Reff off!

Do you ever hear people saying, "I think there's too much politics on television!" or "I can't believe it, there's a documentary on every channel!" or even, "Isn't that typical, the RSC's performance of HAMLET overran and they've taken Star Trek off.".

No, I didn't think so.

On the other hand if you rephrase these sentences using subjects like Sport, Olympics and Wimbledon you'll have heard those phrases a million times; well you will if you live in our house. The point I'm trying to make here, for the benefit of the hard of thinking which is to say most die-hard sport fans of my acquaintance, is that sport on TV appears to be treated with a deference usually reserved for religion or dead and nearly dead members of the Royal family. It's sacrosanct and takes precedence over everything, for God's sake it's the only thing that ever gets Coronation Street moved from its seven-thirty slot! It doesn't matter whose wants and needs get trampled over if a sporting event overruns then whatever was scheduled to follow it either gets moved back or taken off which particularly pisses you off if it happens to be the last part of a seven part series that you're videoing and you only end up getting the first ten minutes because the final of Crown Green Bowls was allowed to run over. I fully expect, one of these days for a tennis match to finish and be followed by a BBC voice saying, "News came in ten minutes ago that the Russians have launched an all-out nuclear strike against the west but we didn't want to interrupt that vital third round clash between Tim Henman and Pete Sampras. Oh, here come the missiles now…."

For starters don't the commentators just get on your tits when they appear after the titles with that beatific gleam in their eyes, like those door-to-door Mormons, and a smug smile on their scrubbed faces saying, "Well, good evening, and have we got a line up for you." When you actually want to scream at them, "The only line up I want to see you in, you smarmy git, is one in front of a firing squad. Now piss off and put a film on!

Now don't get me wrong I'm not one of those knee-jerk, sport haters who thinks it should all be banished (though isolating it to a separate channel of its own does have its attractions). I have been known to sit down and watch the occasional football match, usually involving Manchester United or England, and I don't have any objection to this but let's get this into perspective shall we. TV is a visual medium, that is to say one best suited to action. So football - fine, rugby, even though it's not my thing, fair enough, but some of the other stuff they shove on!

Cricket. Entire afternoons and evenings on Channel 4 given over to the sporting equivalent of adolescent sex - short frantic bursts of activity followed by bugger all happening for ages other than rubbing your balls against your trouser leg. So, if football is best suited to the TV medium then cricket should be done in Braille!

Golf. Famously described as a good walk ruined, whoever decided golf was telegenic should be selling double-glazing. First of all you've got a bunch of white guys looking like bit-part players from SHAFT; every time you see one of them in close up you reach for the colour contrast button on your remote control. And what do you get for your money? Well it goes something like this: 1. A shot of a man standing on a patch of grass, with a golf club, hitting the ball. 2. The cameraman then attempts to follow the trajectory of the ball through the air, an act rendered impossible by the fact that the ball is roughly the same colour as the sky meaning that you can't actually see it. 3. A shot of a ball bouncing onto another patch of grass, occasionally with a flag on it to distinguish it from all the other patches of grass that you've seen in this long and dreary process. Let's face it, for all you know the ball that you see landing could have been thrown into the shot by someone just outside the frame. In fact the entire thing could be shot at your local pitch and putt and made to look like it was filmed at St Andrews by skilful cutting and special effects. So again, if football is a game suited to television, golf could be presented as a slide show.

Cycling. What can I say about cycling? Well, what can I say that's repeatable? After all, it seems to consist entirely of men on bikes driving down a variety of roads, all of which appear to be enclosed by hordes of hyperactive Frenchmen. If people genuinely want to watch film of men on bikes why doesn't Channel 4 just film the morning rush hour in Shanghai because it looks exactly the same, it would be a lot cheaper and there wouldn't be all the problems with sponsorship advertising. Unless, of course, you're in the business of manufacturing those mandarin collared suits they all wear, in which case you'd make a killing. So cycling is essentially boring but they try to spice it up by giving sections of it "interesting" names. For instance there's "King of the Mountains". Wow! Doesn't that sound dynamic when all it basically means is the bloke who can pedal up a hill the fastest. Then there's all the discussion about who's going to be wearing the yellow jersey. Well, if vividly coloured knitwear is an all consuming passion Channel 4 should just re-run old editions of COUNTDOWN with Giles Brandreth before he became a Tory MP and adopted the John Major, Monochrome Man look.

