TV View: Slumbering start to Day Eight ends in a full-on Braveheart at Wembley

Roy Keane struggles to calm down Graeme Souness ahead of the big game

England midfielder Jack Grealish in action against Scotland defender Kieran Tierney during the game at Wembley. Photograph:  Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Image

England midfielder Jack Grealish in action against Scotland defender Kieran Tierney during the game at Wembley. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Image

 

Day Eight and, at last, the game we’d all been waiting for: Sweden v Slovakia. If Ger Canning and Aine O’Gorman don’t get a joint gong at the 2021 People of the Year Awards for managing to keep awake during that first half, it’ll be a thundering disgrace.

It would have been nice, frankly, if Tony O’Donoghue had apologised at the break for beaming the game live in to our living rooms, instead, while nudging Richie Sadlier and Stephanie Roche under the coffee table (which appears to have a multi-coloured accordion tucked beneath it) to ensure they hadn’t dozed off, he dusted down his book of stats.

“The combined average age of the starting XIs in Sweden v Slovakia is 30 years and 125 days, that makes them the second oldest in European Championship history. And do you know what, I think I’ve aged a bit watching that first half.”

Richie and Stephanie had too, although their faces said ‘get a life, Statto’, Stephanie probably feeling like she’d only just started going out with Longford Town’s Dean Zambra when Sweden v Slovakia kicked off. “He finally plucked up the courage after 14 years,” Tony said to her later in the day after Dean had her engagement ring delivered to the studio, it having needed re-sizing after he initially presented it during his knot-tying request.

“Jesus,” she chuckled, “I thought I was here to talk about football”, but at least it briefly took her mind off the day’s opening game, as it did for us too. There certainly wasn’t an engagement ring in sight over on the BBC ahead of Croatia v Czech Republic, although the presence of Jurgen Klinsmann on the panel raised the prospects of Spurs turning up to ask him to marry their very vacant managerial post.

Before that game, incidentally, Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Micah Richards assembled to choose the Top 10 Greatest Ever European Championship Goals. Not quite sure how to break this to you . . . but Ronnie Whelan’s 1988 shinner against the Soviet Union wasn’t among them. And a penalty was. Granted, it was the one scored by Antonín Panenka in 1976, but still, Cromwell, the Famine and now this.

Number one was Marco van Basten’s volley in the Euro 88 final, which took place the day after Micah was born. So being as familiar with Van Basten as he is with, say, Queen Victoria, he asked Gary what forward of today would he liken to Van Basten. Gary said Harry Kane. If Liamo Brady was watching, he’d have needed someone to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on him. Harry van Kane, though, was included in the England team for the final game of the day, a run-of-the-mill encounter with their beloved neighbours at Wembley.

Hyper-ventilating

Did you know that Gazza scored a very good goal against Scotland in Euro 96? “You probably don’t need reminding,” said Mark Pougatch, and Roy Keane’s eye-roll said, “you’re not bloody wrong”.

Roy had a hyper-ventilating Graeme Souness and Ian Wright to his left, Graeme pointing out that it was all very well for him being chilled about the occasion, “you’re standing there as an Irishman, Joe cool”. Roy, though cooled Graeme’s ardour temporarily by reminding him that Scotland “only gave away six fouls” in their opening game, a crime for which, you sensed, he felt merited a one-way ticket to Van Diemen’s Land.

Graeme seemed a bit taken aback by that stat too, him having racked up at least that tally in the opening three minutes of most games he played, but still, he was overcome by an overwhelming confidence attack, trusting that the referee would overlook late tackles because “I hope he understands the history between Scotland and England – we don’t like each other, end of.”

Mark wasn’t sure that there was a Uefa exemption for shin-busting challenges simply because the nations had knocked lumps out of each other through the years, but Graeme was so hyped, you half expected him to descend from the Wembley heavens, where ITV were located, to plant the Scottish flag in the centre circle.

Over on RTÉ, Damien McDuff was well up for it, reckoning history was all the motivation Scotland needed, from The Siege of Carlisle in 1315 to Gazza’s Euro 96 goal. “Braveheart,” Darragh Maloney suggested. “Great movie, just a bit long,” said Damo, the Roger Ebert of football punditry.

Match time. Anthems. Booooooo. “Are you sitting comfortably,” asked Sam Matterface. Ally McCoist certainly wasn’t. “After listening to my old team-mate Graeme Souness, I’m just about ready to march on Carlisle.”

Thereafter, battle commenced.

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