Sport on TV: When a World Cup final wasn't an alien concept

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The Independent Football

'Those Were The Days' (Wednesday, ITV3) provided a timely guide for all British football fans kicking each other's heels this summer while the rest of Europe enjoys Euro 2008. It was about people who somehow contrived to miss the 1966 World Cup final, who were not among the 33 million who watched it on British television. Their excuses were diverse – untimely weddings, foolish bets, German dads, plane hijacks...

David Lafferty was trying to break the world record for the longest time spent underground. In Cheddar, he spent 127 days in a cave 380 feet below the surface, by coincidence mostly learning German, and came back up two days after the World Cup final. "I wasn't allowed anything that could give me a sense of time," he said. He thought he still had another 23 days to go when he passed the record mark. Then again he was a bit confused. In his cave, all 50 square feet of it, he had started using Rice Krispies instead of rice.

When Lafferty emerged, there were 4,000 people and television cameras waiting to greet him. A BBC narrator intoned: "Science and solitude are all very well, but the fundamentals like football are not to be denied." Lafferty was presented with a film of the final, but he didn't look too interested. He tried to take up darts afterwards but found that he couldn't hit the board. He had become unbalanced – literally.

Then there were the two journalists who devised a plan to be the first people in the 20th century to row across the Atlantic when they were down the pub one night, and the two paratroopers who overheard their conversation and decided to challenge them to a race.

Sadly the journalists' boat was not properly tested and they were lostat sea. But hundreds of miles in front of them the soldiers, Chay Blyth and John Ridgway, had brought a transistor radio with them and took a break from their 18-hours-a-day regime of hard labour to tune into the World Cup final.

England had just gone 2-1 up when a wave washed over their boat and ruined the radio. Chay admitted: "If ever I've had a disappointment in life, that was it. It was terrible." And you believe him. When they struck land in the Arran Islands, a fisherman came up to them. "Where have you come from?" he asked. "America," they replied. "Oh," he said. "Did you have a good trip?"

An earlier programme in the series asked what people were up to when man landed on the moon for the first time, which must have seemed all but impossible even in 1966. Future instalments could feature such seismic moments as aliens landing for the first time. Some might say that's slightly more likely than England making it to another World Cup final. Especially if those aliens start infiltrating the Premier League teams and reducing the chances of our homegrown talent.

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