The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 12

August 2, 2009

This is from TAG 45 – October 1995
To those of you who will have unpleasant memories rekindled by this article – my sincere apologies
To those of you who never saw this programme in the first place – you lucky b***ards.
In the words of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness – “The horror. The horror”

A GAME OF FIVE HALF-WITS

Q. How do you stop yourself laughing at Jim White?

A. Watch him trying to be funny.

In his letter to TAG 44 Alex Horsburgh said that STV’s ‘A Game of 2 Halves‘ was crap. Alex was being far too charitable. The programme has in fact plumbed hitherto unknown depths of cringe-inducing embarrassment, and makes ‘Blind Date’ look like a production from the Open University. I don’t claim to have seen every edition, but the briefest glance at a couple of episodes was enough to persuade me that this was yet another half-baked dish of sewage from the Cowcaddens sports kitchen.

Alex Horsburgh correctly observed that AGOTH was sired by ‘Have I Got News For You’ out of ‘Fantasy Football’, with the resulting illegitimate bastard having not a fraction of the spontaneous wit of its parents. For starters, the whole show seems to be based on the single premise that the viewers will derive endless amusement from ‘quizmaster’ Jim White’s supposedly ‘secret’ allegiance to Rangers (the referee’s always on Rangers side – get it). Just to reinforce this ‘joke’ the two teams are usually split along Rangers/Celtic or Protestant/Catholic lines. What fun we have in spotting the supposedly impartial Jim’s clandestine bias towards the Proddy team.

This theme was introduced in the first edition via a passably amusing cameo featuring a ‘mentally-focused’ Andy Goram claiming that White had left his jacket in a night-club frequented by Rangers players. Goram simultaneously handed over an Orange bandsman’s jacket to the bold Jim, who was meanwhile performing a dire impression of a person who was completely mortified by this ‘spontaneous’ and ‘unexpected’ revelation. OK, some viewers might have got a minor chuckle out of this. However, ever since then, with a dogged determination amounting to monomania, the very same ‘joke’ has been continually dragged out and been beaten senseless by endless repetition. Thus, Jim dishes out points to the proddy team at random. Masonic handshakes all round. Jim deducts points from the Catholic team. Whines from the oppressed Catholic moaners, Masonic handshakes all round between Jim and his Orange brothers. Conceivably all this could be construed as biting satire on the first occasion. Thereafter, it’s just been fucking pathetic to the point that rather than parodying mindless bigotry, they seem to be positively encouraging it.

Similarly, one very quickly tires of Jim referring to Graeme Souness as ‘a very nice man’ every time he’s mentioned (about 4 times per programme on average). Even the studio audience have given up laughing at that one. Calling Souness ‘very nice’ is supposed to be heavily ironic, emphasising the fact that many journalists are arse-lickers extraordinaire (prime example – Jim White). However, Jim uses the phrase with such gusto that it’s apparent that he’s entirely missed the point of the joke. He thinks that the irony resides in the fact that Souness is, in fact, not very nice at all.

Is There a Doc in the House?

The two resident team captains are Denis Law and Tony Roper. What can one say about Denis? His contribution was perfectly summed up in an article in the Falkirk Fanzine, ‘Rupert’s Roar’ by Colin Main who said, “He has no knowledge at all of anything that’s happened in Scottish League football in the last 20 years and has a sense of humour that begins and ends with a hairstyle”. Maybe Denis needs the work, but for Tony Roper there’s really no excuse. Apparently he’s partly responsible for the ‘script’, thereby instantly forfeiting any street credibility he gained with ‘Only An Excuse ‘.

It Rhymes with White

The reasons why it just doesn’t work are many and various. Firstly, as one of the most naturally wooden and non-spontaneous presenters ever to appear on the box, Jim White is simply not cut out for rapid-fire repartee. You can actually see him reading the ‘witticisms’ and ‘bon-mots’ directly off his idiot-cards and teleprompters.

