England suffer from poor reception
October 23, 2001
Those of you familiar with John Cleese trying to tear a phone-box apart in frustration in the film 'Clockwise' will know exactly how I was feeling at 4.35 on Saturday afternoon.
There were no two ways about it. The flight to Glasgow for Audley Harrison's fight left just after five, and if I missed that, then Audley would have had to present the programme , never mind star in it for four-and-a-half minutes. (And let's give him the benefit of the doubt for another couple of fights shall we?)
So with the match at Lansdowne Road poised at 14-6, it was time to abandon the television and head for Heathrow. Rugby internationals have been banished to Radio 4 Long Wave these days, but it does at least mean that the coverage is uninterrupted, and without being too bias towards my colleagues at the BBC, outstandingly described by a team comprising Ian Roberston, Alistair Hignell, Rob Andrew and Hugo McNeill.
On the A3, Wilkinson kicked his penalty. Just onto the M25, Ronan O'Gara came on to slot that remarkable shot with his first touch of the ball. Austin Healey scored that try just as I turned on to the M4. Robertson was in full flow , his voice hitting the Def Leppard decibel level, while alongside him, Andrew was in Leonard Cohen mood, fearing that time would run out for the men in white.
'We're playing injury time now, and Ireland are hanging on for dear life, as Wilkinson fires the ball into the corner. It'll be an England throw just five metres out from the Ireland line.'
The wonder of radio. In your mind's eye you can see and hear it all. Clenched fists from the men in green. 'Come on boys, dig deep, one last effort.' Desperate cries from the stands of 'Ireland, Ireland.' A steely resolve from Neil Back and the England pack. Throw to number two, catch and drive. Over the line. 20-19. Wilkinson conversion. 21-20 Grand Slam. Never in doubt. When does the party begin?
It was at precisely that point that I turned into the short term car park at terminal one. Underground car park. Underground means no reception of long wave. Means onset of apoplectic fit. Horrible buzzing from radio. Can't drive out, go round the block and start again. Getting late. Time marching on. England on Irish line. Musn't miss flight. They must have scored. Drive to far end of car park.
Overhanging roof means still no reception. Horrible buzz replaced by hideous whine. Up one floor. Up another. Desperately seeking reception. Where did I put airline ticket. Where did I put car park ticket. I bet Wilkinson is taking the conversion now. Bang fists on steering wheel.
Passengers walking to terminal keep a wide berth. 'Have you seen that man with the raging eyes frothing at the mouth in that car over there.' Heart pounding. Mind racing. Got to go for it. This is unbearable. Last few seconds. Foot down, change gear, take corner at absurd speed.
Eat your heart out Colin McCrae. Down, down, down to the exit. The flight can wait. I must hear the last moments of the match. Out from under the roof. In sight of the exit. Buzzing replaced by hissing replaced by slowly recognisable tones of Robertson. 'And Keith Wood knows that this must be one of finest days of his entire rugby career.'
I punched the steering wheel every bit as hard as Audley hit his Polish opponent six hours later. They could hear the scream in the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow.
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