Do not adjust your set. The BBC really are showing a football match between Switzerland and the Czech Republic at tea-time tonight, and ITV are broadcasting Portugal v Turkey in prime time.
It is when viewers switch on this evening, expecting to see some light entertainment, that many people in this country will realise Euro2008 is upon us.
They can be forgiven their ignorance. There are no flags of St George flying from car aerials, or emblazoned on windows. The supermarkets have not stocked up with lager, the pubs are quiet. England have not qualified. Nor, for that matter, have Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. For the first time since 1984, when the European Championship finals featured only eight teams, there is no British Isles representation at a major tournament. Except for Howard Webb, the Rotherham copper who will be officiating at Austria v Poland on Thursday.
BBC and ITV are, however contractually obliged to show the matches on their main channels, not push them to the margins of BBC3 and ITV4. It is a nightmare for the broadcasters, who assumed some home nation participation when signing the contract, but to their relief there are good reasons for domestic viewers to tune in. The globalisation of the Premier League means there is only one country, Russia, without a past or present UK-based player. Tonight, for example, Cristiano Ronaldo will be back on our screens. Who knows, he might celebrate a goal by whipping off his Portuguese shirt to reveal a Real Madrid one underneath. Before that Liverpool fans can have a look at Philipp Degen, the Anfield-bound Swiss full-back.
Nevertheless, the tournament is unlikely to capture the popular imagination before Monday when the "group of death" begins its execution countdown with Romania v France followed by Italy v Netherlands. Only one of this quartet can reach the final. The need to ensure teams have balanced rest times in the knock-out stages means the draw is split into two halves. Of the leading six teams four, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain are in one half, leaving Germany and Portugal in the other. This is why Germany are 4-1 favourites.
The host nations are also in the weaker half – and are one reason for that status. Switzerland are ranked 44th in the world, Austria 92nd. These ratings reflect two countries which take a passing, rather than passionate interest in football. The Swiss have thus spent a year navel-gazing, earnestly running symposiums which ask if this naturally restrained country will be excited enough to put on a good show for the visiting supporters. The evidence on the streets – lots of little flags flying from aerials – suggest they might. The presence of large immigrant communities, notably Italian, Turkish and Portuguese, will help. The Austrians will not be able to relax until their team has delivered a respectable performance or two – the fear here is of national humiliation.
More familiar pre-tournament worries have also been raised. Even with England's improving but still problematic followers absent there are hooligan fears, especially ahead of tomorrow's German-Poland tie in Klagenfurt. Goalkeepers, notably Petr Cech and Jens Lehmann, are moaning about the ball which, as usual, is designed to swerve even more alarmingly (or alluringly if you are not a 'keeper) than the last one.
Who will win? The mere fact that Greece are the holders underlines the reality that it could be any of the 14 qualifiers (ruling out the hosts). This is a short tournament. Squad depth is less of an issue than in the World Cup and a well-organised defence (and accurate penalty takers) can take a team all the way to the 29 June final in Vienna.
Fabio Capello, who is in Austria to watch the matches of Croatia who are in England's 2010 World Cup qualifying group, suggested Romania could have been the dark horse this year had they been in an easier group, but the £6m-a-year coach otherwise offered the same names as any bar-room sage. "I think the influential players will be [Fernando] Torres, [Franck] Ribéry, Cristiano Ronaldo and, for Italy, [Gianluigi] Buffon, [Andrea] Pirlo and Luca Toni." He added, hedging his bets a little, "My favourites to win are France, Germany, Italy and Spain – and Portugal possibly." Elucidating he added: "The German mentality is very strong. And they have good players who play better for the national team than their clubs. The French know what they have to do during games. They are quick. [Raymond] Domenech is a lucky manager to have a squad so strong he can leave out [Mathieu] Flamini and [Gaël] Clichy. Spain are the team with the most technical quality. They have the best midfield in Europe: Fabregas, Xavi, Iniesta..."
But Spain, like England, appear to be less than the sum of their parts when it comes to tournaments. "We spoke about this problem a lot of times when I was in Spain [with Real Madrid]. It is a big problem. There is some kind of fear when you arrive and have to be competitive against the other big teams. England have the same problem."
Solving that problem is Capello's mission. He may gain some clues over the next three weeks, this being the first tournament he has attended as an international coach. Stylistically few surprises are expected. All the teams, except perhaps Guus Hiddink's Russia, are likely to play a back four, the majority will field five in midfield. There will doubtless be some dull games but, for the first time since the 1994 World Cup, England fans can watch without the angst of knowing it will all end in the agony of penalties. Fetch a cold beer, and enjoy. After all, even Greece v Sweden must be better than watching Emmerdale, which ITV would have been showing on Tuesday night.
McClaren: Licensed to give no thrills at all
Some things truly defy belief, and the presence of Steve McClaren on the roster of Radio 5 Live summarisers for the European Championship is one of them. Talk about rewarding dismal, shameful failure. What on earth is the BBC thinking? Does it seriously believe a single person in the country gives a shred of credence to anything the man says? His role is so inappropriate. It's a bit like releasing Peter Sutcliffe from Broadmoor to judge Britain's Got Talent.
McClaren hardly promises to be any good at his new job. At England press conferences he was a consummate politician, saying nothing and being damned boring about it.
Hasn't the Beeb learnt its lesson with Alan Shearer? As a player his interviews were tight-lipped; as a pundit he's dreadful. I may be proved wrong – it has been known – but McClaren will be humourless, banal and careful what he says, the very opposite of what a pundit should be. And don't forget, licence-payer – his fee comes out of your pocket.