Just a friendly, no biggie. No Robert Lewandowski so no dream-team glamour. Nevertheless, there was a fair bit of tension going into last night’s game in Warsaw, not least concerning this: if we all jumped onto the newspaper website providing the coverage at exactly the same time, would it fall to bits like a self-assembly mine-host corner-bar unit?
Did we want to see the match or were we secretly hoping this novel method of viewing would fail, just so we could enjoy this paper’s rival titles crowing about the cock-up in puntastic headlines – or is it only cynical hacks who think like this?
Without the usual suspects in the commentary box, who would describe the action from Poland’s National Stadium? The venerable agony aunt, fresh from dispensing advice to love-rat victims? The tactile showbiz correspondent, so often pictured with an arm round a starlet? The resident astrologer or maybe someone who’s never out of the paper, eg bra tycooness Michelle Mone? And if the coverage did fail would we, after complaining to the editor, qualify for free mince?
I teed up the Daily Record website early, hoping this would guarantee the game would be piped into my parlour, onto my tablet. Being of the generation that once queued for rock-gig tickets – five school-skiving hours for Deep Purple was the record – old habits die hard. Understandably there wasn’t much happening, just some members of the Tartan Army visiting a Warsaw ice-rink. One called Karen took a heavy tumble. A shuddering thought: what if there are “technical problems” and I’m left re-watching this toweringly unfunny slapstick all night?
There’s a blog with updates. “Great news!” reads one dispatch. “Our commentary team has made it to the stadium!” This will be Peter Martin and Alan Rough, a familiar double-act from the nae-pictures world of radio. Hope that’s not significant. Then, 15 minutes before kick-off, we were invited to open up the big-match portal.
Nothing. Or rather: “Initializing.” How long do you suppose a Scotland supporter could stare at these tiny white letters on a coal-black screen? This supporter decided to crank up his office laptop only to be greeted by the same dread-message. Then his personal laptop, his wife’s laptop, his mobile phone. Everything was initializing. Finally, with the game already underway, a breakthrough: “Error – message stream not found.” This was almost a relief.
Then a real breakthrough, some actual footballers, moving around a real pitch, but they quickly froze and I was left with a close-up of Scott Brown in mid-snarl. Long ago there was a children’s TV show out of Australia called The Magic Boomerang where a small boy regularly snared the bad guys when flinging his bendy stick turned them into statues. I stared at our captain and chief rabble-rouser. What was he saying to the Polish guy nearest him – “I’m gonnae cement you”? Don’t be daft it was “initializing.” Stream down again.
Maybe I was using too many screens. I shut the others down. Then I shut down the email link to the office (where they were having no more luck) as well as Twitter and some websites I like to peruse of a Wednesday evening which you really don’t need to know about. Then I decided I was wearing too many clothes so I stripped to my pants. All too soon the first half was over and I’d been able to watch the sum total of two-and-a-half minutes.
During the break from the non-action, catching up with the analysis on Radio Scotland, I thought of Arthur Montford and Bob Crampsey. These great men, in their time at the microphone, were required to describe games they couldn’t actually see on account of fog or the soot from heavy industry, so really there was little point me grumbling about having to file a ghost report of this one. And then I got a break. The match coughed into life before my eyes just as Darren Fletcher was rising from the bench for his international comeback. What a beautiful sight. Mind you, by then I would have been happy to see hapless skater Karen take the field. Or better still the Record’s problem-page doyenne Joan Burnie, complete with large, unruly handbag and faithful but excitable mutt.
What’s more, the pictures remained on my screen, didn’t jam too often, and stayed wonderfully unfrozen when Brown – released from his buffering hell – scored the winner. He really cemented his goal and it was worth all that initializing. So: what of the experiment? Nothing is easy when you’re Scottish but this was maybe a bit too stressful for my liking. No offence to the Record or to the plucky duo of Martin and Rough who I’m sure played a blinder with their mics when I couldn’t hear, far less see, but I missed the normal, traditional, safe-but-certain, dependable-but-dull coverage of a terrestrial broadcaster.
Most of all, of course, I missed Arthur and Bob.