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Whatever happened to Sportsnight?

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Robbo Robson | 11:45 UK time, Thursday, 25 March 2010

I got home from the pub on Wednesday night fully expecting my Sky+ thingammy to have recorded a Match of the Day covering the five midweek fixtures. Lo and behold, there's nowt. Five games! That's more than you get on a Saturday these days.

One of the regular posters on here, operating under the name 'followingborohurts' so it's clear he is (a) an intellectual and (b) a masochist, asked whether anyone remembered Sportsnight.

Remember it? It was the highlight of the week, mate, 'cos that was when my miserable Mam and Dad used to let me stay up. In fact, when it was highlights of a big England fixture, they'd dig me out of bed at 10pm and carry us down in my dressing-gown.

It was such a night as that when England drew against Poland in 1973, even though Brian Clough said they had Ronald McDonald in goal, and we were out of the World Cup. Tomaszewski wasn't so much a goalie that night as a forcefield. I seem to remember me mam resorting to that default lass's response to sporting calamity: "Never mind, it's only a game!"

I thought "Try telling that to Norman Hunter", who was weeping only slightly less uncontrollably than I was. Bites-Yer-Legs to Big-Girl's-Blouse in 90 minutes.
Harry Carpenter and Frank Bruno The Dynamic Duo - Harry Carpenter and Frank Bruno
Of course, my other memory of Sportsnight is that it always seemed to be presented by Harry Carpenter. There was something about Harry that made you feel you were in good company. He was smooth without being wrinkle-free, he was enthusiastic without being tiringly eccentric, and every so often he let his allegiances slip. (Much like Bill McLaren, who for all his utter decency, always had a couple of extra decibels in the tank when the Scots scored a try.)

It was clear Harry enjoyed his work. He loved golf, too, but was apparently a bit rubbish at it - which is very much like myself, except, because I'm rubbish at it, I flipping hate it.
As a commentator, Harry was old school; less is more. The Richie Benaud way.

The whole idea behind television is that it's a visual medium. There are too may planks out there telling you what you already know. (Your modern-day ex-footballer-turned-pundit could do a masterclass in the bleeding obvious - my current favourite is "the next goal's going to be very important".)

Harry's quietness meant you got more involved as a viewer. You could hear George Foreman's concrete fists battering into the rope-bound Muhammad Ali in 1974. You could hear his corner-men pleading with their boy to get off the ropes. And that Carpenter commentary, when Ali uncoiled from his defensive cringe like some venomous hedgehog and took out the ailing Foreman with a cracking right, will be etched onto my brain cells for all eternity: "Oh my God, he's won the title back at 32!"

Thirty two! Them were the days, eh? Most 32-year-olds were looking greedily towards their bus passes by then. There were none of these strapped-for-cash former champs stumbling out of retirement like elephant seals, with one hand poking out a creaky jab and the other busily holding back the hands of time.

And, of course, there's Harry's legendary "He's hurt Tyson! He's hurt Tyson!" as Frank Bruno challenged for the title. This was in the day when Iron Mike stalked the heavyweight division like some rampaging prehistoric reptile. Hurting him was a major triumph, like a tiny arrow pinged into the hide of a giant Ray Harryhausen monster. And, of course, we liked Harry for his one-sidedness - it was all the more appreciated 'cos it was so much the exception to the rule.

Harry was also incapable of saying Wimbledon, as far as I can recall. In Carpenter-speak, it was always 'Wimmeldon'. Apparently he retired in 1994, but it really doesn't seem possible that he could've been off-air that long.

I'd gladly have watched him fronting a Match of the Day/Sportsnight special this week. There was some compensation in another one of them harem scarem performances by Tottenham, although I did feel a deal of sympathy for Fulham, who by the end were moving with all the speed and fluidity of turtles coming up a beach to lay their eggs.

It's a tiny squad Roy Hodgson's got and I just hope the fact that playing 50 games already this season doesn't scupper their chances in the Europa League. I've heard Benitez and Wenger bandy around this 'ooh we're tired' excuse for years now when things go pear-shaped, but, to his credit, Hodgson hasn't resorted to any of that. He's a top man.
Gianfranco Zola Gianfranco Zola - not a happy chappy
Tuesday night saw the much-anticipated-by-anyone-who-knows-owt-about-summat defeat of West Ham by Wolves, who are now officially 'resurgent'. Irons fans beware. Your team plays pretty stuff from time to time, but it doesn't get enough goals and its manager is one of the nicest men on the planet. That pretty much describes Boro in 2009.

Sullivan's ruled out sacking Zola - and, let's face it, unless Trevor Brooking wants to do his Lazarus act again, who's available to take over? That Red Adair in negative Iain Dowie's been bagged by Hull, so there's no one. But the Hammers are rank. They were bad at the Emirates and they were worse against Mick McCarthy's men.

It's going forward where they seem to be lacking most. Carlton Cole gave up at Arsenal and tried to do everything on his own for the last 20 minutes. Zola puts McCarthy up front with him (Benni, not Mick, although a no-nonsense Irish-Yorkshireman with a bent nose might have done a better job) and still Cole looks like he'd do better on his tod.

Scott Parker and Julien Faubert apart, no one's playing well - and if Burnley or Hull can pull their fingers out, the catastrophe may well be on its way for Davids Sullivan and Gold.
And if that happens, they'll be turning the Olympic Stadium from a 25,000-seater to a 50,000-seater every other Saturday by putting out a load of deck-chairs. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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