Sport on TV: Motty goes existentialist while lost in Wembley wasteland

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The Independent Culture

Sorry, Charlotte. I let you down. And all for nothing. Your big night at the junior drama festival, and your wicked stepfather (that's wicked as in bad, not wicked as in good) stays at home to watch the football. And though I'm told Fenella kept forgetting her lines and Alana's prompting was rubbish, you all dug in and pulled it off. Team spirit, determination, backs-to-the-wall, will to win. Just what this country needs.

And while the teenage thespians were making a drama out of a crisis, England were doing the reverse, staggering round their sodden stage like Oedipus after he's put his own eyes out. Yet Wembley on a wet Wednesday - what felt like the biggest occasion for years - was unmissable. Despite the moral imperative of discharging family duties with a certain level of integrity, I wasn't going to make the same mistake I made 37 years ago of attending my own confirmation, which was held while the 1970 World Cup final was going on (not an experience I've managed to put behind me, you'll gather).

On Wednesday, England had made the mistake of turning up in the first place, and the BBC couldn't believe its eyes. In the commentary box, John Motson and Mark Lawrenson sounded like Estragon and Vladimir in Waiting for A Decent England Performance - desolate, becalmed, men at a loss.

"Was it the pitch?" asked Motson despairingly after Scott Carson's howler for the first goal. "It was more Frank Carson than Scott, wasn't it?" said Lawrenson. More Frank Spencer than either, but you know what he meant.

At 2-0 Motson was unwilling to accept what his eyes were telling him. "This is hard to believe even though it's happening right in front of us," he said. As England fought back like fluffy little kittens it was, "Dear me. I'm lost for words, Lawro." And as another Peter Crouch head-down bounced harmlessly away, another Shaun Wright-Phillips run shuddered to a halt, Lawro seemed to be on the verge of hallucinating. "It's getting more weird by the minute," he said. "I can't believe we've only played 27 minutes," Motty muttered.

They watched another replay of the first goal as half-time approached. "It is the catastrophe of all catastrophes," Lawro observed with his customary cheeriness. "You can hear the noise," he said . "We must stress: it's the Croatians chanting."

They were joined in their existential angst by the lads in the studio. "It's probably the worst 45 minutes you'll ever see," said Alan Hansen, who obviously never stood through some of Southport's ropier displays on their way out of the Football League (they finished second-bottom in 1978, failed to get re-elected and were replaced by Wigan, you'll doubtless recall).

Then it got better, then it got worse. "Lawro, say something," Motty pleaded with two minutes left. "I can't," said Lawro. He was speechless. We were all speechless.