The night I switched off Europe

I found myself yearning for the aggression and technical incompetence of a British football game
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The Independent Culture
IT WOULD be probably be overstating the case to say that, as Dave Lampkin, the former world champion from the Isle of Man balanced his motorbike on top of a vast tractor tyre before moving on to a pile of logs, I experienced a major shift of political alignment, but something significant seemed to have happened. By the time we were paying a visit to the professional tenpin bowling circuit, I knew that views of which I had previously thought I was certain had been severely shaken.

This change of heart took place in a foreign hotel. There was cable TV. For American guests, a 24-hour business channel, presented by dull, sinister analysts, brought the latest news of mergers and credit balances. The French were given light culture - Spinoza for beginners, a documentary on Iggy Pop. The Germans were provided with news about Germany. The British got Eurosport.

What a grim surprise that turned out to be. I had always believed that, given the right circumstances and anaesthetised by a certain amount of alcohol, I could derive some sort of pleasure from watching almost any sport. Snooker, it's true, can irritate me with its acned stars and its saloon-bar self- importance - particularly when it kicks The Late Review off the air - and the attraction of lawn bowls remains something of mystery. I can even stand cricket, particularly in its truncated two-and-a-half- day form currently being pioneered by England in Australia.

But in Eurosport, I found the perfect 12-step programme to cure me of my addiction. Apart from Dave Lampkin and his balancing bike, there was hour after hour of ski-jumping, followed by 10-pin bowling, a sport so dull that, after a while, the expressionless, middle-aged Americans in the audience began to seem like perverts watching a live sex show. Marginally more interesting was a quasi-erotic dance sport masquerading as a form of gymnastics in which scantily clad Eastern European teenagers thrust themselves hopefully at the camera. Then, for tennis fans, there was a veterans' friendly from Geneva (could any three words together inspire less hope for entertainment than "veterans", "friendly" and "Geneva"?) in which some dear old things hit a ball over the net at one another in the name of a children's charity.

But with dullness came illumination. Astonishingly, these exercises in tedium were sponsored. Every few minutes, the "action" was interrupted by a series of advertisements for cars, trainers, Pringles, George Michael - and the euro. It's true. A commercial which seems to last for about two minutes is being broadcast across Europe to remind us all that the euro is on its way, that it will make life more convenient and efficient, that it will all be great, magnifique, fantastische.

It was the ad, and its context, which caused me something of a Euro-crisis. Until now, I had taken the generally easygoing attitude towards Europeanisation encouraged by our great leader and eloquently expressed last week by Andrew Marr in the New Statesman. "I want my children to be extraordinarily different from me," he wrote. "I want them to be multilingual, able to move about and feel at home in Germany and France, as I never have or will... They must grow up to see Agincourt and Waterloo as European tribal battles, not destiny-soaked stations towards the triumph of global liberalism."

It made sense. Surely a touch of, say, French wit, Greek warmth and Scandinavian broad-mindedness would leaven the British character; even if we ended up with Scandinavian warmth, German wit and Greek broad-mindedness, it would be an escape from our self-pitying, insular greyness.

But, on the evidence provided by Eurosport and the euro ad, an alternative future beckons. The international appeal of Dave Lampkin and the friendly tennis veterans depends precisely upon a lack of colour. The very thing which makes, say, sumo wrestling of interest - its ritual, atmosphere, the role of the crowd - is what is removed when it is served up for international audiences. The mandarins of the new internationalism forget that it is sport's barely suppressed violence, its cock-ups and confusion which make it of interest. None of these can be found a place in the new Euro-blandness which is as sanitised, money-driven and essentially fake as a Coca Cola advert.

Suddenly I find myself yearning yearning for the aggression and technical incompetence of a British football game, the sense that at any moment the thing could descend into a riot.

More seriously, I begin to understand what the nutty patriots in the Conservative Party are worried about. No more cable TV for me.

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