I was watching Sportsnight, or maybe Midweek Sports Special, when the first Iraq war really kicked off, it was the 17 January 1991 and the star attraction on the late night TV show was the Football League Cup fifth round tie between Chelsea and Spurs. Dennis Wise was scuttling around the midfield, about to swing a shin at a loose ball, when all of a sudden there was a flash of light.
The stadium appeared to go dark, lines and movement picked out in only a flickering glow. The floodlights were not white, but green — I would later find out when I watched again on a colour TV — and were picking out not the misplaced passes of Andy Townsend and John Bumstead but laser US Tomahawk Cruise Missiles.
I’d dozed off for a second and coverage of the game had been replaced with live action — of the start of ‘Stormin Norman’ Schwarzkopf’s bombardment of Baghdad. They never showed the end of the game. They haven’t shown much on telly since, apart from different versions of manly America and usually ‘us’ bombing the fuck out of some part of the Middle East. The first Iraq war begat the second, begat the third, and still it begets, much like the famous literature of that general region. And it begets because of oil, and of money, and of power and of war-mongering bastards like Tony Blair. But it also begets because it looks good on TV, and it looks good on TV because of Birmingham.
Back in 1918 Oliver Lucas’s company — Lucas’s to any Brummie — really got working on the military search light and the British forces were able to create “artificial moonlight” to enhance opportunities for night attacks. That practise continued, for many years, but it wasn’t until the days of rolling news that it became a form of infrared entertainment. An entertainment too good to resist sequel after sequel, whatever the quality.
I’ve just looked up the result of the game: it was 0-0. And that couldn’t be more apt if it was a metaphor.
It is a metaphor, guess where they were invented.
Photo, of the first Iraq war (Dennis Wise not pictured) CC By: John Martinez Pavliga