The bobby, the butcher & the octopus
July 11, 2010

Good luck to the English team in the World Cup Final!

Our footballers might not have made it to tonight’s final in Jo’burg’s Soccer City Stadium but England will be represented by the three-man team of match officials: Howard Webb, Darren Cann and Michael Mullarkey.

Howard Melton Webb, the 38-year-old South Yorkshire policeman, will be the man in the middle. This will be the first time an English referee has been in charge of the World Cup Final since Jack Taylor, the Wolverhampton butcher, in 1974.  

English football supporters are not renowned for their tolerance towards the man in the middle but I hope on this occasion we will be willing our national representatives to come through the match with their reputations in tact. Webb has taken charge of three previous matches in the tournament, including Spain’s opening match defeat against Switzerland, without the need to brandish a red card or point to the penalty spot.   

Back in 1974, when the total footballers of Holland took on their German hosts in the Munich final, Jack Taylor was called into decisive and historic action after only one minute of play. A rash early challenge  brought the legendary Johan Cruyff down on the edge of the penalty area and Taylor had no hesitation in awarding the first ever penalty in a World Cup Final. Johan Neeskens converted the spot kick and everybody’s favourites appeared to be on their way.

As the ball was placed on the spot, the referee recalls that our old friend Franz ‘the Kaiser’ Beckenbauer, the German skipper, addressed him in an accusatory tone with the words, “Taylor, you’re an Englishman”. Ever the diplomat, Beckenbauer has never been short of a few words about the English, as we have heard in this tournament.  

There was no respite for Taylor in that game. Next he controversially denied Gerd Muller, Der Bomber, an equalising goal for off-side before awarding his second penalty of the match, this time for Germany, with just 26 minutes on the clock.

Germany went on to lift the trophy, winning the match 2-1. Paul Breitner stepped up to score the equalizing penalty and Der Bomber was  not to be denied, netting the eventual winner after 43 minutes. So it was quite an eventful first half for Taylor, now 80, who is still annoyed by suggestions that he awarded the Germans a soft penalty to even things up.  

It is often said that the best match officials are those who go unnoticed. Let’s hope Howard Webb and his assistants remain inconspicuous this evening, that the football flows and we get the  final to remember that this tournament badly needs.  If Spain can reproduce the passing game which they displayed against Germany  in the semi final we should not be disappointed. 

Off the field, the South African nation should be proud of what has been achieved but on the pitch too many matches have underwhelmed and too many top players have mis-fired. The dodgy Jabulani  has not helped and FIFA’s persistent refusal to embrace readily available technology to assist referees has ultimately embarrassed them on the biggest stage. 

Meanwhile, Paul the octopus has made his choice for tonight’s game and the bets have been pouring in for Spain!

We’ll see. I hope he’s got it right for Gem’s sake but the Dutch, of course, will have different ideas.

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!

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!”