For the win: how GB handballers made last-gasp history
If you spent your weekend bemoaning an England goalkeeper throwing a game away, then I'm sorry: you were watching the wrong sport.
Forget Robert Green, you need to meet Robert White. His heroics between the sticks for the British men's handball team on Saturday helped the team to a result which means as much as the World Cup does to English football.
With the score between Britain and Bulgaria tied at 32-32, a save from White prompted a GB move in which Steven Larsson scored the winner with mere seconds on the clock. Pandemonium ensued. It was the first time this British team has ever won a competitive international.
Read that again. Their first competitive win ever. It's hard to convey the atmosphere as Larsson found the back of the net. The Crystal Palace National Sports Centre can only accommodate a few hundred fans, but they took the roof off.
Anyone who ever played in a rubbish sports team as a youngster will know the feeling of finally managing to win a game. Transfer that to the world stage, in arguably Britain's least successful Olympic sport, two years before a home Olympic Games, and imagine the raw relief and joy.
Filming on-court as the team celebrated became one of those moments where every hair stands on end. It's easy to be dismissive about handball - a sport little-known in Britain, even though it is widely played and loved in other parts of Europe - but any sports fan knows when something special is happening.
This win had been Britain's target since the elite handball programme was founded in 2006, with extra funding in place ahead of the 2012 Games. The initial intake included Ciaran Williams, now the team captain. For him, victory on home soil is just as big a deal.
"I've been here four years, and I've been waiting for that since day one. It's unbelievable. It gives me goosebumps to think about it," he told me.
"Our faces speak louder than any words could. Some people were in tears. It means everything to everyone and we're ecstatic. It's a long road ahead, but this is the perfect stepping stone towards it."
Britain beat Belgium in a friendly in Brussels at the end of May, making a competitive win - and a home win - seem all the more realistic. But, by the time they faced Bulgaria in the final game of their qualifying group for the 2012 European Championships, they had already lost to Cyprus on Thursday and Estonia on Friday, and were out of the reckoning to qualify.
Conjuring a win on Saturday therefore looked fairly unlikely from the outset, even more so when Britain trailed 26-20 (roughly the equivalent of being 3-1 down in football) with 15 of the 60 minutes to go.
But roared on by fans who made enough noise for an arena 10 times the size - yes, there were vuvuzelas - something happened to Britain. A belief the team had never previously dared possess settled like an electric field.
The Bulgarians lost their cool and, with it, a couple of players to temporary two-minute suspensions. Britain exploited the extra man and drew level. Larsson's winner, which took an eternity to nestle in the unguarded far corner of the net, marked the first time Britain had led the game. With two seconds left.
"It's been a long time coming," said White. "Usually we're behind by four or five goals near the end of the game, and we've no real fight left. But today we clawed it back.
"It shows you have to fight till the last minute otherwise you might as well not bother turning up. The coach is always telling us not to go into it half-hearted, so that's what I did, I threw myself at everything and got whatever I could behind the ball. Luckily, it paid off."
The win is an achievement but, set against the rest of Team GB for 2012 - which will include dozens of genuine gold-medal contenders across almost every Olympic sport - unbridled joy at winning one game (a dead rubber in a pre-qualifying tournament at that) could look a little underwhelming.
That would miss the point. This team is an experiment in a sport where Britain has never had a presence. It is the equivalent of forming a track cycling team from nothing. Even Dave Brailsford, the British Cycling performance director often cited as the closest thing to a god of Olympic sporting success, would struggle to fashion medal prospects in six years.
Being competitive is the first challenge and Olympic medals simply cannot be a worry at this stage. One win does not yet make Britain a routinely competitive force, and British Handball must now set their next target towards that.
They are expected to take their time over it as we head into handball's off-season, with games unlikely to get under way again much before August. Britain's players, many of whom were leading entirely different lives until talent identification schemes picked them out, graft away with European club sides in between GB fixtures, so they will be making the most of much-needed time off.
Plenty of cash was made available to start the programme in 2006 but much of that was cut in 2009, as funding body UK Sport addressed a shortfall by targeting their efforts on sports with a realistic shot at winning medals in 2012.
"A lot of us are going broke and it's days like these you play sport for," said White, who was a football goalkeeper until British Handball selected him in 2008. He now grinds out a living at Danish side BSV, where he has occasionally made the first team squad but is yet to take to the court in anger.
British players are making big sacrifices to play a sport few people in their home country even know exists.
Ask any of them what they need most to reach the next level, and the answer is simple: more time playing the game. But, when you're not good enough to displace first-team players, that can be hard to come by, which in itself prevents you becoming good enough.
With that in mind, it's hard to see immediately what the next milestone for GB will be. They need a more focused target than simply "win more games" but, as the celebrations wound down, head coach Dragan Djukic admitted that was all he could think of.
"Well, I hope winning turns out to be like some kind of opium - you can't stop. I hope this is just the first step for us," he said. The opium simile is one of myriad poetic quotes from the Serbian, who has a way with words.
"The team is always on the first page for me, but every match has some small heroes, and Bob (White) did a good job today," he added.
"But it was the team who believed until the end, and that is the most important thing to being competitive. We don't have stars, and we won't produce them in the next two years. Our job is to create a winning team with that mentality, that fighting spirit.
"We missed clear chances, but some director up in heaven gave us a last chance to win the game."
Djukic, who shapes and commands his team from the sidelines like a volatile sheepdog, will be key to the British team's development. He is an established, respected coach, who appears to treat Team GB as a personal challenge.
While the team's next target is up in the air, his long-term goal is clear: at the start of the year, he told me he wants to be the man who turns handball into a sport the British play.
The better Britain get on the court, the higher handball's British profile can become with the right marketing, and the closer Djukic gets to winning his game. London 2012 will show him whether he's winning or losing. What he and his team do in the next two years, though, could have an impact at Rio 2016 and beyond.