Archive for June, 2010

Going Dutch (& German) at Upton Jazz!
June 30, 2010

This year the sun well and truly shone on the 25th annual Upton on Severn Jazz  Festival. 25 years, where do they go? Having relocated to Upton in 1984 I remember visiting the very first Oliver Cromwell Jazz Festival, an altogether much smaller affair, the following year.

It has now grown beyond recognition and every year little old Upton bursts into life, for the last weekend in June, welcoming internationally renowned trad jazz bands and the colorful, vibrant crowds that flock to see them. 

Over the years I have always tried to sample some of the jazz and soak up the atmosphere but, unfortunately, with school reports high on the agenda at this time of year the conflicting demands on my time have usually weighed in favour of work over pleasure. Not so this year – in my first summer of retirement I was able to indulge myself !   

Chris, having managed her time well, had finished her school reports before I got back from Africa (she must have been at a loose end!) This allowed us to invite friends, from the cold wastes of the north, down for the weekend to share the whole Upton Jazz experience.

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves listening to some top quality musicians, sipping  a few too many ice cool beers and even eating al fresco at our local Bangladeshi restaurant, Pundits, on a balmy English summers evening!

Two jazz sets we all particularly enjoyed were provided by Lamarotte, a Dutch band, and the Bourbon Street Stompers, from Germany. Both bands have appeared at Upton before and Lamarotte are old favourites at the festival with their delightful blend of jazz and humour always goes down a storm.  Our friends were even moved to buy their latest CD, which features Upton Church on its sleeve!     

I’m looking forward to next year already! But before that there will be a weekend of Blues  starting 16th July, the Water Festival with its stunning firework display, over the August Bank Holiday weekend, and the annual Upton Folk Festival next May Day weekend.   

We do very well for a sleepy little Worcestershire town!

Advertisements

The English Patient
June 30, 2010

English football requires radical surgery if the national side is to recover and ever thrive again. It has been said before (after every major football championship since ’96) and it is being shouted from the rooftops, by the media once again, after Sunday’s dismal and embarrassing exit from the 2010 World Cup. But will those in power listen?     

The obvious and likely response, to the debacle of the last few weeks, is likely to see Fabio Capello heading out of the door but to be replaced by who? The current consensus seems to be that we’ve tried two overpaid foreign managers who didn’t deliver so let’s go back to an English manager; someone with in-built national pride who can communicate more easily with the players and sing the national anthem with gusto!  Remember Steve McClaren? He was supposed to fit the bill, but might have done better auditioning in the West End for ‘Singing in the Rain’!

I don’t think changing the coach/manager is the answer. They should stick with Capello, who has a better track record, at club level, than any of the other likely candidates being touted around. If he can’t revive the English patient then I suspect nobody can.

Do we really believe cheeky chappy ‘Arry Redknapp or big Sam Allardyce are going to turn the national side around? Just look at their career records!  Roy Hodgson, who has international experience as a coach , might be a better choice but he has opted for the lesser of two evils by joining another ailing English patient, Liverpool!

In my book, the best British club manager by a mile (and I haven’t forgotten the Scottish knight here) is Martin O’Neil. However Martin is Irish, intelligent, outspoken, doesn’t suffer fools gladly and would only take the job on his terms, so nothing going for him then!      

I think we should stick with Fabio for the next couple of years and involve him in a full top to bottom enquiry into the state of the ‘English game’  involving both the FA and the Premier League. The key questions are  simple and blindingly obvious. Do we want a successful national team or the mediocrity we have just endured?  If the answer is yes, how do we balance the needs of the national team, with the needs of the clubs and the money-making machine which is the Premier League?

The fans should also have an important say. Is the average football fan prepared to put the quest for a successful national side (once every two/four years) before that of the club side they follow, week in week out?

Needless to say the questions are much simpler than the solutions, but perhaps we need look no further than the example set by the Germans, who I’m sure would have beaten us (perhaps not so easily) even if Lampard’s ‘goal’ had been given.

