Infinite buzz from taking part in the live event

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The Independent Online
THE FEVERISH build-up to last Saturday's match at Hampden Park - I know it's slightly controversial to refer to it as a mere game of football, rather than the Battle of Britain or some other dreadful cliche, but you know the one I'm talking about - was in danger of disappearing up its own fundament long before kick-off.

I knew we had all gone mad when I switched on Sky News on Thursday to see two presenters chatting outside Hampden Park on a live link to London - at 10.30 in the evening, for goodness' sake. Naturally, they were all alone in the gloom: there was not a solitary individual to be seen. They could quite easily have been outside Buckingham Palace, or East Stanley Working Men's Club, come to that. In fact at that time of night there was probably more atmosphere outside those two venues.

No goal was left unturned last week, no annal left untrawled, every previous encounter between Scotland and England documented and dissected in every possible media outlet. Was all this historical back-referencing carried out in the hope of predicting the result? If so, I can't recall one single expert forecasting a 2-0 scoreline. Then again, I didn't take too much notice of the self-styled clairvoyants, sticking stolidly to my 1-1 prediction. At least I was right about the number of goals.

Reporters were running out of things to ask each other, let alone the managers. By the time Friday's press conference at Hampden Park came around even the loquacious Kevin Keegan was reaching the limit of his conversational resources. "We've been talking about this for a month now," he said without a trace of irony.

After all the commotion leading up to the match, at five o'clock on Saturday it all felt slightly anti-climactic. I had drunk three glasses of champagne during the game so maybe it was the alcohol - after all, I am not an afternoon drinker. I suspect secretly that my mood-swing was more to do with the fact that I won't be directly involved in tonight's match.

I am lucky enough to have got my hands on tickets for Wembley, but when all your colleagues - in my case, Desmond Lynam, Gary Newbon, Jim Rosenthal and the rest of the ITV team - are working on the game it does feel like you are on the subs bench. Even if you only get two minutes of airtime, when you contribute to a set-up like that you realise why you're in the business.

They do say that if you can't play you coach, and if you can't do that you talk about it. Proceeding on that logic, the further you come down the evolutionary ladder, starting with world-class players at the top, you eventually come to television presenters at the bottom. And I'm allowed to say that because I am one. When I was anchoring ice hockey on Sky a few years ago, even knowing that the audience figures would be so low as to not register, it was still live sport, with 15,000 fans screaming for their teams, and the buzz was immeasurable. There's no doubt that broadcasting comes a distant second best to playing, but at least talking to and about the players on the day of a game makes you feel more involved with the occasion.

At the European Cup final in Barcelona in May, I was asked to record some links for the repeat programme, which meant I had to slide into Bob Wilson's still-warm seat with Ruud Gullit and Terry Venables having just vacated the studio. Their final words hung in the air. It was all very surreal: the fans were still going potty in the stadium, while I attempted to be a model of composure. It was a fabulous night to be working in sports television. And at least I made it on to the screen that day.

But I'm not complaining. Just like Manchester United, we are a squad at ITV and everyone gets a game.

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