Ageing beach boys enjoy the sun, sea, sand - and soccer
Among all the live matches and informative magazine shows there are some oddities on the schedules. One is the International Pro Beach Soccer Tour on ESPN, a made-for-TV concoction which must have taken its inspiration from the beach volleyball phenomenon which took off in the US earlier this decade.
International five-a-side teams play barefoot on a sand surface. Line markings are hard to discern and the rules covering the goalkeepers' handling zone seem to be pretty flexible.
The game is basically an exercise in chipping, heading and volleying. Dribbling and tackling are rare. Scores are high. It's worth a watch if only for curiosity value. Recently you would have seen Brazilian World Cup star of the 80s Junior, now grey-haired, 'slumming it' on the golden beaches of Portugal, Brazil and the south of France.
Another famous retiree getting sand between his toes was Eric Cantona playing for a team called 'Prince Albert' after the monarch-to-be in Monaco. Somehow the team name fits the dilettante nature of the event.
The fact that such a show as beach football can exist reflects a near insatiable demand for the game but also shows programming can be spread a bit thin.
As last year's World Cup commercial for the ubiquitous fizzy soft drink that rhymes with oak said: 'Eat football, sleep football, drink (you know what).' That was a good campaign but the advertising world is just as vulnerable to stretching its creative resources.
For example, the adidas ad (on CABLE TV) with David Beckham has great production values but, on repeated viewing, it grates. A schoolteacher lectures the young Beckham about his impossible dream, juxtaposed with newspaper headlines of milestones in the prodigy's rise to fame with Manchester United. It's a nice concept, backed by a great Happy Mondays track. But the more you see it, the more smug Beckham seems.
Product commercials are not the only ones that arouse comment. The house ad on STAR Sports and ESPN for the Spanish League highlights is a curiosity. Great action clips set to flamenco guitar music are the basis for a fine ad. But the narration veers into the bizarre.
Here's a verbatim account: 'To the tune of flamenco, with a passion from Spain, we bring you highlights from the Spanish Primera Liga.' But then it goes haywire, as if someone slipped some acid into the copywriter's paella. 'If you want to see the best goals, know who's in the limelight, the downs and outs, what started the bullfight and who's hitting the targets, it's all in Spanish League highlights.' On the positive side of the advertising coin is the ad on local channels for the Lunar New Year Carlsberg Cup. It's a medley of action clips featuring players from the three visiting sides - Mexico, Bulgaria and Egypt. But by special effects trickery the ball has been air-brushed out, leaving action that looks like brilliant mime. The working man's ballet, indeed.
Then comes the payoff: 'If you want to see the football come to the Carlsberg Cup. You're not really seeing the game unless you're there.' It's a mini work of art. Rumour has it that the slogan narrowly pipped the second-best punchline, which was: 'So put down the remote and get up off your backsides.' And by the way, what DID start the bullfight?