The domestic Bundesliga is not as interesting or entertaining as the English Premier League, German club sides with the exception of Bayern Munch  have a modest record in the Champions League and yet whenever a major international tournament comes around the national side is always well conditioned, technically adept, tactically astute and monotonously successful (as we know to our cost) being three times winners of the World Cup and the European Championship.

Mind you, I do fancy Argentina to beat them in the quarter finals!

I suspect nothing radical will happen and in four years time the English patient may well be on the way to the morgue, whilst the Premiership coffers grow fatter and fatter!

The ‘golden generation’ has come and gone without ever looking like it would deliver, in Germany 2006 or Spain 2010. If we are serious about future international success the ‘new generation’ (worryingly thin on the ground) has to be given the right opportunities and conditions within which it can develop and flourish.

At the very least the following should now be seriously considered:

  • Reduce the number of Premier League teams to 18
  • An agreed minimum quota of English qualified players in every first team squad
  • An agreed minimum quota of English qualified players in every starting line up
  • The Carling Cup to go, or be officially downgraded to a competition which develops young home-grown talent   
  • A mid-season winter break in January

Now let’s leave the footballers in their misery for a while and turn our attention to the summer sports where we continue to enjoy a degree of success.

The England cricket team have now tied up the 50 over series against the Aussies and now well and truly own the bragging rights, having beaten them in all three forms of the international game during the last twelve months. Let’s hope their good form continues throughout the forthcoming Test series against Pakistan as they prepare for this winter’s Ashes tour.    

All eyes now turn to Wimbledon where tennis fans have enjoyed the recent glorious weather, oblivious of the trials and tribulations in South Africa, and Andy Murray has seemingly glided through to the quarter finals without dropping a set. HM popped in for her first visit since 1977, when Virginia Wade won the ladies’ singles – the last British champion! Could history repeat itself 33 years later, but this time in the men’s singles?

Bring on the Germans and all that Jazz!
June 24, 2010

So it’s confirmed, we will be playing our old adversaries, the Germans, in the last 16 of  2010 World Cup. It just had to be didn’t it?  But I have a feeling that  playing them now, rather than later in the tournament, could be better for us!

The match will be played in Bloemfontein on Sunday afternoon. It promises to be a barbecue weekend here in the UK  so stock up on the bangers, burgers and beer!

Today, the sun is shining  already and I’m about to set off  for an all together more tranquil sporting occasion down by the riverside in Cardiff. England versus the Aussies in a day /night, 50 over cricket international at the SWALEC stadium in Sophia Gardens. Come on England let’s make it 2/2.

It heralds the start of a busy weekend with  friends arriving tomorrow, from the north-east, for the 25th annual Upton-on- Severn Jazz Festival.

So what with cricket, jazz, barbecues, beer and sunday’s big football occasion I’ll be putting the blog on hold until Monday.  By then the nation will be euphoric or wallowing in the depths of another depression.

 

Top tips for Fabio and England:

1. Same starting XI

2. Keep the red shirts

3. Extra practice on penalties

Let’s make Franz ‘the Kaiser’ Beckenbauer eat his words!

St George’s flag is still flying – what a difference a red shirt makes!
June 23, 2010

St George’s flag can remain flying over the House of Commons for a little while longer. What a difference a win makes. Yes we were on the edge of our seats, because one goal wasn’t enough, but everything that had been missing from the first two games, was there and we started to look a half decent side.

There was pride in this performance, endeavour and considerable skill, particularly after Jermaine Defoe’s goal had settled early nerves. Every player contributed and it was a real team effort.

Fabio Capello was vindicated. He did not bow to player power (or the media) and stuck with the 4-4-2 formation, with Gerrard playing on the left side of midfield and Joe Cole remaining on the bench.  Defoe, the goal scorer, came in for Heskey but that would have happened anyway. James Milner returned on the right, after missing the Algeria game. His workrate, and the quality of his crossing were outstanding.

Despite the alleged discontent within the training camp, things seem to have been sorted out, the players responded to the coach and everyone  pulled together. That’s why they won’t be flying home early, economy class, like the French (ha ha!)

