Entertainment

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: British football with pom-poms and popcorn?

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: British football with pom-poms and popcorn? It’ll never catch on


Fever Pitch! The Rise of the Premier League

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Silent Witness 

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How different British sport on telly could be if we were just that little bit more . . . American. Hotdogs and popcorn and cheerleaders with pom-poms — we don’t know what we’re missing.

When the chairmen of the country’s top football clubs joined forces with satellite TV to launch English ‘soccer’ as a family friendly commodity in 1992, they dreamt of pop-poms.

Fever Pitch! The Rise Of The Premier League (BBC2) replayed snatches of entertainment from the first match, including a trio of plastic pop stars miming to Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street and a squadron of high-kicking girls in hotpants — the Sky Strikers.

Still taken from Fever Pitch! The Rise Of The Premier League (BBC2)

Still taken from Fever Pitch! The Rise Of The Premier League (BBC2)

In the crowd, bemusement turned to withering contempt. At half time, two giant inflatable sumo wrestlers bounced into the centre circle to do battle. The stadium jeered them off, chanting: ‘What the £@%text was that?’

It’s easy to forget how long ago all this was. Alan Shearer was 21 — it was an era when satellite dishes spattered every tower block like pigeon droppings, but those extra channels were more of a status symbol than a practical option.

As former Sky boss Dave Hill pointed out, a daily diet of movies was slow to catch on. Rupert Murdoch, the media billionaire trying to convert Britain’s viewing habits, decided to woo us with non-stop sport instead.

Dave compared his former boss to Gandalf from Lord Of The Rings, a wizard ‘wearing glasses like the windscreen of a Ford Cortina’ —which implies he’s no longer invited to lunch at Murdoch Mansions.

The problem with football on telly was that the game was still a bloodsport, on and off the pitch. Footballer-turned-actor Vinnie Jones remembered his Wimbledon days: ‘It was more of a borstal than a football team.’

What the game needed was a charismatic superstar — and he arrived from France (via Leeds, admittedly) with his shirt collar flicked up: Eric Cantona.

The game’s foremost mad philosopher still delivers mystifying quotes. Describing his style, he said: ‘Like ze lions, like ze tigers, if zey are sleeping, but when zey move zey move quick!’

Beyond that, he couldn’t analyse his game: ‘All I want is to express myself. It’s like in love . . . I don’t want to know why I love my wife.’

The film-makers clearly loved Eric, which bled into a worship of his club, Manchester United, and its manager, Alex Ferguson. This partisan monovision reflected the early days of TV’s obsession with the Premier League: you would feel short-changed if you supported Liverpool or Chelsea, let alone Middlesbrough.

Fans of Silent Witness (BBC1) may feel a little short-changed, too, by the absence of supporting cast

Fans of Silent Witness (BBC1) may feel a little short-changed, too, by the absence of supporting cast

Still, this was a return to form for a show that too often wallowed in woke political storylines

Still, this was a return to form for a show that too often wallowed in woke political storylines

Fans of Silent Witness (BBC1) may feel a little short-changed, too, by the absence of supporting cast. Dr Nikki and her brooding Mr Macho (Emilia Fox and David Caves) are still muttering into tape recorders as they inspect cadavers at the Lyell Centre, but they are on their own.

Their employer, Dr Too-Good-To-Be-True Chamberlain, choked to death on nerve gas last year, which prompted Chirpy Clarissa to take a gap year. If only the scriptwriters had hung on a few months — the duo could just be working from home.

Still, this was a return to form for a show that too often wallowed in woke political storylines. In a two-parter that continues tonight, Dr Nikki is investigating a murder in prison, where the chief suspect is a serial killer she helped to convict 11 years ago.

She has also taken up lecturing, and flirting with her students. ‘I read your paper on asphyxiation,’ one tells her. ‘It took my breath away.’

Next time: A man is crushed to death by a falling punchline.

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