Saturday August 14th 2010
At home last weekend we had a problem. Put simply we had been
invaded, or more precisely, our bees had been invaded. Fear not, I am not yet so into bees that I have invested in hives, bellows and an all in one
beekeeper’s suit, but watch this space. No, 1 of the 2 naturally occurring bee hives in our house had been taken over by the world’s most useless and annoying insect, the wasp. As the sun came up the pesky wasps woke up and therefore so did we. The wasps made a bee-line (excuse the pun) for the window which is above our head, giving us the feeling that we were under attack. Worse than that, wasps seem incapable of actually following a simple lead. You open the window to let them get out and they keep banging against the closed part of the window. Why? Who knows, but such is their desperation to ‘go to the light’, they seem incapable of working out a route to escape and live, instead they kill themselves either from continually trying to break through the window or simply die through exhaustion. All in all, their instinct seems to be a major fail. They never seem to learn where the way out or forward is before they die.
When I heard the makeup of Mr Capello’s first squad since the debacle that was World Cup 2010, I was a little disappointed if I am honest. The mass clear out that I wanted had not happened, indeed some who had been cut were a little unlucky, Peter Crouch for one. My instinct would have be to retain Gerrard, Hart, Dawson, Milner, and Rooney and dump off the rest of them. Seeing Paul Robinson back as well as Wes Brown was confusing. It was therefore kind of both players to let everyone know that they had actually decided to retire from international football after all and would not be troubling the kit man. The mainstream media did their best to stoke up the debate, questioning why Mr Capello had not known that these two charges were not actually available. No change there then from the jolly old English media. Despite all of this, I decided that I would attend the game on Wednesday, as much as to see what sort of reception England would get as anything else, and to be present at the beginning of yet another new start.
Via Facebook I asked if anyone had a spare ticket and duly the lovely Barry Hatch got in touch and obliged. I decided to get to Wembley nice and early for once and avoid the pub. Barry had tickets for ‘Club Wembley’ which were very pleasant indeed. Comfortable seats, a modern bar come eating area and an atmosphere of civility. All ‘thoroughly modern’ football. I did notice that one of the rules of entry was that ‘no club colours were to be worn’. That rule obviously does not apply to ‘Club England’ but it did strike me as somewhat ridiculous, however as someone who never bothers with such things, it really doesn’t both me, even though my Kaizer Chiefs tracksuit probably broke the rule. Indeed, back in the ’80’s we would have loved that rule by the way, as no one actually wore club colours. A quick glance through the programme, which is included in the Club Wembley experience incidentally, only revealed that the FA are seemingly more desperate than West Ham, citing victory in Le Tournoi de France as one of England’s honours (a round robin friendly in which England beat France and Italy but lost, as usual, to Brazil).
The atmosphere was pretty muted, but the FA had got one thing right. Tickets had been put on sale on the day and were £20 for adults and £10 for kids. The free market does rather suggest that the pricing policy, especially for friendlies needs drastic downward revision. As it turned out a crowd of over 72,000, including 1,000 from the services as guests, showed up to welcome the new boys and show the old boys exactly what they felt about the World Cup campaign. The thing is, us English don’t really know how to turn against our team. We are just too loyal, too supportive, maybe just too nice. If this had been Italy or France, I am sure the ‘welcome’ would have been a little more ’emotional’. There was a fair bit of booing pre-match, especially for messrs Terry, Cole A, Lampard, Rooney and Gerrard, much to the chagrin of the lad sitting in front of me with his England shirt on, who’s name must have been Terry. But as soon as the flags came out, borne by members of HM Forces (that was both a smart and a good move by the FA), the thousands gathered generally got behind the team. It was only as the half went on and the game descended into dreariness that the crowd expressed their displeasure and that is to be expected. Highlights? Very few really. Capello must have taken solace that Theo Walcott had not made the cut in May because he is clearly incapable of actually crossing or passing the ball when in possession. Indeed when I watched the highlights when I got home late, Gareth Southgate uttered the classic ‘Theo is an instinctive player, and when he has to think about it, it goes wrong’. If ever there was a more damning verdict on a footballer, I have not heard it. A further worry, or perhaps clue, for Capello is that Frank Lampard simply cannot play in the same position or team as Gerrard. Indeed Gerrard was playing in his preferred forward midfield role, with Rooney on his own up front. Something both players clearly relished. Meanwhile Lampard shuffled around in midfield doing very little and worse still looking like he could do very little in terms of adding value to the game. At Chelsea (and West Ham before them) he is sublime, magisterial, dominant and key to their success. For England he must accept that he is the bench warmer for Gerrard pure and simple. Adam Johnson flattered to deceive, managing to sky a nailed on chance, but my Man City and Middlesbrough mates tell me he is a good player, so I believe them.
