I'm not sure quite what the thinking was behind the scheduling of Gazza's Tears: the Night That Changed Football.
Did they think that England were going to be through to the semi-finals by this stage and plan to prime the pump for another bout of patriotic hysteria? Or were they betting on the fact that we'd almost certainly be out, and desperately in need of a consoling wallow in past glory? Come to that, should making a World Cup semi-final really qualify as a glory at all? Beggars can't be choosers, of course, and unless you want to go all the way back to 1966, then a World Cup semi-final is the best we're going to get. And ITV1's film about that match in the 1990 World Cup wasn't going to waste a single opportunity for preposterous sporting hyperbole. "Twenty years ago a football game took place that restored pride in our national game," it started, before going on to claim that Gazza's tears had changed football forever.
Roughly summarised the thesis was this: pre-1990 football was a yob's game principally associated with crowd trouble and shameful underperformance; post-1990 football, helped by Gazza's emotional lability, was for wives and girlfriends too and associated with heroic underperformance. I don't know much about these things, but I'm guessing that the changed face of football owes as much to the plastic surgery of Rupert Murdoch and the Taylor Report as it does to one night of tantalisingly raised hopes and some on-pitch sniffles, but that would have been to spoil the party. This wasn't a programme interested in analysis but in a kind of nostalgic group-hug.
I don't suppose anyone would begrudge the players on the field their memories. David Platt, who scored a vital last-minute goal against Belgium, said he still gets thanked by passers-by for the joy it gave them. But you did wonder occasionally whether there might not be something a little unhealthy – even pathological – in clinging so tenaciously to this modest bit of history. Various players recalled Sir Bobby's equivalent of the St Crispin's Day speech on the eve of their encounter with West Germany: "We can all be immortal," he told them. "We can all live forever in English football." He meant, I take it, that the immortality was dependent on victory, but this programme seemed to suggest that getting within a hair's-breadth would do just as well. Get us on the edge of our seats and 20 years later a voiceover will be saying something like "What happened next remains etched on the minds of all those who witnessed it."
The etching had faded badly on this mind; indeed, it was so faint that I don't think I could have told you what happened next to save my life. But apparently this was the moment when Gazza cried, instantaneously transforming the course of the national game for the next 20 years. Gazza, appropriately enough, was on hand to recall the moment and tear up all over again at the thought of how narrowly he'd missed playing in a World Cup final – or rather how narrowly he'd missed not playing in a World Cup final, since that was the cause of the tears in the first place. For contractual reasons, I take it, Gary Lineker did not turn up to share his memories. And for obvious reasons, neither did Stuart Pearce or Chris Waddle either.
It wasn't the evening's only exercise in patriotic flag waving, though How to Build... a Jumbo Jet Engine didn't include any bits of "Nessun Dorma" and in this case the English team were indisputably world beaters. The second of the BBC's programmes exploring British engineering know-how was about Rolls-Royce. Not the cars – since the West Germans took that fixture on penalties, BMW has bought the brand – but the aero-engine division, in which our only world competitors are General Electric of the United States. I felt a certain consumer detachment from last week's opening episode of this series, since I'm never likely to have a personal use for a hunter-killer submarine. But I do have a rather more direct interest in the quality control that goes into a Trent jet engine, given that so many of the world's airlines use them.
They build them in Derby and I'm glad to say that they do it very, very, very carefully indeed. Like last week's film this one was a blizzard of statistics shot through with company pride. The turbo-fan of a Trent 1000 engine, I am now able to tell you, will suck in 1.2 tons of air every second when at full throttle and the Trent 700 engine design has already clocked up 300 million flying hours. They are, in their way, very beautiful objects, machined to tolerances of just microns from raw materials that have themselves been engineered by Rolls-Royce boffins to be superior to the standard issue. Perhaps most reassuring of all was the sight of one engine being tested – a sequence revealing that you can run a small waterfall through a Trent without affecting its power output and that should a fan blade shear off (it won't) you'll feel a large and unnerving jolt, but you won't be decapitated by a stray piece of titanium. They also have a help desk department that tracks exactly what's happening to all their engines in every flight. I wonder what they say when people call them with a fault: "Have you tried switching it off, waiting 10 seconds, and then switching it on again?"