In fairness John Terry, who led the failed coup against Fabio, was a rock at the back, as were attacking fullbacks Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson. Steven Gerrard put in another disciplined captain’s performance. Matthew Upson, who looked shaky to start with, grew into the game and made a wonderful last-ditch tackle at the death.

Rooney is still below par and desperately seeking a goal. He shot twice when he could have played in Milner and when he did have a one on one with the keeper couldn’t get his shot away cleanly.  A goal can’t be far away now and when it comes it will make such a difference to him and the rest of the team.      

Defoe got the goal and his movement up front was a constant threat. His presence, at the exclusion of Heskey, encourages the team to play to feet, rather than opting for the long high ball which was our downfall against Algeria.     

It’s never easy, watching England, but this performance was much better on the eye and they dominated for long periods. A second goal, that never came, would have sealed it and made the last 10 minutes rather more bearable. But we are in the last 16, the first two games can be forgotten, we can draw confidence from this performance and we are still very much in this tournament, well at least until Sunday!      

Ghana, Germany, or Serbia are all possible last 16 opponents. Funnily enough, of the three, I really quite fancy us against the Germans. I trust Fabio will have those disparaging comments from ‘the Kaiser’ pinned up on the dressing room wall – team talk done!

Oh yes, and another thing, what a difference a shirt makes. Stick with the red – there’s a quite a good precedent!

Time to stand up and be counted!
June 23, 2010

90 minutes to kick off!

If you don’t know or understand what all the fuss is about now would be good time to head for Tesco, you should have the place pretty much to yourself.

The country is about to grind to a halt. For 90 minutes the revival of the national economy will take second place to the revival of the national football team. Even DC announced, in PM’s Questions, that he is hoping to catch the second half.

Will the flag of St George will still be flying over the House of Commons at 5.00pm – we’ll see! Ridiculously, if we put in a half decent performance today and win, the trials and tribulations of earlier this week will no doubt be replaced by a cautious optimism that we could still lift the trophy. Crazier thing have happened – just look at the English cricket team!

Yesterday they saw off the Aussies in yet another assured one day performance, Eoin Morgan leading the way with a fine century. There was a time, not long ago, when we could not buy a victory in the short form of cricket and the likely outcome of any  match against the Aussies was a ‘no brainer’.

In the space of twelve months, the English cricket team has wrested back the Ashes, lifted the World T20 trophy, after hammering the Aussies in the final, and are currently 1-0 up in the one day (50 over game) series. 

I’m looking forward to seeing more of the same, tomorrow, when I visit Cardiff for the second day-night match. I don’t want to put my foot in it and spoil our chances but are the Aussies, for so long seemingly invincible, fast becoming our whipping boys?  Even Johnno’s rugby team sneaked a win down under at the weekend. Come to think of it, it’s a pity we aren’t playing the Aussies this afternoon instead of Slovenia!      

‘Nothing builds confidence like success‘, ‘success breeds success’ and ‘winning becomes a habit’ are well-worn sporting clichés because they tend to be true. It is being amply demonstrated by the England cricket team right now.

To quote another cliché, ‘you don’t become a bad player/team overnight’. England are ranked 8th in the world by FIFA. They are playing a Slovenian team ranked 27th. Nothing but a stirring display full of pride, passion, and no little skill, resulting in a victory for England, will do this afternoon. It’s what the nation needs, deserves and expects.  And while I’m in cliché mode: ‘there are no more excuses’, ‘the time has come to stand up and be counted’ and ‘don’t leave the tournament wondering what if………..’       

30 minutes to kick off!!!

It’s time to play ‘3 Lions’, grab a beer, dust down the vuvuzela and steady the nerves.

COME ON ENGLAND!  It’s Coming Home, it’s coming home, it’s coming, football’s coming home……….. 

Gideon’s Way!
June 23, 2010

George Osborne, the Chancellor formerly known as Gideon, emerged from yesterday’s ‘unavoidable’ Emergency Budget relatively unscathed.

