I don't know if you've noticed, but England don't tend to do that well in international football tournaments. In truth – and I apologise to Celtic readers, who may hold a quite different view – the highlight of any such event is the draw. Friday's draw for Euro 2012 gives us six months to dream before the grim reality kicks in: England easily mastered by teams who, controversially, have worked out how to trap and pass the ball. Still, we'll get there one day.
Kiev was the venue for said draw, and what a feast for the senses it was. There was Cossack dancing (which, as folk dancing goes, is right up there), there was an improbably attractive Ukrainian woman, there was Michel Platini chatting in French. Not that the BBC really entered into the spirit of things. Gary Lineker – who hadn't got the memo about Movember being over – was joined by Martin Keown and Mark Lawrenson, who had a particular downer on proceedings: "I've sat through too many of these," he said. "Boring as hell."
Jonathan Pearce, the man charged with guiding us through the draw, disagreed. So excited was he that his eyes seemed ready to burst out of their sockets beforehand, and we soon discovered why: this was a prime opportunity to show off his language skills. First there were Platini's opening words. "Pologne et Ukraine ont travaillé d'arrache-pied pour realiser un tournoi fantastique," Uefa's chubby supremo told us. "He is saying it's going to be a fantastic tournament!" Pearce said breathlessly, and not entirely accurately.
Later he had a go at Ukrainian, when the president of that country, Viktor Yanukovych, made his over-long address. "He's speaking in Ukrainian," Pearce said, "but I'll do my best. Basically, he's saying ..." What he was saying turned out, not entirely unexpectedly, to be boring, so Pearce delivered some properly valuable information. "If you're coming," he told us, "a bottle of beer will cost you about 80p."
Unfortunately, Pearce's language skills do not stretch to Russian. As Olga Freimut – the aforementioned Ukrainian woman – interviewed Viktor Ponedelnik, one of the USSR team that won the first European Championship in 1960, he admitted defeat. "I wish I could tell you what Viktor is saying," he sighed. "Unfortunately I haven't got the foggiest."
By now even the most patient of viewers would have been wondering when, exactly, we would get to the draw. Back in Manchester, Lawro was probably directing snippy, slightly camp remarks at the TV in the studio. By my watch, it took 56 minutes from the start of the broadcast to the first ball being drawn out of the plastic bowl.
All this build-up did mean that when the draw finally came we were well prepared. Not only had Keown earlier advised us what England and Ireland wanted ("You want to avoid Spain," he said, no more than six or seven times) but there was an incredibly lengthy explanation of how the not-actually-that-complicated draw worked.
Gianni Infantino, Uefa's general secretary, supervised the draw and risked a headbutt by repeatedly telling Zinedine Zidane, one of those responsible for picking the balls, to slow down. Marco van Basten, too, seemed impatient to get things done and by the time it was over you had started to sympathise with Lawrenson. Ever the grumpy old man, his final words were downbeat: "It's going to be tough for England's supporters because they've got to go to Ukraine," he said. Cheer up, Lawro. Have you not heard about the 80p beer?Reuse content