With 100,000 spectators holding candles it was like a stadium gig from the 1970s, when all those burning matches meant there was enough sulphur in a confined space to form an entirely new and unique ecosystem.
Beautiful though it was, this wasn't the stadium where the real thing is being held - it was obvious from its long, thin shape that the only sport it can ever have housed is drag racing. A Greek dignitary, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Magnum, spoke of his hope for - as the subtitles put it - "a magnificent sight of a people excited and thrilled to the point of drunkenness". I hadn't realised there was going to be a large British contingent there.
Things warmed up when a phalanx of mock-peasants with big drums joined forces with a bunch of masked dancers. A squadron of little purple people came on to assist. Tim Hutchings and his co-presenter, Steve Cram, confessed that they must be getting old because they were finding it all rather moving.
Everything went horribly wrong, though. A sort of masked Riverdance routine ensued, performed by men in luge suits. It was less Oresteia, more Michael Flatley, though in fact it was meant to represent Old Father Chronos eating his children.
The ones he hadn't consumed trooped on hand in hand in togas to do the hokey-cokey round an out-of-control barbecue. I saw it, I did.
As we reached an anti-climax, on came George Best in a white tux. He was looking pretty dreadful, even for him, though his piano-playing, never one of his strong points as a footballer, has come on a treat. Georgie did the old Vangelis number from Chariots Of Fire, then a couple of TV ad theme tunes, and wound up with some unspeakably dreary original Vangelis material. It was never explained why Georgie was doing Big Van's job - there had obviously been some booking mix-up. The accompanying pageant, by the way, brought to mind the old dictum about bewaring Greeks wearing flares and bearing flags.
Even wider than Georgie was Montserrat Caballe, looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger's woman disguise in Total Recall. She sang her little heart out, though by that time it was 10.30 Athens time, and you'd have thought everyone would have been itching to get to the pub.
It was a slightly bizarre experience watching This Sporting Life (Channel 4) and a tape of Wigan's World Club Championship win over Canterbury (Sky) back to back. There have been about as many European victories in the competition so far as Richard Harris's Frank Machin has teeth after being laid out with a forearm smash at the beginning of the film, so the match, scrappy though it was, had novelty value at least.
I entered a strange crossover world where time had no meaning. Was that Harris and Colin Blakely drinking from an isotonic Lucozade container? Nah, they would never drink from a bottle with a teat.
The gritty, grainy quality of Lindsay Anderson's 1963 film meant that I kept expecting Don Fox to step up and miss a sitter, while the action sequences (intercut with real-life footage) were solemnly slow compared to today's beefed-up Keystone Cops buzzing round the ball. In Frank's day you would never have had players called Craig Polla-Mounter, even if he did nearly behead Wigan's Darryl Cardiss. Future timewarp back- to-backs include Jaws and the World Angling Championships, and Raging Bull and the next Henry Akinwande fight.
And finally... my holidaying colleague Andrew Baker has already written about Match of the Eighties (BBC1), but Danny Baker (Andrew assures me they are not, as far as he is aware, related) must not be allowed to get away with something he said last week. Having taken us through the 1981-82 season, he devoted the last 2.7 seconds of the programme to the World Cup in Spain. Baker and his mates call it "the World Cup that never happened". What? Because England were crap? Among many pleasures, there was one of the most intense matches I've ever seen, the France v Germany semi-final - that fabulous goal by Little Alain Giresse (that was his name, Little Alain Giresse), the sense of schadenfreude as the dirty Uli Stielike sank into the turf on missing in the penalty shoot-out, then Horst Hrubesch (as in what a load of) pogoing on the penalty spot as his winner nestled in the net.
But Baker and his mates were probably not watching. Too many men with strange names. Spare us the New Den Old Laddishness. You were great when you wrote about pop music 20 years ago; you were a class apart on Six- O-Six; the chat show was dire, but this programme is mostly good stuff. Just don't tread on my memories, all right?Reuse content