend on the pitch.

An example that nothing much has changed in the depiction of a typical fan came with ITV’s  , Didiwe on March 28. The subject was a Sunderland extremist called Tony, who preferred to watch his team rather than acknowledge any other human presence in the house and came close to tearful hysterics if his wife put vegetables next to his chips. To remedy this behaviour, his mother-in-law was launched from the next street. She asked Tony to consider Catholicism and shopping with his family on a Saturday as alternatives to football. Here the mother-in-law was reminiscent of the Russian soldiers of the First World War, marching into modern warfare with hoes and yardbrooms. Tony’s wife, who was suffering with the special type of low self-esteem that occurs if someone prefers Mick McCarthy’s Sunderland team to your company, was sent over an army assault course to clear her head.

Tony was not a million miles from the Millwall fan interviewed in a BBC documentary 15 years ago. “If we win,” offered this 20-stone lummox with a face like a bowl of porridge, “I’ll very likely go home and give the wife one.” To this day, I feel a pang of grief under the ribs for this unknown woman when I learn that Millwall have had a good result. Even Didier Drogba never committed this type of atrocity.

From WSC 231 May 2006. What was happening this month

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