Tag Archives: England

Secrets and Lies

Boy has my head been spinning for the last week or so. As always with ideas, just like Flick in Bug’s Life, my head is always full of them, but my moral compass has been under attack from polar energy.

I flew back from Edinburgh two Fridays ago in order to go to Lords for the England vs Pakistan Test Match. My life is just not right if I don’t get at least one visit to HQ in each and every season. I have not missed the Lords Test since I first started attending in 1975 and it was with some excitement that I went along to St John’s Wood. My very good friend, Rob, was taking his oldest son, Robson, for his very first Test. What a lucky boy, at 9 years old being taken to Lords by your dad. Apparently he had been so excited about this trip for weeks, that he had had trouble sleeping! I think Rob was pretty excited too.

Kirsty and I were late as my flight was delayed, and by the time we got in, England had lost 4 quick wickets and were on 54-5. Poor old Robson, his first morning at Lords and England had not done themselves proud. Mind you, down the years I have seen plenty of batting collapses, given the dominance of the West Indies in the late seventies and all the way through the eighties, and then the re-emergence of Australia from’89 onwards. Much like following our national football team, you have to have lows, plenty of them, to enjoy the highs. It’s a life sentence!

The second hour of the morning went off without issue with Prior and Trott bringing up the hundred before lunch. Other good friends were also in the ground, Simon, Olly, Jason, Keith, Gus, Tom and Doron so lunch was always going to be fluid. Robson was desperate to either get to the Lord’s Shop or get back to the game, but handled himself well and his patience was rewarded. But we missed 2 English wickets after lunch, and now with Broad and Trott at the wicket we were hoping for 150. The rest, as they say is history as a series of records were broken and the two batsmen amassed a 300 partnership. Quite simply amazing, emotional and uplifting. Besides it took out attention away from the merciless pigeon bombing that was going on in the skies above us.

Those pigeons soon cleared the seats around us, with the poor chap sat in front bombed three times before he called it a day. The upshot of all this was as we left, one of the gentlemen who had stayed his ground thanked Kirsty for talking to his 16 year old son and making him feel welcome. What a magnificent game cricket is and all those who support it. Or so I thought.

The rest for the moment is history. A News of the World ‘sting’ exposed possible spot betting fraud from 4 Pakistani players. England’s magnificent win and particularly Broad and Trott’s incredible stand had the gloss somewhat sanded off by this smear. The mood at Lord’s on Sunday morning seemed very black and all commentators felt a sense of sadness and anger.

A few days later the Red Tops did it again and ‘exposed’ Wayne Rooney’s extra marital daliances. All in the public interest you understand. All professional sport seems to have been spoilt by money. And the jealousy rife amongst the press merely exacerbates the situation. Dear old Mr Capello’s £6m per year wages seem to be the key to most of the ire from the media, I say that only because it is mentioned everytime he is mentioned. The members of the media have always seen themselves as kingmakers, guardians of the little secrets and lies that make their publications so irresistable. Witness this last week. The England football team had two convincing performances admittedly against weaker opposition this week, but nevertheless scored 7 and conceded 1. The media were not that noisy about the victories, and nor should they be, but imagine the deluge of abuse that would have come Fabio’s way if we had drawn both games? Indeed you don’t have to imagine too hard, just look at the abuse he got in the run up to the games. Out of order. The exposure of the potential Pakistani cheating will be a good thing for cricket, if it turns out to be based on fact and truth and the early signs are that it is, but if it is actually poppycock, well that will not be such a good thing.

If we could clear our national DNA of one thing, it wouldn’t be the cult of celebrity it would be the fascination with idle gossip fuelled by an underlying, dark, deep rooted envy. If those elements of the media were to concentrate on the facts, then our sporting world would be a little more, well, sporting. The days whereby the media were privileged to the inner sanctum of the sporting world are coming to an end. Information is free and secrets can no longer be secrets. Lies are always lies, but the age of truth is upon us. Let’s hope that leads to more honesty and better sport.

Meanwhile, I am off to see my beloved Hammers (Avram Grant or otherwise) take on the mighty Chelsea. Let’s just hope we get a break and can surprise a few people.

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Money, honey, money

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 'early doors' was different

 

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’.

barry and Lee. Manchester City meest Sheffield Wednesday

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.

I thought it was World Cup '02 all over again

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.

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J’Accuse

This title, which has become part of the English language in a particular  famous letter printed by French newspaper L’Aurore in January 13th 1898 penned by Emile Zola. Now this name is made up of 2 unique  names, both of which we associate with football, and close, it must be said to my heart.

Gianfranco Zola, the wonderful footballer and possibly the nicest man in football disgracefully treated by the new owners of West Ham, messrs David Gold and Sullivan and Emile Heskey, the England footballer who has just announced his retirement from international football.

J’accuse the owners of West Ham and J’accuse the world for the abuse heaped on poor old Emile. He is not the best footballer in England,  he does not possess the finest of touches and does not read the game in the same way as players such as Shearer and Sheringham, but at least he always tried. How must he feel time and time again in the run up to an international game. It starts with his selection as a squad member, always universally met with howls of derison from the media. Then, heaven forbid, he gets picked for a game and the media and the fans howl again. If he is substituted, he is often seen off to a chorus of disapproval. Worse still his name is used in a song sung by the fans in an attempt at irony, ‘ 5-1 and even Heskey scored’ , doubly ironic as this was the baiting cry that heradled the opening exchanges between English and German fans in Bloemfontein a few weeks back. His goal scoring record is worse than Rene Higuita and Jose Luis Chilaver, both internationals for Columbia and Paraguay respectively, and both goalkeepers.

So he has tied his last international bootlace up and will never be seen in the England colours again, unless Robbie Williams tempts him one more time for Soccer Aid.  I bet he is actually relieved to be away from the whole furore. Let’s face it, all he ever did was agree to play, and that many managers have picked him, from memory Capello, O’Neill, Bruce, Houlier, Eriksson, McClaren, Keegan and more it goes to show that there is consistency. So don’t blame Heskey, please. It’s like picking a one armed pianist to play at your wedding, whilst you may get the semblance of a tune, it will not be balanced or indeed what you were expecting. What it does highlight is one, simple fact. England just do not have many good forwards and given that the heir apparent to Heskey is either Darren Bent or Gabriel Agbonlahor, well it a’int going to get better before it stays the same or even gets worse.  J’accuse the system that simply does not produce footballers who have technique over power, touch over pace, balance over strength and intelligence over brawn. Emile, I salute you, you did your best and that’s that.

One last thought. My approach to the current England football team is not to drop them all and start again, yet. Rather Capello should pick the same 11 that started against Germany, barring Emile and anyone else who announces their retirement from international football and let them face the few who pay good money to attend the ‘friendly’ against another faded nation, Hungary, on August 11th. I for one will be attending that game, and it will be very interesting to see what actually happens that night. Hungary arguably showed England the way to play in1953 when they thumped us 6-3. We are one game on from year zero, so let’s indulge the old regime one last time and start afresh after the fans who travelled to support their team in South Africa have had their catharsis. That or change the whole lot at half time……

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