James Corrigan: Beware nostalgia TV! Reruns are bad for your health

View From The Sofa: England v Greece
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The Independent Culture

Hindsight? A wonderful thing? For the football fan it is a wonderful thing in the same way that the Friday night kick-off is a wonderful thing. Or that Garth Crooks is a wonderful thing. Yes, it affords an all-knowing perspective. But who wants that when Stuart Pearce is lining up a penalty against West Germany? Fellow addicts of ESPN Classic will know where I'm coming from, particularly if their remote was forced to wander up to numbers it should never have to on a Saturday afternoon.

Unless you're Scottish, or corrupt enough to like horse racing, or immoral enough to still have faith in rugby union, comfortably the best live action to be had on this supposed sporting prime-time was the England versus Greece World Cup qualifier. From 2001.

The game itself was pleasurable enough. Indeed, there does happen to be something rather wonderful about listening to a commentator becoming ever more anxious about this apparent disaster unfolding under his booth. For some reason, financial I guess, ESPN did not feature the famous John Motson BBC commentary. But that hardly dampened the fun.

The more Gary Bloom fretted on the microphone the more wicked it became. You were urging the clock to go right to the very brink; in fact, you almost felt in control of it, allowing the seconds to tick towards Armageddon while holding your nerve. This is how smug the Norman Gods must have been during the Battle of Hastings, before cueing their young arrowman's shot from nowhere. Third minute of injury time, dodgy free-kick awarded, up steps Becks and with a flash of that white boot, England are on their way to Japan. That's drama. "Beckham deserved the goal, because he virtually played Greece on his own," so bellowed Motty from the mind's memory.

But then, when the excitement died down and when "100 more great Premiership goals" began, you sat back and the damned hindsight worked its evil. Say Becks had skied that free-kick, or if he had allowed Emile Heskey to take it? Sure, England could well have ended up with a summer of frustration, but just think of the potential benefits. After his first brush with the backlash, Sven might have walked, Ulrika Jonsson's virtue would have thus been saved, Faria Alam's secretarial future would have thus been saved and, more to the point, English football would have thus been saved.

Capello would have been headhunted six years early, the Three Lions would have ripped through Euro 2004, the German World Cup and Euro 2008, and next year's tournament in South Africa would be even more of a formality than it is now. The feelgood factor would have been such that there would have been no recession and certainly no Prime Minister Cameron. All because of Becks' right foot. It might have done wonders for his image rights, but it did the exactly the reverse for his country's prosperity. The Queen should think of that when dishing out her gongs.

So the message is: beware Nostalgia TV. It might make sense to limit your reruns to games that didn't actually matter. Take the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, for instance. What would have happened if Jonny Wilkinson had missed that extra-time drop goal? Erm, England would have embarked on a half-decade of gross underachievement and in the professional mess which followed, the domestic game would have sunk into a moral abyss. And Jonny would have trotted off to France to earn a fortune. Thank goodness it went over.

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