"With England's game a total mismatch, and with their World Cup hopes looking all but over, the BBC did something I have never seen it do..."
I, for one, remember it vividly.
Des Lynam's voice cut into the action like a samurai sword, with worse timing than a Billy Connolly hostage joke. I remember his exact words.
"We now take you to Cardiff Arms Park where Wales have a penalty."
It was November 17th 1993. England were 4-1 up in San Marino having conceded one of the fastest goals in international history. And Wales were starting to get on top against a magical Romanian side. With England's game a total mismatch, and with their World Cup hopes looking all but over, the BBC did something I have never seen it do: it took England off our screens for the rest of the evening.
Looking back, I still can't believe it happened. However well Wales were doing, however better their qualification hopes looked, surely the ratings would always have been higher with England in action. What expletives would the England sponsors have roared over having their air time cut by a third? I don't think it could possibly happen now.
But on that night, it did. Graham Taylor's anguished face and Ian Wright's cheeky grins vanished, to be replaced with red-shirted left-back Paul Bodin, shakily placing the ball on the sodden penalty spot, nervously glancing at the athletic figure of Prunea in the Romania goal. A crescendo of noise surrounded him as it rapidly dawned upon Welsh fans that despite a horrible performance, they were perhaps one kick away from USA '94. One shot shy of their first major finals in 36 years. Even commentator Barry Davies was uncharateristically noisy.
Bodin ran up amid the cacophony, hit hard, the keeper dived... and the ball thundered against the crossbar. Barry Davies almost fainted; an entire nation held heads in hands. Wales had blown it. And the fact that they had gave the BBC perfect license to put England back on. But they didn't. They felt their interests were best served by seeing if Wales could somehow fashion a second goal against a Romanian team, inspired by Georghe Hagi, which had frequently toyed with them, while England fans had to make do with mere score flashes.
Eventually, the Welsh fell too, sucker-punched by the cool finish of Radocioiu. Which meant that rather than at least receive the consolation of watching England score three more goals in Bologna, Three Lions fans had not only been treated to a different home nation's game, but one that ended in equally depressing defeat.
On October 12th, England will take to the field against San Marino for the first time since that fateful night, and the memories will come flooding back: the night the BBC dumped England.
Chris Gould is author of How 2 How Not 2: Football's Do's and Don'ts Explained in 50 Stories