There was a brief glitch early in RTÉ’s coverage of the draw for Euro 2024, when they interrupted proceedings in Frankfurt with what appeared to be an errant ad break, during which we were encouraged to buy a TV licence and a Thomas the Tank Engine Launch and Loop Maintenance Yard.
For those of us who only ever remember Thomas hauling Annie and Clarabel, two really useful engines who introduced girl power to the series, around the island of Sodor, news that he’s now being propelled into rollercoaster-ish loops came as a jolt, the producers evidently deciding that gentle choo-choo spins through the countryside no longer satisfy their thrill-seeking under-10 audience.
Stephen Kenny would probably relate to that transition. In the early days, we’d have been more than happy with him just gently hauling a team with only three or four really useful engines from one platform to another, now we expect him to perform rollercoaster-ish loops with a team that is, on occasion, afraid of heights.
Granted, it’s a woeful analogy, down there with the renowned “the ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant”, but there’s a little bit of truth in it. And it came to mind when Jürgen Klinsmann dipped his hand in to his bowl at the Euro 2024 draw.
Jürgen has always seemed like an affable fella, with a big smiley head on him, except when he was rolling around in severe agony after an imaginary touch from a defender.
But there was something deeply offensive about the big smiley head on him after he plucked our ball from his bowl and inserted us in a group that already contained the Netherlands and France, and went on to be completed by Greece and Gibraltar.
“Oooooh,” said Uefa deputy general secretary Giorgio Marchetti, like the fecker cared.
The Netherlands, France and Greece, lest you needed reminding, won, between them, 60 per cent of the European Championships held between 1988 and 2004.
So, by then, you felt entitled to at least a part refund on the TV licence – it’s meant to pay for our entertainment, after all, and put a big smiley head on us – and for Jürgen to be launched and looped in Thomas’s maintenance yard.
When the camera picked him out our Stephen immediately after the ball-plucking, he was chuckling, but not in a mirthful way, more kind of “mother of sweet divine Jaysus”.
By then he’d had to sit through our hosts Laura Wontorra and Pedro Pinto introducing pre-draw entertainment, like songstress Lena, backed by two people managing to play keyboards despite wearing glittery hoods with no eye holes, who performed a tune called Looking for Love.
Stephen, of course, was just looking for a kind draw, in the end put in a group not just of death, but of potential torture before our inevitable demise.
The only positive way to look at it was that it offers the possibility of revenge for Wim Kieft’s supernatural 1988 header, Thierry Henry’s handball, Greece banjaxing our staycation market and Joxer being bitten by a monkey in Gibraltar in 2019.
Other than that, there are no positives at all.
It’s as well, then, that RTÉ had no panel on duty. Can you imagine Liam Brady? “Ah Jaysus Peter, we’re shagged.”
But sure look, who wanted to go to Germany in 2024 any way when there’s always the World Cup in Canada/Mexico/the United States in 2026, spread across just the 16 cities, Fifa always with one eye on the fans’ travel costs.
Qatar first, of course, there being no end to Fifa’s humanity.
Our women, meanwhile, will play Scotland on Tuesday in a World Cup qualifying play-off that may or may not qualify them for the World Cup, Fifa intent on wrecking our heads.
Scotland came through their game against Austria last Thursday night to set up this meeting with our bunch, and to all those who succeeded in tuning in to BBC Alba to see the game, despite having to figure out the frequency, polarisation, symbol rate, FEC and modulation scheme, we salute you.
By the time this work was done, it felt like we’d been launched and looped in Thomas’s maintenance yard. Still, if our bunch win on Tuesday night, live on RTÉ, you’d be happy enough to pay twice the TV licence. Well, happy-ish.