We’ve been so well primed for this ‘tough but fair’ recovery plan that hardly an eyebrow was raised. Timing is everything of course and, realistically, in the glow of yesterday’s summer sunshine, more minds were probably focused on Andy Murray, safely negotiating his way through the first round at Wimbledon, and England’s forthcoming  do or die World Cup match.

The media are generally agreed that this budget is the most severe in living memory, but largely accepting that the bitter pill of savage cuts, in public spending and benefits, and an increase in VAT to 20%, is the consequence of the previous government’s financial mismanagement and something we will have to swallow.

Whilst the Mail described the Chancellor’s performance as ‘Masterful’ and the Telegraph dubbed him ‘Osborne the Enforcer’, the Guardian was rather more prosaic, alerting us to ‘Pain now, more pain later’. Only the good old Mirror voiced its opposition, ‘History will show George Osborne’s Budget was a disaster.’

Perhaps ‘prudence’ would not normally be associated with ex members of  Oxford University’s elite ‘Bullingdon Club’, membership by invitation only and renowned for its wealth and destructive binges.  But will Cameron and Osborne in their new guise as  ‘the dynamic duo’ save the day?

At this stage the jury is out, but those in opposition are saying say the cuts are too much too soon, will restrict growth and result in a dramatic increase in unemployment.  As always the Tories seem to think this is a price worth paying.   

One thing is certain, however, we now have a coalition government in name only, and this is well and truly a Tory budget. 

Nick Clegg, resplendent in his golden tie, and Danny Alexander, becoming increasingly prominent as senior minister to the Treasury, were strategically placed either side of Osborne on the front bench, like two nodding dogs throughout his speech. They are slowly but surely morphing into Tories and it won’t be long before Cleggy becomes, ‘the man with the royal blue tie’.  

This was a master stroke by Cameron and Osborne, for it was the front bench Lib Dems, not the Tories, who bore the brunt of Harriet Harman’s response to the budget as she demanded, “How could they support everything they fought against? How could they let everyone down who voted for them?”

When Harman is on song, as she was yesterday, one wonders why she isn’t standing for the Labour leadership. Her display was confident and passionate, something we haven’t seen from the Labour bench for a while, and she went for the kill in no uncertain terms: “The Lib Dem leaders have sacrificed everything they ever stood for to ride in ministerial cars and to ride on the coat-tails of the Tory Government”.

A lot of Lib Dem backbenchers and voters would say, ‘Amen to that!’ and it will be interesting to see how many MPs break ranks and side with Labour in voting against the budget.

The Emergency Budget will go down in political history, not only in terms of its severity, but as the beginning of the end of this coalition government and more significantly as the point at which the Liberal Democrat Party seized to exist as an entity in its own right.

The ugly face of player power
June 21, 2010

Just when we were sitting back having a chuckle at the antics in the French training camp, former England captain, John Terry, spoiled it all by seizing  the moment to assume the role of team spokesperson and alerting the eagerly waiting media to similar disharmony in the England camp.  

More of that later. First let’s start with our friends from across La Manche who, regardless of their walk of life, are never slow at voicing disapproval by taking strike action. This time it’s not students, teachers or farmers but international football players, high on pay but low on motivation.

There is no doubting, French coach, Raymond Domenech’s eccentricities (see post ‘Look to the Stars’ 12/6/10) and it’s been an open secret from the outset that senior members of the squad were not happy with his team selection and tactics. In effect, the French ‘stars’ were never favourably aligned and he had lost the dressing room before a ball was kicked in anger.

Having said that he is the coach and when Nicholas Anelka, who looked totally disinterested during the game against Mexico, refused to apologise for his foul-mouthed half time rant the French Football Federation had no option other than to back ‘star gazer’ Domenech and recall the player to France.

With their World Cup existence hanging by a thread, the French players then pathetically refused to train yesterday (for one day only)  to protest at the FFF’s handling of the situation, claiming they had not given Anelka a fair chance to explain his actions and because they “ did not at any point try to protect the squad.”

