On Sky Sports News, every second June is the cruellest month.
The channel has managed to manufacture at least an impression of importance at most times of the year - the shining example being their genius in making human resources a biannual television event - but they have yet to crack it when a major football tournament comes around.
While it is essentially an advertising vehicle for whatever happens to be on Sky Sports at the time, the World Cup is just too big to ignore. Particularly when England are involved.
Given that they don't have the rights to any actual game footage, Sky Sports News have a great challenge: broadcast ceaseless rolling coverage of....nothing.
This column felt a solemn duty to tune in at some point, and given that yesterday England were playing as meaningless a game as they could ever hope to have, we figured this might be peak postmodern o'clock on Sky.
What followed was hours of footage of men getting off a bus, and then getting back on a bus, either side of some truly astonishing filler as Sky tried to find new ways of predicting the England result.
It is difficult to think of anything that has left a darker legacy on broadcast journalism than Paul The Psychic Octopus, as the search for a clairvoyant successor has become a weird kind of holy grail for television producers with a bit of time to fill during a major tournament.
The elusive search led Sky to a bears' enclosure at Whipsnade Zoo. Setting up two separate boxes of bait - one painted with a St George's Cross, the other with a Belgium flag - they unleashed three hungry bears (not lions?) called Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, with the box to which the bears flocked to supposedly portentous of the result to come.
What happened is exactly what you might expect: one bear gambolled directly for the England box, another went straight for the Belgian box while the third - and slowest - bear was left schlepping around in the middle, confused and presumably very hungry.
This column has been critical of both BBC and ITV for crowbarring England chat into games of no relevance to England, but this outstripped anything we've seen so far. When it became clear that one of the bears was mauling the Belgium-branded box of bait, they narrowed the camera to a close up on the bear, proclaiming that the bears had indeed delivered for England at their hour of need; the magnificent, patriot bears that they are.
It was mentioned beforehand that the bears had accidentally predicted Panama to beat England a few days earlier, so evidently Sky didn't want a repeat showing from these saboteurs. What materialised was the kind of exploitation of a bear for propaganda purposes that would make Vladimir Putin blush.
Things got stranger.
At lunchtime, presenter Rob Wootton and Chris Kamara took a walk outside the Sky offices, where myriad humble back-of-house staff were trying to enjoy their lunch. Wootton and Kammy slalomed through the crowds, trying to gee up as much excitement for England as they could. (At one point Wootton found a Sky employee wearing a Colombia jersey, and said that 'you won't be coming back tomorrow' in what proved to be a fairly threatening manner).
It culminated at a Belgian waffle van, outside of which a few Sky employees were half-heartedly queueing. Adjacent was "an England cake" featuring Harry Kane's face. The ambition was to draw crowds from the BELGIAN waffle van to the ENGLAND cake, as if to foster some powerful universal sentiment that might have an effect on the night's game.
Chris Kamara got the job of cutting the cake, with his subsequent dismembering of Harry Kane's sugary face leading to an actual apology from the presenter for anyone who took offence. Nonetheless, they managed to pull a few people away from the Belgian waffle van, so evidently, it was another victory for England.
The entire slot had a kind of gnawing hysteria of incongruity, reminiscent of Tory party attempts to connect Theresa May and David Cameron with the working man by having them hold a brief press conference while wearing a hard hat on a factory floor in Kent, surrounded by employees who were trading their right to appear as anything other than stoic-looking hostages for a longer lunch.
Aside from that, they filled the day with a few vox pops from Kaliningrad and a match preview piece that featured a lot of footage of the English players painted as Russian Dolls - surprising given that this group of players are recognised for not being full of themselves.
There was much more footage of men getting on buses and then getting off buses, before they settled in to watch Stephen Warnock and Laura Bassett watching the game. Before it started, however, they decided to do the decent thing and revel in Germany's group stage exit. Mesut Ozil's performances came under flak, with Warnock telling us that he had been under pressure from before the tournament for posing for a photograph with "a Turkish guy". He did, in fairness, later clarify that it wasn't just any old Turkish guy.
It was at that point that we fled back to the bosom of terrestrial TV.
While ITV can be difficult to bear at times during England games, at least there are unlikely to be any, well, bears.
Just One Stray Observation
With the group stages now over, we have decided to assemble our Fantasy Football Broadcast based on the World Cup group stages thus far. We need a presenter, three or four pundits, a commentator and co-commentator along with a touchline reporter to conduct the post-game interviews. (This column is only picking from RTE, BBC, and ITV).
Presenter: Darragh Maloney (RTE)
Pundits: Slaven Bilic (ITV), Cesc Fabregas (BBC), Roy Keane (ITV) and.....oh go on then, Eamon Dunphy (RTE)
Commentator: George Hamilton (RTE)
Co-Commentator: Ally McCoist (ITV)
Touchline Reporter: Gabriel Clarke (ITV)
That means four from ITV, three from RTE and just Fabregas from the Beeb. (And he finished up a week ago).
Get in touch with your picks - tweet @gcooney93 or email [email protected]
Tweets of the Day
Finding it difficult to concentrate at work without World Cup football to distract me...
— asifkapadia (@asifkapadia) June 29, 2018
All the goalkeeping experts on itv tonight are an absolute joke, Lee Dixon’s mate in the pub said he should of went with other hand 🤣🤣🤣
— Scott Carson (@SCarsonOfficial) June 28, 2018
See also: Germany, subliminally pining for Jurgen Klinsmann pic.twitter.com/UkiRTOnYVh
— Adam Hurrey (@FootballCliches) June 28, 2018