Rees, Jasper, The Independent (London, England)
YOU CAN go several years watching BBC 2 and never clap eyes on a football. From the middle of June the boot will be on the other foot: you'll be able to watch leather spheres for a whole month and never clap eyes on BBC 2. They've a reputation for cleverness at the channel, so they must have worked that one out: Goal TV was a flagrant attempt to get their retaliation in first.
Theme television, in which you spend a night, a week or a month mugging up on one subject, is the industry's growth industry. After the lofty issues tossed about in seasons called "War and Peace" and "Crime and Punishment", an evening with Gary Lineker and co was obviously the next logical step.
Although it lasted about as long as one of the shorter Wagner operas, attendance from overture to curtain call was optional. BBC 2 has perfected the menu in which even those with the attention span of a gnat are catered for, so anyone who didn't fancy that episode of the Likely Lads could nip out for a meat pie.
In fact, this wasn't just interim entertainment for lager louts. As the evening put together a neat six-hour passing move you could hear the crowd shouting "Gimme a P!" "P!" "Gimme an H!" "H!" Put `em together and what `ave you got: "Phootball": the closest the beautiful game gets to a degree in philosophy.
You had to admire the work-rate of a midfield composed of social psychologists with top buttons done up and "writers" in polo necks, all promoting phootball as a phit subject for a postgraduate study. But the problem with talking about football on an intellectual level, a trick which rent-a-phan Nick Hornby pulled off again in The Ball Is Round with slightly diminishing returns, is that it runs up against the sketch, quoted in Football Hell, in which Eric Idle's deconstructionist pundit bamboozles John Cleese's brain-dead centre forward with PhD-speak. …