With the lunatics well and truly taking over the asylum and the whole situation, having degenerated into a French farce, the FFF has now issued a statement apologising to the nation for the team’s behaviour.

A state of national emergency has been declared and even President Sarkozy, never one to miss out on a bit of free publicity (seen showing Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger his nifty footwork), is getting involved.

Let’s hope Bafana Bafana, who do play as if they care, can raise their game enough tomorrow to put our Gallic friends out of their misery. I bet the Irish have been enjoying it all, and perhaps it does go to show that cheats never prosper!   

Meanwhile back in Rustenburg, following the debacle against Algeria, John Terry took it upon himself to set up a ‘clear the air’ meeting between the players and Fabio. In itself there is absolutely nothing wrong with that but it should have been kept behind closed doors.

What did he expect to gain from going public? Is it all about revenge for being stripped of the captaincy following his off the field fling with ex Chelsea and England ‘best mate’ Wayne Bridge’s former partner, or was it genuinely intended to make the coach sit up and take note of the squad’s opinions?

Whatever the motivation, thankfully the rest of the squad have now distanced themselves from Terry’s actions. He is considered to have gone too far by publically backing Joe Cole’s inclusion in the starting line up and suggesting a change of formation, many in the media have been clambering for, that would see Gerrard play a more advanced midfield role behind lone striker Wayne Rooney.

Terry ‘coming out’ in this way, showed a total disregard for the team captain, Steven Gerrard. Surely, if anyone should be representing the players’ views to the coach or making public statements it should be him .

Another alternative might have been to enlist the services of  David Beckham who could then have justified his place of favour in the dressing room, apparently some kind of ‘team mascot’, by stepping into any breach between the players and coaching staff and acting as a mediator.   

I must say the FA has also been less than supportive of Capello by suggesting that if England don’t make the last 16, they would expect him to resign. Well they can’t afford to sack him can they!

Capello may be everything he’s accused of:  authoritarian, single-minded, a disciplinarian, inflexible, unwilling to listen and unable to change his ways (which, incidentally, have proved successful for every other team he has worked with), but he was being lauded as some kind of footballing ‘Messiah’ by the FA, the team and the media just a few short weeks ago.

He is a proud individual with a proven track record and quite rightly will not succumb to player power. It is about time this ‘golden generation’ of pampered ‘England stars’ took a long hard look in the mirror and shouldered the responsibility for two under par performances.      

In the matches against the USA and Algeria, the same players that had qualified for the World Cup finals, playing a measured and successful brand of football instilled in them by Capello, looked a team devoid of technique, creativity, and commitment to the cause.

Capello may not be without fault, but neither are the players. In short, whether John Terry likes it or not, the team have bottled it. There is one more chance to put things right, and rather than following the example of ‘Les Bleus’, the England team would do better to draw on the team and work ethic of the lowly New Zealand ‘All Whites’ who yesterday pulled off the result of the tournament, to date, 1-1 against world champions Italy.

Pride, passion, effort and endeavour from a team where all its members are working for one another and the coach, within a well drilled playing system can bring about surprising results.

Slovenia will no doubt have a similar mentality plus added quality but nothing that our players, if they are as good as they think they are, should be worried about. Throw off the shackles, have a go and let’s see proper player power, on the pitch. Let the football do the talking!

‘There is nothing like a Dame’ – unless it’s ‘the Prince of Thieves’!
June 21, 2010

Those of you who are familiar with old Hollywood musicals will know, “There is nothing like a dame,” – just  take a look at our very own Dame Helen Mirren……. 

Appearing on a US chat show last week, ‘national treasure’ Dame Helen, better known as ‘the Queen’, across the pond, got her self into oily waters and raised a few eyebrows back home. 

Dame Helen, who often revels in her reputation as something of a loose cannon, played to her audience by stoking the prevailing anti-British sentiment and describing BP as “Bloody P—- poor”.

She followed this up by saying that he was pleased England had not beaten the United States in the World Cup match.

