It's approximately twenty-six minutes past three o'clock on 3rd February 2001. In the front room of a basement flat
in Campbell Road, Brighton, two Watford fans sit and fidget anxiously. On the teevee, teletext flicks through
the latest Division One scores. On the computer monitor, Soccernet does the same. A hastily-assembled bunch
of wires pump RealAudio commentary from the PC to the hi-fi, bringing the action from Hillsborough as it happens.
So we think, anyway.
Loz's mobile phone rings. It's Matt, calling from the ground. He's jubilant again - Darren Ward has scored, the
Hornets are back in the lead. Everything's fine.
Well, almost. In our commentary, Darren Ward has not scored. In fact, in RealAudio world, the ball doesn't
hit the back of the net until Matt is halfway through a detailed explanation of the events leading up to the
ball hitting the back of the net. Hurrah for the information superhighway!
For the remainder of the half, this leaves us in a curious position. Are we to assume that Matt will phone if anyone
scores at either end, breaking the news ahead of the delayed commentary again? Do we ignore the fact that
the ball's bouncing around our penalty area, safe in the knowledge that we'd already know if anything
important had happened? Who do we believe?
Sadly, this problem is solved when Efan Ekoku rounds Alec Chamberlain to score on the stroke of half-time, a
goal that has received no prior announcement from Matt. We can hardly blame him, since eagerly phoning to
deliver the news of an opposition goal would be completely against the instincts of a committed fan. We now
know where we stand, anyway. Even if where we stand makes no particular sense to us.
Back to the start. At half past two, the thin, reedy sound of the pre-recorded announcement on the club's
official site has a certain charm to it. Backed by "Z Cars", it tells tantalisingly of the commentary
Earlier in the day, I began the tedious chores that led me to stay at home, missing out on a trip to my favourite
away ground. Now, I'm free to concentrate on the game. Loz is on his way, the kettle's boiling, everything's
set up. Come on you 'Orns.
Half an hour later, hearing "Z Cars" has lost its appeal entirely. Each attempt to connect leads to brief
anticipation, then annoyance and disappointment. The introductory rattle of drums, associated for so many
years with the rush of excitement as the teams run out onto the Vic Road turf, is increasingly irritating
as it becomes clear that there will be no commentary.
Thankfully, the Sheffield Wednesday site comes to our rescue. Kind of. With fifteen minutes gone and two goals already
scored, a connection is established at last. We have commentary, more or less.
Mainly less, it has to be said. As it turns out, commentary consists of a dour, gruff Yorkshireman reading a
shopping list of unrelated incidents, pausing at regular intervals to cough into the microphone, go to the toilet
or catch forty winks. Alan Green need not fear for his job.
Listening to a game that you care about on the radio is hard work at the best of times. The gap between a shot being struck and reaching/missing
its target is a pregnant, painful eternity. You have no idea where the ball is, where it's going, what's going to
happen when it gets there. You're in the dark. You can either panic or you can turn the bloody thing off, nothing
Now, imagine that the commentary goes something like this....
"And the ball's in midfield. Quinn has it."
"Oh, it's cleared off the line!"
More sodding silence until someone elbows our chum in the ribs and he awakes with a surprised snort.
"And the ball's in midfield, with Sibon."
Welcome to hell. Shots, saves, penalty appeals, fouls...they all appear from nowhere, like trees emerging
from thick fog along a country lane. Half the time, we're not even completely sure which end the ball's at, let
alone what might be happening to it. It's absolute bloody agony.
The last fifteen minutes are nigh on unbearable. We're desperate for every scrap of information, yet our
friend holds selfishly onto it as if it were hard currency. In the background, like the teasing sound of trickling
water in the desert, we can hear Mike Vince spewing words - oh, precious words! - frantically into his
microphone. Is it not better to know nothing at all than to be tortured like this?
After three minutes of extra time - if the referee had been listening to our version of events, he'd have been forced
to add on about three hours to allow for the breaks in play - the final whistle goes. The commentator bids us farewell. He
drops his microphone with a clunk and wanders off for a pint, leaving us with humming feedback until someone else pulls the plug. Somehow,
an appropriately chaotic end to my first RealAudio football match.
We can laugh about it now, of course. We won, after all. But, well...to all of you who go through this on a regular basis, BSaD salutes you.