Roger Alton

Spectator Sport | 7 June 2008

No Sky's the limit

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As hard luck stories go, it might not be up there with Oliver Twist, but dammit last weekend my Sky went down. In that pathetic, fat-arsed nerdy way I had been planning the ideal weekend: bouncing happily from the climax to the 20/20 Indian Premier League, to Wasps and Leicester in the Rugby Premiership final, then the mid-point of the French Open on Eurosport, and thrumming along nicely in the background the second Test between Australia and West Indies.

So what I was left with last weekend was a rugby league quarter-final, and even my life’s not that sad, and some halfway decent racing with the effortlessly brilliant Ryan Moore steering home Major Cadeaux in a Group 3 at Haydock, despite his saddle slipping off.

Of course this weekend my telly-moored life would have been absolutely fine thanks to the far-sighted decision by the BBC and ITV to show all the European Championship matches live. Well done chaps, and please don’t be tempted to shove off Sweden v. Greece or Poland v. Austria to ITV3 or BBC3. The best news of all of course is that England aren’t there. Anyone who loves football must love the Euros. This is the purest tournament; much more fun than the World Cup — less bombastic, more compact, and no real rubbish like Costa Rica or the UAE. And, fabulously, no English fans wrecking the place, no insane jingoism on the back pages, and no endless twiddle about Lamps and Gerrard. And no bald fat blokes wielding St George’s Cross flags from every van and building site.

The BBC is running a rather naff come-on asking ‘So who will you support?’ as if the only way you can enjoy football is by being totally tribal. What nonsense. It’s a stress-free chance to see some great games and great players. I have a sneaking each-way feeling for Russia (at an agreeable 28-1 with Ladbrokes). Gus Hiddink is one of the last of the über-managers, and the way St Petersburg destroyed an awful Rangers team in the Uefa Cup final could be a good omen for Russian football.

But I’ll bet there won’t be a more potent illustration this year of the intangible greatness of sport and its power to lift the spirit than the end of the Rugby Premiership final. The match itself was OK — apart from Andy Goode’s woeful kicking — but when Lawrence Dallaglio, who had done his share of weeping that day, dedicated the victory to the BBC’s Alastair Hignell, it would have brought tears to a glass eye. Hignell has always been one of the brightest and the best: a wonderfully gifted sportsman, blues at rugby and cricket at Cambridge, he played rugby for England while still at university, and county cricket for Gloucester. Now he’s stepping down to cope with the multiple sclerosis that was first diagnosed nine years ago. There’s can’t be a person in the land who doesn’t wish well for this finest, most dignified of men.

Highs and lows. Munster’s shameful kill-ball tactics to win the Heineken Cup against Toulouse. There must be a rule-change to stop it. And not before time, Maria Sharapova has shrieked her way out of the French Open. She’s now a dislikeable player, with the charm — and the build — of a KGB bodyguard: so different from the wonderful fresh-faced 17-year-old who took Wimbledon four years ago.