She is a good actress, deserving of the recognition she has received for her performances, but surely one might expect a little more decorum from a Dame?  Given that emotions are running high in the US, over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and that the ‘special relationship’ is under intense  pressure perhaps she was seeking to defuse the situation with  a mischievous and ‘humorous’ comment or two.

On the other hand it could be seen as nauseous, ingratiating and a calculated act of self publicity.

Thankfully, at least, on this occasion the Dame kept her clothes on!      

Perhaps BP missed a trick. Beleaguered executive Tony Hayward should have enlisted Dame Helen to accompany him at Congress last week, where the members  were lining up to ‘slice and dice’ him. I’m sure her take on events would have gone down well, and a regal wave or two and a few signed photographs from ‘the Queen’, would have helped pour oil on troubled waters!

Another thespian who was present at Congress the other day, Hollywood legend Kevin ‘Prince of Thieves’ Costner, was able to offer BP a more practical solution to cleaning up the oil spill. He owns a company who, for the last 17 years, have been working on a machine that will separate oil from water. Ever, straight as an arrow and one to ‘rob the rich to help the poor’, Kevin has signed a contract with BP to provide 32 of these centrifuge like devices. Let’s hope they hit the target!       

Finally on the oil front, slick operator and Hollywood wannabe President Obama (seen here in the role of Bond villain Dr No), who has been the fiercest critic of BP in recent weeks,  is becoming increasingly embarrassed by the incestuous relationship that has existed between BP and US politicians. Obama’s own presidential campaign benefitted to the tune of $77,000 from BP funds.

It was further revealed, by the Sunday Times yesterday, that up to 30 Congress committee members have combined holdings, worth $14.5 million, in oil companies which include BP!

Silly Hats, Strawberries & Streakers – The Great British Summer!
June 20, 2010

World Cup Final tournaments are addictive; they should carry a government health warning!

Admittedly the football, in South Africa, has hardly set the pulses racing, largely due to negative tactics and coaches preoccupied with self-preservation. Never the less the atmosphere is vibrant, results have been refreshingly unpredictable and the ongoing debate over the suspect ball and the omnipresent vuvuzela, have all been riveting for the football enthusiast. Not to mention the soap opera which the England team has become! Hopefully the best is yet to come, in the final group matches and knock out stages.          

Meanwhile, in the shadow of the ‘greatest show on earth’ and largely neglected by the national media, the great British sporting summer rolls on. It is of course the traditional season for silly hats, strawberries and streakers!   

This week at Royal Ascot the premier flat race meeting has come and gone with barely a by your leave. But even this traditional preserve of the sport of kings was infiltrated by the World Cup, with a Ladies’ Day vuvuzela hat, paraded on the front page of Friday’s Times newspaper.         

The Wimbledon Championship, at the All England Club, has crept upon us almost un-noticed. As from tomorrow, tennis enthusiasts will be descending on SW19, hoping for that elusive British success but ever ready to drown their sorrows with lashings of Pimms and strawberries. Normally the sports pages would have been hyping up Andy Murray’s chances for the last week or so, but in this World Cup year he has barely rated a mention. Hopefully this might work in his favour?

Similarly the razzmatazz of the county cricket T20 competition is passing us by and the forthcoming one day internationals will probably go unnoticed by many. Not by me though! I’m looking forward to making my debut, at the SWALEC stadium in Cardiff on Thursday, for the day/night England v Australia game. I’m looking forward to seeing Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann (a couple of part-time  Notts players) and, weather permitting, I anticipate it might prove the perfect antidote to England’s football performance against Slovenia on Wednesday!  

Yesterday, on the other side of the world, in Sydney, the England ruby team raised their game, at long last, and ‘hammered’ the Aussies 20-21! It was their first win ‘down under’ since they lifted the World Cup in 2003 (on the same ground) and only their second away win in two years. But this narrowest of victories might prove vital in England’s rehabilitation process, almost certainly keeping Martin Johnson and his coaching team in their positions until after the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and perhaps proving the turning point we’ve been waiting for. Ever the optimist!

I don’t like to upset my Welsh family members by referring to their latest performance against the All Blacks, so I suggest they look away now. They were soundly thrashed 42-9!