Wrestling. As someone who grew up with Kent "Greetings, grapple fans" Walton as a regular feature of Saturday evenings just before tea the current version of wrestling imported from America completely baffles me. For starters it appears to be the sporting equivalent of rap music consisting largely of men with dodgy haircuts shouting aggressively whilst jabbing their fingers at the camera. In fact if you put a heavy baseline behind it it would probably be indistinguishable from Gangsta-rap which also involves threatening people with physical violence. Then there's the histrionics, I mean what's all that about? When you see it on TV there appears to be about thirty seconds of actual wrestling punctuated by fifteen minutes of what can only be charitably described as farting about. At least the old British wrestling made a token effort to appear real, WWF considers that to be too much like hard work. It's like watching a Sam Peckinpah movie being done by your local amateur dramatic society in which everyone talks in this arch sub-classical dialogue: "And you….., Austin, will come to realise that I,….Vince McMahon, have the power to destroy you!". Please! This is men in trunks falling over and pretending to be hurt and they make it sound like Hamlet on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

Of course the real problems are yet to come as The Dirty Digger and his fiendish cohorts snap up more and more "prestige" sporting events. The sole purpose of this media raiding being to separate the working class from yet more of their cash by making them pay to watch stuff that they used to be able to see gratis before the "Satellite revolution". Let's be fair, if this were a real revolution then Murdoch would be amongst the first up against the wall. Anyway it does appear that some things are sacred and it was decided a number of years ago that the FA Cup Final would always be shown on terrestrial television because it is part of this country's "national cultural heritage". It's interesting to note here that several years after this decision was taken our wonderfully egalitarian government have also taken the decision to remove entrance charges from museums and art galleries for, presumably, the same reason. Nice to see they've got their priorities right isn't it? Anyway the point I was coming to was that as the pay-per-view mentality ensures that unless you have a dish/decoder you will not see premier league football, world cup cricket and many other top sporting events the list of which grows yearly longer, the number of available sports for terrestrial TV to broadcast grows ever narrower. It's not too difficult to see where all this will lead is it. You remember when Channel 4 started looking around for "minority" sports to televise and we were treated to such televisual feasts as ten-pin bowling and croquet? Well, matey, that's just the thin end of the wedge. Give it a few years and the end result of the wielding of Murdoch's bottomless chequebook will be a line up such as the one that follows.


Championship Football. Edited highlights of last night's vital clash between the Abbatoir XI and The Gardener's Arms at the Gasworks Lane Recreation Ground for supremacy of the Stockport Sunday League Premier Division.

Formula One Racing. From the new improved Scalextric layout in the Scout hut, Didsbury Road. Commentary by Murray Walker.

World Cup 2002. Full match coverage of Brazil v France live from the Subbuteo pitch in Kevin's dining room as, dressed in a beret and a striped jersey, he takes on Lee from round the corner. Half time discussion between Alan Hansen, Tommy Docherty and Eric from the chippy on Carrington Road.

Pro-celebrity golf. Majestic Lyme Park, location for the BBC drama Pride and Prejudice, plays host to this year's invitation competition. Lewis Collins, Chesney Hawkes, Christopher Quentin and Lenny Bennett head a glittering line up of has-beens to play local golf club professionals on the challenging pitch-and-putt behind the Hall. In between the strokes Selina Scott gets up close and sycophantic.

Athletics. Track and field events from the playing fields at Offerton High School including cross country running down to the river where the runners will sit on the bank and smoke cigarettes until five minutes before the end of the lesson. (If wet this feature will be replaced by circuit training from the gym).

Boxing. Live and uninterrupted coverage of tonight's programme of bouts across a range of weights and ability levels from Grand Central Leisure Park as soon as the bars and clubs close.

As you will have gathered from my opening shots all of the above is a matter of supreme indifference to me since I have no interest in sport, well slightly less than no interest to be accurate. What concerns me is not the fact that sport seems to destined to be broadcast only on dedicated subscription channels. In fact if you are not a typical sports fan and have an attention span greater than that of a goldfish you will recall that I referred to this previously. Suggesting that this might be a good way of clearing the decks for those of us for whom the sight of twenty-two men chasing a plastic sphere around an oversized lawn falls far short of an orgasmic experience. No, what concerns me is the death throes of the terrestrial channels who insist on clutching desperately onto the concept of sport, in whatever form, as mass entertainment. This can only lead, in the absence of relevant available events, to a Saturday afternoon line up not a million miles away from the one above. I admit that minority sports may well have eager and enthusiastic audiences and their elevation to the television screens of the nation may well broaden their appeal. If this happens then the balance will have been redressed and popular sporting events will have been given back to the public without their having to pay a subscription before they can enjoy them.

Well, until Murdoch realises how popular they have become and buys up the rights to broadcast them as well!

MIKE SOMERS is a freelance writer from Stockport, England. He provides additional material to PALMER & PROZAC'S SITE FOR SORE EYES. You can see more of his observations and Rants on the SITE FOR SORE EYES soon. His views and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of hundreds of thousands of UK citizens, whose inalienable right it is to indulge in knuckle-scraping-on-pavements, headbutting-the-lamp-post, recognising-the-vomit-trail and hundreds of other, harmless, male-bonding rituals we've surely all gone through in our wild and woolly past. Oh, if we had world enough and time...........
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