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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Outside the Box – Football on TV: Gazza’s running out of chances while England run riot in San Marino


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Let’s face it, there’s an awful lot of guff on TV isn’t there? In the ever-burgeoning crevasse of broadcasting channels, the sheer volume of half-baked tripe and lightweight, hollowed-out husks of regurgitated twaddle leaves the average viewer starved of visual stimulation and viewing contentment. Whether it’s Celebrity donkey boxing, Date My Daughter or maybe just even the Jeremy Kyle Show, the saturation of eye-wateringly awful programmes is reaching chronic levels and if David Cameron would stop banging on about the country’s crushing economic situation for five minutes, he could do something about it.

Until then though, we are left with the blandest, most inane piece of mould clinging to British television: Daybreak. Now as a community of macho football fans, the dreary snooze-fest of ITV’s morning whinge market Daybreak largely passes us by, but yesterday morning we were implored to tune in as Paul Gascoigne made his “first and only interview” since his much publicised relapse six weeks ago when the former England star was allegedly minutes from death in his ongoing battle with alcoholism. Naturally, my interest was piqued and so I bravely woke early, rubbed the hazy night away from my bleary eyes and watched on as Lorraine Kelly and the bloke who sang Walking In The Air in The Snowman pointed at and told off one of England’s most naturally gifted players ever.

I think it was a fairly good move for Gazza to choose Daybreak as his first interview, if anything would sober the guy up it would be the garish, child-like mural adorning the studios as well as the all-round dreary atmosphere. As the interview began Gascoigne, looking weary with eyes sunken yet retaining their sparkle, sat shame-faced and quiet as our hosts described his latest brush with disaster. Shaky video footage shot before his collapse showed Gazza disorientated, shaking and mumbling incoherently, although to be fair I think that’s exactly how I would look if I was raised from my bed at four in the morning to appear on bloody Daybreak.

It was a fairly fraught interview overall, Gazza has become accustomed to talking frankly about his demons and so we were given tense sound bites from his doctors such as, “I don’t think this guy’s gonna make it” and how Gazza now feels he’s “back in reality”. But the sad truth is that this routine candidness illustrates the problem. Gazza has talked like this countless times on television; the resolve to stop, the gratitude for well-wishers, the desire for a happy life. Just over a year ago, Gascoigne sat down for a much-publicised chinwag with Piers Morgan, and if you compared the transcripts of that interview with the one yesterday, you would find a word-for-word rehash. In hindsight I suspect the Morgan interview is a regret for Gazza, because if anything’s going to drive somebody to drink, it’s being in the company of Piers Morgan. But I remember watching that night and I was struck by the emotional doggedness of Gazza to live a healthy life and his plans for a future. Yet here we are, after yet another setback with the same promises and hopes.

The man himself is all too aware of this. He mentioned a myriad of times during the interview that, “I’ve done it before” and “I know I’ve said this in the past”, and that in itself is worrying. If he knows he is capable of getting through the hard times relatively unscathed, then where’s the jeopardy in another slip? And another after that? We can all smile along and nod earnestly when Gazza makes proclamations like “I love being sober” but it all counts for nothing if he turns up on Football Focus next year, or The Graham Norton Show the year after that telling tales of more relapses, armed with more excuses and making more promises. We all wish Gazza well but unless he wishes himself well, really wishes himself well, his oft-acknowledged waste of talent may turn into a despairing waste of life.

Back on Friday, Roy’s roving England team flew out to the tiny state of San Marino to essentially bully a load of dustbin men and chefs into submission for the World Cup 2014 Qualifier: San Marino vs England. The 8-0 drubbing was really an aside, you wonder why anyone actually bothered playing the game at all but that’s international football for you. I was much more interested in the ITV coverage and Roy Keane in particular: fast becoming the best and most insightful pundit in TV football with his forthright opinions and seething menace. Made all the more remarkable of course by the fact he has to sit with Adrian Chiles. Keano demonstrated exactly why he’s worth listening to in the post-match natter on Friday. Looking ahead to tonight’s crucial game against Montenegro, Keane argued fervently that England should go all out for the win, whereas the actual English representatives alongside, Lee Dixon and caution personified Gareth Southgate meekly bowed to the threat of Montenegro, a team ranked lower than Japan and Mali, and appealed for England to stay tight and not lose. I’m with the Irishman, as I suspect are most other England fans so let’s tune in tonight and watch them play Keane’s way, maybe minus the aggressive violence though.


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