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Billy on the Box

By Billy Weir

Published 17/12/2015

Take that: I’m not sure Michael O’Neill’s new boy band is set to rock the Euros
Take that: I’m not sure Michael O’Neill’s new boy band is set to rock the Euros

Football is a funny old game as someone once said and so after two years of barely mentioning the European Championships, the BBC, safe in the knowledge that they get to show the finals, marched back in a despotic manner for the finals' draw on Saturday.

Normally this means a long-drawn out affair of an hour and a half of droning on about how good England are and how they're going to give everyone a damned good thrashing but those pesky kids from Northern Ireland, Wales and the Republic have spoiled the party by, err, coming to the party.

With that in mind and it being the BBC after all, we had a Welshman, an Englishman and two Irishmen, there was no Scotsman as this was no laughing matter, it was the deadly serious matter of grown men being stumped by the undoing of a wee plastic ball.

Mind you it wasn't just as simple as that as the Englishman, Alan Shearer, hadn't arrived yet, but England were still well represented in the shape of Northern Ireland's Jamie Ward and the Republic of Ireland's Mark Lawrenson, from the respective counties of Warwickshire and Lancashire.

Wales were being greedy too, presenter Jason Mohammad joined by another man from the valleys in the bulk of John Hartson, who was hoping that his boys would be paired with England as 'it's a little bit of a derby game, if you like.'

I don't mind Warwickshire and Lancashire but I draw the line at Derbyshire, I know it's in the summer but it just isn't cricket.

For his part, Ward was glad to have brought a smile back to his countrymen across the Irish Sea.

"We've made everyone proud in the country, which is great for us because we go over there and everyone loves you. They've had a few bad times in recent years," he said as everyone watching was praying that Lawrenson didn't jump in with both feet and mention The Troubles.

No time for that, we had our own troubles to deal with as Jonathan Pearce tip-toed through the minefield of Euro politics as we handed over to him for the draw in with everyone praying that the IFA's square balls with Turkey and Russia inside them were kept well apart.

"No Michel Platini here, the UEFA President banned from all football activity," he began, winning friends and influencing people straight away in France with the Harold Steptoe look-a-like sticking to his part of the bargain by staying away from football by joining Manchester United. Or Chelsea. Or Liverpool.

"England, only the fifth team to qualify with a 100 per cent record, terrific young talent, quarter-finalists in Ukraine. Can go further," he boomed out as we were given a quick guide to who had been invited to the party and we all thought can they really?

"The Republic of Ireland - four points against Germany merits respect," he said and we all nodded. "Dramatic dug-out," he added and we all shook our heads in disbelief that so soon into proceedings and he'd already lost the run of himself.

"Northern Ireland - targeting the last 16 - they can do that," he said, with only the merest dollop of unintentional patronisation.

And so to the draw under the control of Rudd Gullit, and the question floating around all our heads was it wise to let a Dutchman take control of a building full of pots.

But there was no time for that as after those targeting the last 16 and those with dug-outs bordering on the dramatic were ready to be drawn and join the top seeds, including England, obviously.

"England's group. Wales, woooooooooooooooo," said Pearce in a clear reference to Tom Jones but then again the pair have met before in qualifying tournaments so it's not unusual, although this time they'll meet on the green, green grass of Lens.

"Northern Ireland - they go in with Germany. They might get some tips from the Republic," said Pearce, although Michael O'Neill's dug-out seems reasonably dramatic as it is.

Pot Two brought Russia to the England party, always Vlad to have you along, although Pearce, who must have a bit of Turkish in him (kebabs mainly), was keen to improve relations.

"Their centre-backs are old and creaking, could be exposed. They're only really here because they got rid of former England coach, Fabio Capello," said the peace-maker JP.

In fairness you could say the same about England, but as the balls were finally all opened it was time to hand back to the studio where Shearer had now popped up.

"Not sure what you're up to on June 16 but whatever it is Alan Shearer I think you should stop what you're doing because there's only one place to be," said Mohammad. Indeed, Lyon, where Northern Ireland play Ukraine.

"It's a dog's dinner for us," said Lawrenson, after the Republic were paired with Italy, Belgium and Sweden, but take the hangdog look off your face, I've checked, Ireland have seven Eurovision wins on their own and the other three have 10 between them, and they don't have a dramatic dug-out.

No one had mentioned England were to play Wales for at least four seconds so Hartson quickly rectified that.

"It's a mouth-watering tie to come up against England, we beat them in the rugby, we've just got to try and do it in the football now," he said.

"Pity it's a different sport, isn't it?" Lawro helpfully added, while the rest of us thought, would you shut up about rugby and talk about football.

Mohammad played ball and turned to Ward. Jamie, not Tony.

"From a player's point of perspective, it's all about staying fit in to final end of the season," he mused.

"Definitely, it's about running away from the ball from March time onwards," he joked, while a message was relayed to Salford, west London and the red bit of Liverpool that it was okay to run after the ball now.

We needed a bit of sense and perspective, and we were about to get it back in France as JP had tracked down England coach Roy Hodgson.

"It's such a lottery really when the guy takes the ball out of the pot and twirls it around and your name comes out of it," he said and gave us all a text book description of a draw.

JP then subjected Martin O'Neill (pictured looking dramatic) to vigorous questioning.

"I know you're a great fan of the mysteries and the thrillers, how do you plan a route through this maze? he asked the Republic boss.

"It is a bit of a maze and we'll get down to plotting something," came the reply but like Ward he only mentioned the Troubles once and I think he got away with it.

Michael O'Neill put his hands up and admitted they had a tough group, words last used by Hannibal Smith in the A Team, but I'm sure he has a plan that will all come together, as long as they all get on the plane, but then those pesky Russians were at it again.

Although this time it was the Welsh who started it, Mohammad referring to a previous defeat in 2003, with 'there's a little bit of bad blood between Wales and Russia.'

"Well we owe Russia one, don't we," waded in Hartson. "They're a bigger country than us but this is a bit of payback' as Dame Shirley was dusted off to be dropped into the Urals to terrorise the locals. Wales will be reported for using weapons of Bassey destruction...

By this stage Mohammad was hopping up and down with excitement, but we had to end, but not before another reminder of one day in June.

"It all gets underway on June 10, but put June 16 in your diaries now," he concluded and we all scribbled in Northern Ireland vs Ukraine.

Belfast Telegraph

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