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Television review: The matchless Apres Match


Illustration: Jim Cogan

Illustration: Jim Cogan

Illustration: Jim Cogan

It was a beautiful thing, that Apres Match of the Day. In general, the series revisits some of the great days of Irish football as they were covered by RTE, but last week's choice in particular seemed to bring us back to a time of the deepest strangeness.

It was November 1974, and Ireland were playing the Soviet Union at Dalymount Park. John Giles was playing and managing, it was the debut of Liam Brady. Ireland won 3-0, with Don Givens scoring a hat-trick. Jimmy Magee was commentating.

There has always been an other-worldly dimension to that game, something weirdly perfect about Paddy's destruction of the USSR - even the fact that RTE managed to preserve the film seems a little odd.

Many times we have seen these highlights, but in this fuller version we now have an official souvenir programme. We have this imaginary RTE studio presentation including a match preview with men smoking cigarettes, and wires on the floor and shadows on the walls and ads with no moving pictures. But then much of RTE's presentation at the time was itself imaginary.

They seemed to be saying: this is how it would be, if we were running a TV station. And so there would be moments of flair, of fluency, and then moments when it seemed certain that everything would just stop, because nobody knew what was supposed to happen next.

The Apres Match crew clearly has a deep understanding of this ancient culture. As children, they may well have gone through the definitive TV experience of that era, the practice whereby the RTE clock would be seen ticking towards 3 o'clock and the start of the first programme, and 3 o'clock would come and the clock was still on the screen, still ticking for another five minutes, 10 minutes, as long as it took for RTE to get itself up for the day's entertainment.

So when presenter Liam Nolan, superbly rendered by Risteard Cooper, introduces us to Barry Murphy and Gary Cooke representing the "panel" of Malcolm Leadbetter, "the chairman of Bank of Ireland", and Larry Joyce, "the chief sports editor of the Sunday World", we don't necessarily think that this is some sort of exercise in surrealism. In fact, it feels more like a straight reconstruction.

We recognise that it would not be out of the question for RTE back then to have a Malcolm Leadbetter in the studio on such a day, because he was a "suave" sort of a fellow with a bit of authority about him, and he spoke in the smooth tones of Official Ireland as it was in 1974.

Larry Joyce would also be there or thereabouts, a bit of a swinger. Towards the end he is arranging for himself and Malcolm and "Liam Nolan" to go for a meal in Solomon Grundy's, with Malcolm adding that "Larry knows a few birds". Larry is wearing a cravat, which confirms that he is the sort of man who would feel quite comfortable in the RTE of that time. In the mind's eye, Montrose was a place in which a man wearing a cravat could prosper, a place in which the News itself tended to be read by actors.

Men such as Charles Mitchel or Maurice O'Doherty had developed their lovely voices on the stage, not in the newsroom. I feel that over the years RTE has lost some of this sense of theatre, this idea that it was a home for the more exotic creatures of our species. When Apres Match has a voiceover man using Liam Nolan's microphone to intone an ad for Boyer's, Nolan calls him "Cecil". And really he couldn't be anything else.

So Apres Match correctly decided that they shouldn't impose themselves on this lost civilisation, they should just slide in there alongside the Barney and Beany ads for Batchelors Marrowfat Peas, and the terrifying tale of the woman who hears everyone whispering about her as she walks down the street, and realises they all know she's a "TV Sponger".

There may be some readers who are not aware that a TV Sponger was a person who hadn't paid their TV licence. There was no greater shame.

Well in fact there were thousands of shames, but this one of the most heavily advertised. How else were we to pay for Malcolm and Larry and Cecil?

Apres Match of the Day (RTE2)

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