Whatever humour there is just passes serenely over Denis Law’s head. For example, one simply had to marvel at the look of mystification on Denis’s face when Tony Roper referred to Andy Ritchie as ‘Mabozza’. (Mabozza Ritchie – get it, get it – Denis didn’t).

Denis even managed to fuck up the only scripted reference to Dumbarton that I’ve detected so far. It was the old chestnut about which Scottish team tried to sign Johann Cruyff. Of course, in real life, Denis hadn’t a fucking scoobie, but a jokey answer was provided for him on the teleprompter, which he succeeded in mis-reading and buggering up comprehensively. Tony Roper is, however, a genuinely witty man and he should really be the question-master if the idea is going to work at all. As it is, he seems so depressed at the hopelessness of the whole thing, and so imprisoned within the pre-scripted format, that it’s only very occasionally that his true wit is given free rein.

The other celebrity guests are just so predictable that watching the show becomes a sort of Caledonian groundhog day, in which the same banter happens over and over again. Chick Young is bald, Derek Johnstone is fat, Tommy Burns is short-sighted, Tommy Docherty’s had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus, Graeme Souness is a very nice man, Maurice Johnston always wanted to play for Falkirk, Andy Goram wears women’s underwear, Jim White is a Rangers supporter. Masonic handshakes all round.

Talking of which, one of the regular guests on the programme has been Rangers vice-chairman, Donald Findlay. It is totally beyond me how we have managed to reach the stage where directors of football clubs are considered to have something worthwhile to say. I much preferred the old days when club directors were cloaked in anonymity for fear of being beaten to death by a howling mob if they dared show their faces in public during daylight hours. Donald Findlay reminds us all why that valuable old custom should be revived.

Have I Got Nothing New For You

The vital role which Protestants and Catholics play in the programme really gives the lie to any notion that this show has got anything to do with SCOTTISH football. They should have just called it ‘A Game of Two Teams’ and been done with it. The producers probably think they’re being really daring in allowing overtly sectarian chatter amongst the participants. This conveniently ignores the fact that most football supporters couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Pope or King Billy. STV seem determined to pander to the diseased bags of shite whose empty lives are filled with tricolours or sashes. The fact is that STV think that the Old Firm ARE Scottish football and this programme merely continues their long dishonourable history of ignoring everyone else unless they can work in a Parkhead/Ibrox connection somewhere.

One of the major ironies of the whole thing is that there exists an enormous fund of amusement within Scottish football which could easily sustain a series of properly presented programmes. One need only consider some of the old clips of film which have been featured on AGOTH. For example, a slow-motion reply of Martin Buchan clearly scooping a net-bound shot off the Scottish line with his hand, accompanied by a deadly-serious Arthur Montford commentary to the effect that “as you can see, the ball bounced up and struck Buchan on the chest“. One can only imagine what Angus Deayton or Frank Skinner might have made of that. Oor ain Jim White ruined the effect by shaking his head in mock astonishment and proceeding to read directly off his prompt card, “Hit him on the chest. Oh dear, oh dear, ha-ha, ha-ha, nice one, Arthur “.

df3Time after time the raw material is inherently funny (film clips, photographs, old interviews, quotes etc), but the potential for really original, imaginative and, most of all, spontaneous humour is destroyed by participants with the comic ability and timing of Mr Blobby. No, I’m afraid the whole thing is a grotesque missed opportunity. Given the wealth of available material and the undoubted public appetite, a successful and highly popular programme should have been just a tap into the empty net from two yards out. Instead, they’ve blasted the ball over the bar and right out of the ground. The whole mess reaches it’s sadly predictable nadir with the final round karaoke competition. Just what is this all about? It is hard to think of any more undignified and unamusing spectacle that Donald Findlay and Denis Law attempting to croon along to some ditty that they’ve plainly never heard before in their lives, while Jim White pretends to be stifling stage guffaws prior to awarding them 55 points for being members of the Springburn Lodge. Masonic handshakes all round. Somebody should give these guys a non-Masonic handshake round the throat. They think it’s all over? I wish to fuck it had never started.

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