The Kaiser, the Jabulani and the Vuvuzela!
June 15, 2010

The football on display must be pretty poor if the column inches are taken up with complaints about the match ball, the decibel levels achieved by the Zulu horn and the snide ramblings of Franz Beckenbauer!

Given that a reliable ball, which the players feel comfortable with, is fairly fundamental to a decent game, why oh why do we have these ‘quality’ issues at every international tournament?  

When Adidas launched the Jabulani ball, back in February, we were told its new technology would “enhance the thrill and excitement of the game.” Well there is no sign of that so far and in fact it might be argued that the players are so distrustful of it that they are playing with extra caution, therefore detracting from the game as spectacle. Yesterday, one match commentator rather disparagingly likened the Jabulani to, “those plastic balls you get free with petrol!”   

Arguably, the Germans are the only team, to date, to play with any degree of confidence and flair and they have been using this ball in their domestic Bundesliga for the last four months. The English Premier League is contractually bound to Nike and the England team to Umbro, so our boys haven’t been able to use it until four weeks ago.  Questions about competing on an even playing field spring to mind!

It’s marvellous what one good result has done to restore German confidence. The German coach, and fashion guru, Joachim Loew had come under considerable pressure back home, following his squad selection,  and we were told it was the weakest in years. Four goals later, all be it against the Aussies, and football supremo Franz Beckenbauer feels confident enough to pop his, not unsubstantial,  head above the parapet and have a pop at Capello and England’s style of play: “What I saw from the English had very little to do with football.”

Frankly, Beckenbauer, ‘the Kaiser’, an iconic figure of German football has never got over 1966 and never passes up an opportunity to criticise the old enemy. If I were Capello, I’d thank him for providing a ready-made team talk for when the two countries, almost inevitably, meet later in the tournament.

I’d also be having a quiet word with Jamie Carragher, who is whingeing a tad too much and was quoted today as saying the Jubulani ball is giving the Germans an unfair advantage. That’s exactly the sort of ‘fear’ they thrive on. It’s rather disconcerting that we already appear to be stock-piling excuses!

Finally, the controversial droning vuvuzelas continue to split public opinion.  If it is such an import aspect of South African football culture, which it appears to be, then clearly it has to be accepted and should not be banned at this late stage.

Anyway it’s not just Africans who are using them. They have caught on with supporters of every country. For FIFA to ban them would be the equivalent of banning chanting in England or the Mexican wave in South America!  Surely, professional players are trained to focus and are able shut out much of the noise and as for TV viewers; I’d be surprised if  technicians aren’t able to reduce the background noise level, which I’m sure will happen as the tournament progresses.

The Spirit of ’66
June 14, 2010

This weekend was a rare event – all four of the ‘A Team’ meeting up in the Shire! It had been on the calendar for some time, an opportunity to catch up following my return from Africa and neatly wedged between my birthday, the previous Sunday, and Fathers’ Day, next week of course.

We had a great time. The house echoed to music and laughter. We ate and drank too much and generally put the world to rights! Saturday of course centred on the England v USA match. I’m pleased to say ‘the girls’ enjoy the big games and as the kick off approached, the neighbours were treated (several times) to Badiel and Skinner’s ‘Three Lions’, still the best football anthem by a country mile!

Of course “30 years of hurt”  might all too soon become 44 but, ‘we still believe, we still believe!’       

1966 and all that  is forever etched into the minds of English football fans old enough to remember. As a 13-year-old schoolboy I’d followed the tournament, in flickering black and white of course, from the inauspicious goalless opener v Uruguay through to the thrilling 2-1 semi final victory over Eusebio’s Portugal. Sandwiched in-between had been Bobby Charlton’s  thunderbolt against Mexico, which galvanised our campaign, and the infamous quarter-final brawl against an Argentina side, later labelled ‘animals’ by Sir Alf!

Come Saturday July 30th, with the whole nation focussed on Wembley Stadium, I was on my way to the coast, Great Yarmouth to be precise, and never saw the final live! Some months before, I had been invited to go on holiday with a friend and his family and had been looking forward to it until the realisation dawned that we would be missing out on the greatest day in England’s football history.   

I remember my friend’s Dad had a transistor radio so we were able to keep tabs on the score. We were staying at a guest house, four of us in a single room with a communal bathroom facility on the landing. On our arrival, having hurriedly unpacked, the gong summoned us to the dining room for our evening meal, just as extra time was about to get under way and my friend’s Dad had to ask permission for us to take the ‘tranny’ in with us!

Of course, I’ve seen the match highlights and goals so many times since that I feel as if I was there. One family member, my late uncle, was! I’ve always loved sporting memorabilia (ask Chris!) and he kindly passed on to me the ticket stubs for every game played at Wembley and his tournament programme. These are still a prized possessions. In the back of the programme, on the ‘notes’ page, he had carefully written the teams and goal scorers together with a brief summary of the game, which concludes, “The final whistle blew and Wembley erupted!”    

England’s hat trick hero that day, the legendary Geoff Hurst, now lives in the Cheltenham area. Just before I retired from Naunton Park School, it was brought to my attention that one of his grandchildren had started at the local playgroup. The playgroup leader very kindly asked Sir Geoff’s daughter if her Dad might provide me with a signed photograph, which I’m pleased to say he did!

44 years on, here’s to the spirit of ’66. “We still believe, we still believe!”