Football coverage interrupted

Cameron Carter on extreme tourists disrupting his regular football fix

You know when people tell you that things were better in the olden days: the wars were more righteous, the bank notes bigger and crinklier, bread really tasted of bread and so on? Well, we forward-looking rationalists come right back at them with higher life expectancy, 24-hour garages and Doritos, which absolutely silences the fools. But then there are some modern innovations that are so wrong that the argument is immediately lost again. Match of the Day 2 on March 15 was interrupted halfway through by Adrian Chiles to inform us that the next programme on BBC2 was High Altitude and would feature two glittering-eyed hearties ski-biking across Iceland. They actually showed these men in the snow contemplating the difficulty of their challenge. To put that into context: that’s two minutes of preview footage of a couple of extreme tourism bores biffing on about the terrible weather on an Icelandic glacier. In my quality football time.

It is not enough that the crucial arrest scene in Midsomer Murders is summarily and conspicuously invaded by a tag advising us that Homes From Hell is the next programme, but we are now subjected to entirely unrelated entertainments gatecrashing the sacred hour of Sunday televised football. Yet no one seems disturbed by this. It may not seem like an important matter to you, but it’s only a short step from this to inserted clips from Eastenders or public information films about bicycle awareness in the middle of West Ham v Middlesbrough, and then, before you know it, you’re woken in the night to find the shockingly malleable face of Lee Dixon whispering, inches from your mouth, “Over on One next there’s another chance to see A Question of Sport”. Is that what you want?

Craig Burley is a hard man to please. Regularly co-commentating on Setanta, he appears to be continually disappointed by all forms of human endeavour. When a snap-shot pings inches over the bar, less complicated people than Craig see a near miss. He, on the other hand, will have noted a lamentable lack of composure and awareness by the player concerned, a flaw which Craig cannot seem to easily accept. In fact, any manifestation of human frailty or imperfection is taken as an inevitable step closer to a benighted dystopia whose citizens are free to chaotically wander around, jobless, doing things to irritate Craig. He cannot understand approximately 50 per cent of players’ decisions and 75 per cent of refereeing decisions. It is as if he has been forced to watch an endless parade of incompetence and malpractice as a result of a witch’s curse. My advice is to turn the sound down on Setanta, don’t catch the sadness.

Newcastle’s Steven Taylor is rapidly building an impressive acting portfolio. His 2005 goal-line performance against Aston Villa saw him powerfully portraying the last moments of a man who has been shot in the stomach before being wrestled to the ground and strangled by a poltergeist. Four years later, after an apparent forearm jab transferred Andrei Arshavin from the left wing to the advertising hoardings, he charmed us again. This time, preparing to take a throw-in as the natural result of this incident, he reacted to the awarding of a free-kick by dropping the ball behind him in surprise and clutching at his temples in wonderment. Many would have stopped at this, but Taylor is a born crowd-pleaser and threw in the baffled double-take at the prostrate Russian followed by the defensively upturned palms with eyes pleading to left and right for an explanation. I should like to see Taylor’s Lear in a few years. Playing in Newcastle’s defence he is already steeped in tragedy and he is clearly adept at the necessary childlike incomprehension.

Clough (ITV1, March 25) offered a more positive angle on the legend than the tortured soul of the novel The Damned Utd. Nigel reflected that no, his father hadn’t complimented him on his first England cap – “we didn’t talk about that kind of thing”. Martin O’Neill had a long-term difference of opinion with him – “I thought I was brilliant, he didn’t”. Two moments, from a programme with rather a lot of memorable moments, stand out: Clough and Don Revie face to face on Calendar, the day Clough was sacked by Leeds, like two men forced to talk to each other immediately after a fight over a girl. Then footage of Clough, with mud-blackened face, writhing in agony and trying to drag himself away – anywhere – after receiving his career-ending injury. Somehow he managed to turn both events from disasters into personal vindications of his own worth.

From WSC 267 May 2009