Mike Bassett spin-off is just 30 minutes of TV hell

Richard Sutcliffe On Football richard.sutcliffe@ypn.co.uk

TONIGHT, the third episode of a series that has managed to lower the bar in what was already a genre of shockingly poor standard will be broadcast on ITV.

Mike Bassett: Manager sees Ricky Tomlinson revive the character who, in the mockumentary-style film of 2001, rose from managing unfashionable Norwich City to taking charge of England and leading his country to the World Cup semi-finals.

It was by no means a

classic, but there were enough amusing moments to keep this cinema-goer happy, whether it was the mannerisms of the Phil Neal-style assistant, the incredibly biased commentary as

England cheated their way past Argentina with a 'Hand of God' or the punch-up in an airport lounge when the Republic of Ireland squad took exception to being welcomed with the words, "Let's hear it for the England B-team".

Bassett duly returned from the finals to a hero's welcome and I presumed that would be the last we would hear of the portly scouse manager.

However, while recently leafing through the TV listings I noticed a spin-off was scheduled so, a fortnight ago, I settled down in front of the television expecting an easy but enjoyable 30 minutes.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be half-hour from TV hell with the standard being set in the opening seconds by an incredibly lame double-entendre about Bassett's 'sausage' that even Sid James and Terry Scott would have been embarrassed to utter.

After starting badly, it soon tailed off and, by the end of the first episode, I was left wondering if it could get any worse.

Last week it did, so tonight will instead be spent in my Riddlesden local trying, and probably failing due to the landlord's tendency to get the answers wrong, to win a gallon of beer at the weekly quiz rather than enduring any more of the goings-on at Wirral County FC.

The show did, however, leave me wondering why the most popular sport in the world cannot be transferred to the screen.

Boxing, in the form of Raging Bull, Cinderella Man and even Rocky, has managed it, so why not football? Goal!, a tale of how a young hopeful leaves America for a trial with Newcastle, is the most recent attempt to bridge that gap and is okay, though when compared with Russell Crowe's excellent Cinderella Man it falls way short of being anything but average.

There are exceptions such as Bend it Like Beckham, the presence of a certain Miss Knightley may well have influenced my thinking on this, and the wonderful scene from "Kes" when Brian Glover captures the role of the bullying PE teacher to perfection.

Those apart, bad films based on football are a tradition that seems difficult to break with past efforts ranging from the laughably cliched When Saturday Comes starring Sean Bean to the the daddy of the genre, Escape to Victory. The latter was Hollywood's attempt to cash in on the popularity of Pele, who in the late Seventies and early Eighties was helping attract huge crowds to the North American Soccer League.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a turkey of which even Bernard Matthews would have been proud.

The film had many factors against it and I sincerely hope that whoever cast Sylvester Stallone as the goalkeeper never worked in the industry again with the Rocky star-to-be singularly failing to out-act even a group of bewildered-looking Ipswich Town players and Ossie Ardiles.

The small screen has hardly fared much better either with the plots involving Harchester United of Sky's Dream Team being so unrealistic even the soap opears featuring Leeds and Newcastle have struggled to compete in recent years.

Personal childhood favourites such as Jossy's Giants and Murphy's Mob were, once viewed when my voice no longer resembled Alan Ball's, embarrassingly bad and begged the question: Did i really have nothing better to do in my pre-teenage years than watch this drivel?

In fact, the best films or dramas based on football are ones that involve no stunted action at all. Footballers' Wives may not be my cup of tea, but it is watched by

millions while the two best films I have seen are last year's Football Factory and the 1997 adaptation of Nick Hornby's best-selling book, Fever Pitch.

Both strike a chord with their targeted audience due to their realism, unlike Mike Bassett: Manager which even the most dedicated of Carry On fans must feel is a slapstick farce too far.

And that is why shortly after 10pm tonight the TV will be silent as I instead take part in as regular argument with Ian at my local as to just why my answers are right and his are wrong.