TV WATCH Review of the month on screen
Following an awkward attempt to blend in with charismatic people in last year’s documentary Euro 96: When Football Came Home, Alan Shearer returns to mix uneasily with scientists in Dementia, Football and Me (BBC1, November 12). Faced with a neuropathologist and a brace of research physiologists, Shearer’s voice slowed to the pace of a toddler trying to concentrate on a tower of wooden blocks. He stuck to his task, though, undergoing with grim levity lab tests and an MRI scan, to help in the quest to link repeated heading of the ball with dementia.
Shearer met Jeff Astle’s daughter, who described her father, a man of fastidious table manners, eating butter with his hands shortly before he died at the age of 59. He met the wife of Matt Tees, who has dementia and now cannot remember which teams he played for, and Nobby Stiles’s son, whose father lives with dementia in a care home. There was a reunion with Chris Nicholl, who gave Shearer his first chance as a player at Southampton and also made him head the ball thousands of times in training routines. When reminded of this, Nicholl’s bluff “Oh so it’s my fault!” contains a touch of paternal disappointment when faced with the ungrateful son.
Finally, Shearer interviewed the FA’s chief medical advisor and Gordon Taylor of the PFA, challenging them with the lack of research on the subject in this country when the US Soccer Federation has banned under-tens from heading the ball in theirs. The medical advisor answered Shearer’s understandable frustration with a litany of delaying platitudes, while Taylor listened to him with the jaded air of a man who has just finished producing an album of children singing pop songs. The research to prove a causal link between heading the ball and dementia has been underfunded and over-
looked, but in the wake of the documentary the FA and PFA have announced a new study will be conducted by doctors, beginning in January.
For all those who have had a bad experience at a football ground, The Opposition (BT Sport 1, November 14) will have put things in perspective. In 1970, Chile elected a socialist president, Salvador Allende, who, by focusing on workers’ rights and meeting Fidel Castro at the height of the Cold War, upset the US administration. In 1973, a US-backed military coup usurped Allende, and General Pinochet began rounding up anyone considered a threat to the
new regime. Around 40,000 people were taken from their homes and incarcerated beneath the National Stadium, where Chile were in the process of qualifying for the 1974 World Cup. Footage showed detainees standing on the terraces, marshalled by soldiers, waiting for their name to be called to visit the Velodrome, where interrogation, torture, mock executions, rape and actual executions took place daily.
The Soviet Union, due to play Chile in the second leg of their World Cup qualifier playoff, protested at the venue being used as a concentration camp and a FIFA delegation paid a brief visit to the stadium. They found noth-
ing amiss, because the prisoners had been hidden (Pinochet was not perturbed enough by the FIFA investigation to actually move them), herded into locker rooms and tunnels with guns trained on them to encourage silence. The visit was not a complete waste of time; the FIFA delegation did test the showers in the dressing rooms and found them to be satisfactory. FIFA finally sent an ultimatum, but it was to the USSR, to play the return leg or forfeit the game. They refused and the Chile team were instructed to turn up at the stadium, where some remaining free people had been found to sparsely populate the terraces, and walk the ball into the net to win a place in the World Cup finals.
Two of the players, Carlos Caszely and Leonardo Véliz, had been outspoken in their opposition to the military junta, with the former not shaking hands with Pinochet at a public event staged on the eve of the team’s departure for Germany. Caszely’s mother had been abducted and tortured by the military as a warning to him to keep quiet while abroad and, as the caped general passed down the line of players, Caszely kept his hands fluttering at his sides and edged back a little so that Pinochet was forced to grope for the hand of the next man along. A shy, furtive gesture on film, but one of such bravery, and rarity, in the Pinochet era that it was interred in the depths of his country’s public consciousness.
In a less life-threatening but still gallant exhibition, Mark Chapman roamed unprotected among managers, players and ex-players in MOTD: FA Cup – Second Round Draw (BBC2, November 4). Chapman, a man who avoids cliche and conversationally pats his pundits down in a search for meaning, was forced to expose himself to a barrage of “That’s the beauty of the FA Cup”s, “Anything can happen in the Cup”s and “Big day out for them”s. Like a hyper-allergic child forced to shoulder through Wetherspoons on New Year’s Eve, he went on a personal journey – across the crowded players’ lounge at Slough Town – that is inspirational to us all.
Modern times Football’s bid for world domination
Goal.com, November 7
Evening Standard, November 7
Guardian, November 24