A result that finally eclipses all past gloom

The one thing Lineker should not have done was to suggest, even tongue-in-cheek, that England might suddenly be on course to win the World Cup
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The Independent Online

So where were you when England's footballers hammered Germany 5-1 in Munich? I was in our front room with my young friend Archie. I kept telling Archie that never again in his lifetime would he see England humbling Germany, in Germany, in an important international football match. And by the end he had begun to understand the significance of what was unfolding in front of him, staring fixedly at the screen and making all the right noises. There is a wise head on those 10-month-old shoulders.

My slightly larger friends Doug and Derek were also there. It was Derek who compared Germany 1 England 5 to the assassination of John F Kennedy, although I think he meant in the sense of remembering where you were.

The two events cannot seriously be compared in any other sense. After all, one represented a seismic disruption to the certainties of the Western world, and the other was an unfortunate incident in Dallas.

Still, it would not do to get too carried away. The last time England celebrated a great result in Munich was when Neville Chamberlain came back promising "peace in our time". When Chamberlain later realised he had been badly nutmegged, he got very hot under his not inconsiderable collar and ended up a broken man. We do need to remember that, as Machiavelli famously said, politics is one thing whereas footie is another. But even so, there is resonance in that false Munich dawn of 63 years ago. Saturday's result is reason not for unbridled optimism, nor even for cautious optimism, but for tempered pessimism. It seems now as if we might not fail to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. But, please, let's not talk about winning the thing.

Accordingly, I cringed when Gary Lineker concluded the BBC's otherwise exemplary coverage of the match by reminding us that England last won in Germany in 1965, adding: "That didn't lead to anything, did it?" I yield to nobody in my admiration for Lineker, as a wonderful footballer (it remains a source of enduring surprise and regret that his solitary season with Everton in 1985-86 was the one year in the halcyon mid-80s when we didn't win any silverware) and now as an increasingly authoritative broadcaster. Moreover, his cheeky little sign-offs, a practice learnt at the feet of the Almighty Desmond, are usually right on the button. But the one thing he should not have done on Saturday was to suggest, even with tongue lodged firmly in cheek, that England might suddenly be on course to win the World Cup. Derek put it differently. "What bollocks," he tutted.

Otherwise, it was a joy to see top-flight footie back on a Saturday night on BBC1. Call me a hidebound old reactionary, or worse, but that is where footie belongs, and Andy Townsend huddling in his camper van is not going to convince me otherwise. Also, it seemed only right and proper that John Motson should commentate on the most remarkable England match for yonks.

Germany 1 England 5 is Motty's birthright. And it was especially poignant that he should reassert himself as the Voice of Football on the day that Brian Moore, for years Motty's only rival for that distinction, took his place in the celestial gantry.

At least old Mooro lived to see his old muckers at ITV wrest Premiership football highlights from the BBC. Like the rest of us, he must have thought that Beeb executives were mounting a desperate damage limitation exercise by buying the rights to show FA Cup and live England matches. It seemed scant consolation and in some ways still does.

But maybe the BBC actually benefited from those rights negotiations. The Premiership highlights seem to have landed ITV with a scheduling headache it could do without, while the nation's appetite for England matches has suddenly been greatly sharpened. Also, Saturday offered a further reminder that the BBC will always score against ITV in the one area commercial telly can do nothing about, namely commercials.

Match of the Day capitalises on that advantage with obvious glee. It's not often you find an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman complementing each other outside a bad joke, but on Saturday Peter Reid, Mark Lawrenson and Alan Hansen discussed an enthralling match in the kind of depth that Des Lynam, Terry Venables and Ally McCoist can only dream about. They missed only one thing that gave the analysts in my front room pause for thought.

What on earth were Kevin Keegan's emotions as he watched Michael Owen complete his hat-trick? A miserable afternoon at Wembley, Owen on the bench, Gareth Southgate in midfield, Keegan's abrupt resignation – that was the most palpable significance of Saturday's match. Not that it offered hope for the future, but that it eclipsed the gloom of the past.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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