Belfast Telegraph

Billy on the box: Euros are miles better this time

By Billy Weir

I may as well be honest with you straight from the start, I'm a bit cream-crackered, so I may not be as pithy (you read correctly) or full of fun and japes as normal this week.

The reason is that I have clocked up 10,426 TV miles as the road to Paris, which is technically 748 miles away from my sofa, began with more games to choose from than from the cupboard of a spoiled child.

Personally I'd plump for Buckaroo or Ker-plunk but none of these were on offer over three long days of action in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, starting off on Sunday with UEFA creating problems of their own making by having Northern Ireland and the Republic play at the same time.

I wonder if they fancy taking over at Stormont?

Thankfully help was at hand as Sky, in their lovely – if rather red – new Euro 2016 studio, offered subliminal assistance in that whatever game you wanted was available with the merest touching of a red button, allowing you to be whisked off to a myriad of locations, some more exotic than others.

Still, if UEFA had stirred up a hornet's nest for the bigots amongst us, thankfully Sky could see the iceberg of danger, with the order bellowed out from the bridge – get Neil Lennon.

And thankfully they did because he's easily becoming one of the best pundits around, and even did his bit to foster good relations by wearing a red and blue tie, straight from the Peter Robinson range.

"We've had a wee bit of a barren run," he told us, with not even a hint of understatement, but Sky noting the potentially divisive nature of Lennon's appointment, were in safe ground with Gerry 'Arconada' Armstrong joined in the commentary box by Daniel Mann, who, of course, a few years ago used to be Danny Boy.

"Two nations that aren't inextricably linked but are united in a desire to end what will be a 30-year wait to compete in a major tournament," he piped up at the start and from glen to glen we all breathed a sigh of relief that 'immoveable No.1' Roy Carroll wasn't a right-back.

Even the fact that the cameras appeared to be stationed just to the right of Neptune and that Mr Mann revealed that the stadium, a mere 1533 miles from my sofa, required a 'biometric entry system' couldn't spoil my night.

Those words are almost as rarely used in a commentary as 'an away win for Northern Ireland' or when Lennon described the scoreless situation at the break as 'eachy-peachy' and not even the daftness of presenter Kate Abdo could make Lenny unhappy at the end, when she asked 'was there a rustiness about the team?'

Yep, we always look rusty after a 2-1 win away from home, the first since Danny was a boy.

He gave her a look, which was sufficient to shut her up, but he could hold his tongue no longer as we made the 1936 mile jaunt to Portugal as Gibraltar made their debut against Poland.

"I'm going to be controversial here, what's the point?" he asked, but Niall Quinn, wheeled back in from the main studio where the Republic, clearly also a bit rusty, had won 2-1 in Tbilisi (3038 miles, if you're curious).

"They want to show there's more to Gibraltar than just being a rock," he said, and they did, by losing 7-0, showing that they're a bunch of part-time footballers who live on a rock.

A brief respite and I squeezed into my tartan lederhosen (I apologise for that image) as Flower of Scotland was pumped out by an oompah band in Dortmund. Oh, go on then, it's 834 miles away, and there was almost a huge shock as the Scots gave the world champions a huge fright, although I was more surprised that Enya had come from nowhere to score.

As commentator Ian Crocker commented, the 'atmosphere takes your breath away', a mega hit back in the Eighties for Berlin. What a shame it hadn't been Dortmund.

Onto Monday night and off to Basel or Basle, where ITV got in the act with England travelling the 986 miles to take on Switzerland; the highlight being not two goals from the world's best striker but when Adrian Chiles, Lee Dixon, Glenn Hoddle and Ian Wright were drenched by a perfectly-timed (well, it was Swiss) sprinkler.

The game itself was so rubbish that at the break I headed back to see what Sky could offer and who could turn down Luxembourg, just 823 miles away, hosting Belarus, where the only surprise was they weren't using jumpers for goalposts.

I think they were the following night as Sky brought the curtain down on my travels with a 1276-mile jaunt to Andorra, although they're a bit expensive to be chucked down on a 3G pitch for goalposts.

And talking of hugely expensive luxuries, Gareth Bale took his first step towards booking his place in Paris for the final with a wonder goal to see off the plucky woolly ones, and any jokes here about Welshmen would be highly inappropriate.

I'm not sure how far Madrid is from Paris, all I know is I'm averaging 1396 miles per game at the moment, so my travel expenses should be slightly more than Bale's wages this month.

Belfast Telegraph

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