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!”

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!”