Five years ago this month, Richard and Mary Hayter left their home on the Isle of Wight in the hope of seeing their 24-year-old son James turn out for AFC Bournemouth in an evening match against Wrexham.
James was among the substitutes, but when the second Bournemouth sub came on with only about 20 minutes to go, and the home side already 3-0 up, his mum and dad assumed they probably weren't going to see their boy take the field. In the 80th minute they decided to leave, giving themselves time to catch the 10.30pm ferry home. Four minutes later, James came on and scored the fastest hat-trick in the history of the Football League, breaking a 52-year-old record. James touched the ball just four times in 140 seconds. Three of those touches propelled it into the back of the net. Meanwhile, his mum and dad were listening to the car radio not knowing whether to laugh or cry. "I thought I was going mad," his father later explained.
When a bunch of giant white Tic Tacs started hopping about on the television screen with two minutes left of extra time in the FA Cup fourth-round replay between Everton and Liverpool on Wednesday night, millions of us had a taste of what the Hayters had experienced.
ITV cut back to Goodison Park just in time to see the home team's excited goal celebrations, which for some of us was a peculiarly bittersweet experience. In nigh on 40 years as an Evertonian, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have seen my team beat our rivals from across the park. On Wednesday, I sat through 118 minutes of football in almost physical pain, craving a goal with every corpuscle of my being, but with only two minutes to go I was about as certain as I could be that the tie would be decided by penalties and that Everton would lose. Then came the Tic Tacs and during the Tic Tacs, young Dan Gosling's winning goal. I could almost picture Bill Shankly at the Almighty's right hand, growling: "If they must win it, let's at least do our best to ruin the moment." Needless to add, ITV has since come in for some terrible stick. There have been more than 1,000 complaints and a petition has been started on the internet calling for the channel to be stripped of the rights to cover the FA Cup. That, I think, would be a little harsh. Perhaps executives could just be made to live off Tic Tacs for a month.
Whatever, it is fair to assume that at the BBC and Sky, socks are being laughed off. It is also worth considering that ITV's howler occurred in the week of Sky's 20th anniversary, the week in which Rupert Murdoch underlings have been circulating statistics underlining Sky's continuing commitment to football. Matches shown so far: 4,800 and counting. Now, there are some valid reasons to question whether Uncle Rupert's billions have been an unequivocally positive force for English football, but in the breadth and expertise of its coverage, Sky is beyond reproach.
The issue this week is not whether Sky has made a mint out of football, or whether football has made a mint out of Sky, or both. The only mint-related conclusion to draw from Wednesday's coverage is that neither Sky – nor, of course, the BBC – would, at what was frankly the only unmissable moment in almost two hours of football, have cut to a Tic Tac commercial.
It's a robbery – how Test cricket has been ruined
The sad passing of statistician Bill Frindall last week was followed by a death of more fleeting interest to cricket lovers, yet evocative of one of the more inglorious episodes in the sport's history. Rose Davis, who died of cancer aged 67, was the first wife of George Davis, the villain whose 20-year sentence for armed robbery was quashed following a vigorous campaign during which his supporters vandalised the wicket at Headingley on the eve of the final day of the third Test in the 1975 Ashes, forcing the match to be abandoned.
The year after his release, Davis was arrested again, and on more robust evidence was found guilty of another armed robbery – on the Bank of Cyprus in Holloway, north London. He got 15 years. "I was fitted up," Davis told Rose, when she visited him in jail. "Yeah," she replied, "and I'm the Queen of Sheba."
With not even his wife questioning his guilt, that year's Test series passed without incident. But now Twenty20 looks like completing the job that Davis' supporters started, undermining Test cricket for good.
When the cup of glory drains
With Fortress Twickenham these days more reminiscent of a bouncy castle, I wonder if Martin Johnson, somewhere at the back or even nudging the front of his mind, is beginning to regret his decision to take over the reins. The great man is not known for shirking challenges, but the boos will ring around HQ this afternoon if England produce anything less than an emphatic victory over Italy, and for Johnson it will be a reminder of the lesson learnt long ago in another sport by failed managers Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Alan Ball, that the kudos earned from World Cup-winning heroics is sometimes best left in the bank, to gain interest.