Finally a mention for Formula 1 (Scalextric for grown ups!) where two Brits continue to the lead the way in what is becoming a highly competitive championship. It was good to see the oft maligned Lewis Hamilton back at is his best in Montreal and last year’s champion Jenson Button proving he wasn’t a one hit wonder!  Next up his Valencia, in a week’s time and then Silverstone on World Cup Final day!

I wonder what odds I might get on England to win the World Cup, Andy Murray to lift the men’s singles and a Hamilton/Button 1-2 in the British Grand Prix? Dream on!

Strangers in the Night!
June 19, 2010

On Friday, ‘ol blue eyes’ and ‘Strangers in the Night’ came to mind! England played like a scratch pub team, who had met up for the first time five minutes before the kick-off, as pass after pass went astray. Then there was the episode of the phantom intruder who waltzed into the England dressing room intent on giving our bereft team the benefit of his opinion.

Given that the anonymous interloper had made such short work of the FIFA security my curiosity was roused. Was it an undercover visit from Franz ‘the Kaiser’ Beckenbauer, popping in to reaffirm his earlier claim that, “What I saw from the English had very little to do with football.”  After last night’s sorry performance I think a few more might be with him on that one now!   

It was a huge disappointment for ‘birthday boy’ Fabio, not the sort of celebratory performance he had in mind, I’m sure. He seemed genuinely at a loss that the England players we see playing like world beaters, week in  week out, for their clubs and strutting their stuff on the training ground didn’t turn up for such a big game.

To be honest the rest of us could have tipped him the wink:  “Everyone seems to know the score, they’ve seen it all before, they just know, they’re so sure that England’s  gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away” etc.  (Badiel & Skinner) 

Of course, no team sets out to play badly, get booed off the pitch and castigated in the national press. They’re not the first team to disappoint at this year’s tournament but what made last night so unpalatable was the apparent lack of pride and passion. Too many players seemed weighed down by the occasion, the ball was like a hot potato and nobody appeared to want to take responsibility. This was Algeria after all, a 3rd world nation in football terms!

The honeymoon period with the media is clearly over for Fabio but I don’t go along with the criticism currently being levelled at him.  It’s little use turning on the coach and questioning his methods at this late stage. Let’s be honest, under Sven Goran-Ericksson, we qualified with some style for the 2006 World Cup but once at the finals the players under performed and we stuttered and spluttered our way to a quarter-final exit. We were told it was down to Sven not showing enough passion on the touch-line, being too loyal to certain favoured players, allowing an overly free and easy attitude in the training camp, and of course he never had a plan B when things weren’t going well.    

This time around, Fabio Capello undoubtedly shows passion from the dug out. He’s not been afraid to leave out players with big reputations, has a more austere and remote persona with the team, clearly runs a tight ship and has experimented with different formations, but seems to prefer 4-4-2 . Once again the team have under performed (so far at least) and now it’s being suggested that this is  because Capello’s style  inhibits the team and they are afraid of expressing themselves for fear of making mistakes.  

The media can’t play it both ways. We have seen two distinctly different approaches from two very different coaches but, both in 2006 and currently in 2010, our ‘top players’ have frozen on the big stage. Is it a mental attitude born of an unrealistic national expectation after years of  under achievement, or do we merely over-estimate their abilities? Are our England stars as good as we think or do they just look good at club level where they are in teams along side genuine world-class players who have the technique and creativity to provide them with the extra time and space they don’t get when playing with the national side?

Fabio isn’t one to panic or to pander to calls from the media.  I think he’ll get the team up for the do or die game against Slovenia and we will squeeze through. We might even, depending on the opposition, briefly flatter to deceive by winning our quarter-final and fleetingly raise national hopes once more before the inevitable anti-climax in the semis, probably going out on penalties; “Everyone seems to know the score ” etc!  I guess that would be judged a relative success.  

However it turns out there’s one sure thing, ‘ol blue eyes’ will spring to mind again with visions of Capello singing, “I did it my way!”