TV WATCH THIS MONTH’S SCREEN REVIEW
Age has done strange things to Sky Sports. After years as the country’s de facto state broadcaster for football, the channel now approaches a season-defining Premier League match with the same sombre intensity the BBC adopts following the death of a prominent public figure.
Sober-suited pundits line up to confirm the importance of the game, a countdown clock is introduced so that the nation can clear its schedule and presenters are allowed to employ words such as “enormity” and “magnitude”. The message is clear: Manchester City v Liverpool is not a match to be enjoyed, but an epochdefining event that we are just fortunate enough to be living through.
You could tell it was a Massive Game because it had a subtitle. Like an advert for M&S, or one of the later sequels in a Hollywood movie franchise, this wasn’t just any Super Sunday, this was Super Sunday: Race for the Title (Sky Sports, April ). Roy Keane was certainly excited. We knew he was excited because he told us so: “It takes a lot to get me excited.” He didn’t sound particularly excited, but this was entirely consistent. It was a respectful excitement. An excitement that knew it had no business trying to compete with the gravity of the fixture. In other words, this was the perfect game for Keane’s own brand of hyper-focused antienthusiasm. After the game, the pundits looked delighted with the draw. With nothing decided, the Race for the Title would be good for a few laps yet.
Like a low-budget re-enactment society, the BBC were able to stage their own version of Super Sunday less than a week later, as Manchester City and Liverpool met in the FA Cup semi-final (BBC , April ). It was hard not to feel a little sorry for the Match of the Day team. They had their own countdown clock, but with coverage starting just minutes before kick-off it was only really of use to viewers who had just varnished their nails or popped some cauliflower cheese in the oven.
Whenever two marquee sides turn up on the BBC there’s usually a giddy atmosphere, with Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and co playing the roles of boys who have invited the two most popular girls they
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know to a party, and can’t quite believe they said yes. But this was a strangely muted affair. Perhaps it was the fact City were fielding a weakened team. Maybe it was the general sense of ennui that lingers around semi-finals at Wembley. It could have been the national stadium itself, increasingly a magnet for football’s darker element. As if to prove the point, Manchester City fans chanted through an aborted minute’s silence for victims of the Hillsborough disaster. Having raced into a half-time lead, Liverpool won a thriller that was only thrilling in the last five minutes.
“We just thought he was paranoid,” Paul Gascoigne’s sister Anna says towards the end of Gazza (BBC , April ), a brilliant yet thoroughly depressing two-part documentary on the life of the eponymous star and his toxic relationship with the tabloid press. Visiting Gascoigne at the Priory clinic in , Anna was shocked to discover that her brother had taped up the smoke alarms in his room, fearful they contained listening devices. Thanks to the phone hacking scandal we now know that some newspapers were indeed listening in.
Whether by accident or design, Sampson Collins’ film chooses not to use the talking heads format, instead using modern-day contributions only as voice overs. With no break in footage from the period, it effectively re creates the claustrophobic relentlessness of Gascoigne’s life in the public eye. For him and us there is no respite from Gazza. “At the end of the day, nobody died,” says former News of the World reporter Greg Miskiw, jailed for phone
NUMBERS GAME The figures behind the facts
€1 billion £7.1 million
£7.1 million n
The buyout clause included in -year-old defender Ronald Araújo’s new contract with Barcelona
The winning bid for Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” shirt from the World Cup, which was being auctioned online
The number of Championship teams who have scored fewer league goals than
Aleksandar Mitrovic this season
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