Second half was better. Kieran Gibbs teamed up with Ashley Young on the left and we looked better. Bobby Zamora, who I love, but really is not top class. Then again who is, at least Bobby showed he cared and was prepared to try much like the dear departed Peter Crouch. As a friend said to me the next day, ‘maybe having a player who does value the honour of playing for his country is what you (for he is a Scot) need’. Amusingly I did say to Barry sitting next to me, that Zamora is a player who will miss the easy chances, but score absolute belters. Blow me, he almost made that prediction come true with his take on the chest, turn and left foot volley which shaved the bar. As the cliché goes, ‘if he was Brazilian, we would be talking about him for weeks’.
Controversial moment of England’s night was of course Rooney’s substitution. Clearly not fit or at his best, he had a quiet game, but I genuinely believe the fans like to see him play. Whilst he is on the pitch, things can happen. So when he was substituted the fans booed, not him, but the fact that he was coming off. Rooney’s ‘Royal Wave’ gesture did not help, but a huge round of applause went up as he got closer to the touchline, Again on the highlights ITV decided to focus on one bovine fan booing Rooney, rather than the majority clapping him. Whoever that director was should take a look at him or herself and ask were they actually doing the right thing?
Goals – yes three. 2 great, 1 not actually a goal. The 2 Gerrard scored we Liverpool class. That must be a good sign! But the result was secondary. Gerrard rebuilt his reputation and looks like the skipper we need. Take note number 6, your time is definitely up. Did Capello insult David Beckham by ‘calling time on his international career’?. No. He was telling the truth, answering the question, simply stating that Beckham is probably a little too old now.
Biggest lesson not learned on the night? Chucking money at a problem will not help. If anyone has been to Wembley for a night game, you will almost certainly have experienced the nonsense congestion and tedious queuing that you have to endure to get back on the public transport system. Despite the FA spending £750,000,000 they did not have, the experience is absolutely shocking. Without a proper review of the infrastructure supporting the National Football Stadium, we have chaos. A few new purple lights at Wembley Stadium station, an underpass at Wembley Park plus a ‘one way system’ at Wembley Central do not make for improvements that are meaningful. The site is still a morass of confusion, half light industrial, half wasteland. Money alone does not solve the problem, indeed money can cause problems. The FA are now unable to make decisions because of financial constraints caused by project Wembley and fans are saddled with high admission charges for matches. The need to monetise the stadium to be ‘all purpose events arena’ has led to pitch quality problems which are well documented. The players who have been playing for England do not see this as the pinnacle of their career, that lies elsewhere, probably over in The Champions League. Too much money has coloured judgement. Players, clubs, agents, the FA and the media have formed that bee-line and headed for the light. Trouble is, the pursuit of money at all costs, has left the once beloved game a tad tarnished. Maybe in this new age of austerity, we will see players who do want to graft and do consider it an honour to play for their country, whether it is England or otherwise, come through and show us that they care as much as we do.
But take note. As The Premiership prepares to open today and with the latest set of obscene spending showing no signs of receding, especially down Manchester way, we may need to seek players who ply their trade outside of that arena or maybe from the lower echelons of the Priemership, if we are to get back to some basics. Zamora aside, we can but hope.