Sport on TV: Impossible dream, nightmare scenario

CONGRATULATIONS to England's travelling supporters for their astonishingly pacey performance in the pre-match national anthem last Wednesday night (Sportsnight Special, BBC 1). I clocked them in at 13.67 seconds, from start to finish - an all-time lap record which left the local military band struggling to come home in second place some four minutes later. The anthem ended up sounding like a track off The Pogues Play Your Favourite Pub Classics, Volume IV, but this is the only way to operate on the international scene. The lads had a job to do - they got in there and they did it.

Out on the pitch though, it was all about statistics and probabilities. England needed seven, Holland needed to lose in Poland, the Beatles needed to reform in Liverpool and a large pig needed to request landing permission from Bologna air-traffic control. Still, all week, the BBC's trailers had been encouraging us 'to dream the impossible dream'. And tuning in, you were momentarily tempted to scrunch up your eyes and give it a go, until England got off to that flying stop. Before you could say 'San Marino have scored,' San Marino had scored.

How many seconds did it take? Fifteen? Ten? Eight? Estimates varied throughout the evening, depending on the stupefaction of the pundit. Barely time enough to trash the national anthem, anyway. Stuart Pearce's pathetic backpass (advice to youngsters: try to kick with the upper parts of the boot, rather than the studs) will go down as one of the great live television bloopers, fit to rank alongside the incontinent elephant from Blue Peter. Seen in slow-motion action-replay, it didn't look any slower - a first for televised sport.

Up in the commentary box, John Motson had barely finished putting away his programme. 'I don't believe this. Gualtieri. Extraordinary start by the little No 11. Goodness me, Trevor Brooking. What can you say?' 'You just can't cater for all your planning,' said Trevor Brooking, who, at this point, obviously couldn't be relied upon to say anything which made any sense.

Motson wandered dazed through the next 15 minutes, like a man who had sustained an enormous blow to the vocabulary. 'Speechless I suppose you can't be as a commentator.' Indeed. And sentences you can't start to turn around at moments of panic. Windows the grammar goes right out of the minute things get rough. Somewhat trickily for a commentator, here was an event beyond words: worse, here was an event beyond imagination itself - 'the sort of thing you wouldn't have even dared write in fiction,' Motson suggested. We thought we were dreaming the impossible dream, but suddenly we were living the impossible fact.

Eventually, something like coherent analysis became possible. Motson's assessments of the damage went up whenever he returned to it, the way a dodgy builder's do. Initially, the implications were merely domestic: 'The most embarrassing moment, I would think, in the history of English football.' Gradually, they assumed a European dimension: 'The rest of Europe will be as stunned as you are at home'. And finally, Motson bit the bullet and went global: 'To say that it was the shaker of all time in international football is not, I think, exaggerating.'

Meanwhile Brooking, who had also belatedly recovered the powers of consecutive thought, turned his mind to that fatal Pearce moment. 'It can happen at any time, to anyone,' he said, coming on like the presenter of a self-help film for a particularly intimate problem. ('Yes, back-passes: some people find them difficult to talk about, others find them difficult to do,' etc.)

Watching at home was a chilly experience. The cameras panned around a giant concrete bowl, lightly peppered with spectators and generating all the atmosphere of a warehouse for office products. For the first five minutes, there was an intermittent noise, rather like a buzz-saw cutting through the hull of a ship. 'That's the loudspeaker system here, which seems to have jammed,' said Motson. All in all, with Poland losing 3-1, and England pointlessly poking goals past an embarrassingly poor goalkeeper, it was a blessing when, after 70 minutes, we cut away to Wales for some football.

The BBC received more telephoned complaints about abandoning the national team in its hour of needless goal- scoring, than they did about the six-minute, four-person orgy sequence in this week's episode of The Buddha of Suburbia. There was something hearteningly un- prissy about this. At the same time, what incensed you more: not being able to watch a struggling Stuart Ripley, or the sight of Jemma Redgrave in an unconventional sweeper role?

It wouldn't have been a bad idea if we had spent the entire night in Cardiff, watching Wales fail agonisingly. Better still, we could have been in Windsor Park, Belfast, watching the Republic of Ireland go through. Cutting from Bologna to Cardiff Arms Park was like passing from a crematorium into a rave. We had been out there in the land of the impossible and the unimaginable when we could have spent the evening in the home of the thrillingly plausible.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - Media Sales - £36,000 OTE

£28000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award-winning company, whi...

Recruitment Genius: C# .NET Developer / Application Support - Junior

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This business has an industry r...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They make daily deliveries to most foodservice...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Planner

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They make daily deliveries to most foodservice...

Day In a Page

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
10 best DSLRs

Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash