Bow-tie nightmares and the hell of hindsight

Sport on TV

What a horrible job. Watching the Euro 96 semi-final between Germany and England (BBC1 and ITV) live was bad enough. Watching it all over again for review purposes was downright purgatory. Whatever was Jimmy Hill thinking of when he put on that tie?

It was a dickie bow in the form of a double flag of St George, and Jimmy's chin didn't conceal enough of it: he looked like he'd been stickered by an over-enthusiastic Red Cross collector. He was oddly proud of the item, which made things worse. He claimed it had played a key role in England's early goal; presumably it now lies, damp and unloved, like a perfidious butterfly, in a Wembley wastebasket.

The other main problem with reliving the nightmare is the hallucinations, aural and visual. They must be the product of hindsight, for surely Gareth Southgate was not pursued all around the field on Wednesday night by a giant spectral finger, while a deep, ghoulish voice intoned "It's going to be him."

It had all started so well. The usual suspects assembled in the stands: Bobby Robson, Glenn Hoddle, Henry Kissinger (a nifty inside forward for the New York Cosmos in the Seventies, by all accounts) while Baddiel and Skinner led the crowd in lusty renditions of That Song, counting their royalties. Paul Young capped the jolly mood by making a complete Horlicks of the national anthem. Then the two sides, and commentary teams, lined up.

Opinions were divided on Shearer's early goal. On ITV, Brian Moore reckoned it was "the perfect start", while the BBC's Trevor Brookin' observed that it was "a wonderful start". The men behind the mikes were difficult to split throughout the game. The ultrareliable Moore was paired with Kevin Keegan, whose willingness to offer predictions was undimmed by the speed with which they were revealed to be duds. In the BBC box, the West Ham Wiseacre linked with the patrician Barry Davies.

Keegan offered an early hostage to fortune, praising the coolness with which Stuart Pearce had put away his penalty in the quarter- final shoot-out. "He deserved that moment," Kevin said. "There will probably be more to come in the championship." For once, a Keegan prediction was to come true.

The BBC shaded the half-time battle of the pundits, Jimmy's tie notwithstanding. Ruud Gullit believed that England's goal had come too early, which seemed a little bizarre. You don't want to be ahead much before the half-hour, he suggested, which will no doubt have Gianluca Vialli and Mark Hughes working on their miskicks.

Hill, Gullit and Alan Hansen were also kind to the defender through whose legs ran the pass that led to the German goal. On ITV, John Barnes fingered the guilty man: Gareth Southgate. Another hallucination flickered as the replay played - who was that spectral figure marking Southgate, carrying some sort of agricultural implement? A make-believe Brian Moore confirmed his identity. "Well, Kevin, it certainly looks like the Grim Reaper is sticking to his man tonight."

As extra time got under way, the tension got to the BBC team. Alan Hansen pleaded: "I hope it doesn't go to penalties again." Desmond Lynam agreed. "We couldn't stand that." All over the country, knuckles were bruised against wood- effect melamine television tables.

The tension of the extra half-hour got to the commentators, too. Davies comes over all Shakespearian at such times, and demanded: "From whence cometh the hero?" From Borussia Dortmund, actually. But Brian Moore was less articulate. As Paul Gascoigne hurled himself at that tantalising cross, he commented: "Bleaaarghnooo!"

And then, at last, the dreaded shoot-out. Bob Wilson, ITV's anchorman, clutched at straws, as an ex-goalkeeper will. "Seaman might seem superhuman to the Germans," he suggested. "That might give us an advantage." Seaman is a brilliant goalkeeper, but there is nothing superhuman about a bloke who looks like he has been explosively sick down his shirt-front.

Ten kicks were taken, and 10 converted, and then one wasn't and one was. And while BBC viewers listened in stunned silence to the dignified ruminations of the sad summarisers, ITV-watchers were subjected to bloody Bob Hoskins and his talking pig. Sometimes, Bob, it's good not to talk. The next advertisement was worse. "Love is in the air," crooned the singer over idyllic images of a Ford Escort. In fact all manner of things were in the air: crockery, furniture and, in Trafalgar Square, Ford Escorts. The final shred of dignity departed the commercial channel with the latest of those Vauxhall plugs that illustrate an aspect of motoring in football terms: this was "grip", exemplified by Paul Ince grasping his testicles.

So what conclusion can we draw from this masochistic video marathon? One thing. No matter what you do to the vertical hold, Darren Anderton's shot will never, ever, go inside that post.

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