Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Le Cup du Monde

It’s been a strange few weeks for me football-wise.

With the World Cup coming to a close, I have been interested, but without ever getting fully enveloped in the beautiful game, and certainly not to the extent that the media (both TV and press) would want. Maybe it’s a Swindon game legacy, I don’t know…

I struggled to get very excited about England’s prospects in advance, and really do hate all the hype that we see prior to any major tournament. I really didn’t care what the score was when we played Japan in Austria (remember that?), and as for the warm-up games in South Africa, how can we only be good enough to beat a local team 3-0? That for me did sum up our chances.

The squad seemed to self-implode as they settled into their plush surroundings high on the veldt, and with captain Rio Ferdinand knackering his knee (when Emile Heskey fell on him), the signs were ominous. Of course, Ferdinand was only a reserve skipper anyway, after John Terry was sacked after bed-hopping while his England team-mate was away. Rio of course, lest we forget, was once banned for eight months for missing a post-game drugs test which doesn’t really show him to be leadership material. This left manager Fabio Capello with the onerous task of picking a new captain, and he ended up with Steven Gerrard. Gerrard is captain of Liverpool, and has been for some years, but he himself is not exactly squeaky clean, and it was only in January that he was finally cleared (by an all Liverpool jury) of actual bodily harm after getting into some sort of fight in a nightclub (and not for the first time either). Subsequently, the Irish Times has printed rumours of Stevie G getting jiggy-jiggy with his wife’s sixteen year old sister, or is it his wife’s sister and a sixteen year old, or his wife's sister for sixteen years? I don’t know. They say there is no smoke without fire… Even Wayne Rooney has a blackened past that is tainting his apparently now happy family life; well before he tied the knot with Colleen, stories about him paying large sums for the services of Cheshire ladies to help party the night away with team-mates were strewn throughout the gutter press.

So if the squad – minus Ferdinand, Terry, Rooney and Gerrard – were worried about anything, who could they turn to?

Certainly not any other player, as they had shown– by their composite actions – to be stupid, deceitful, rowdy, and downright dirty.

A player, any player, could hardly turn to the manager either for a chat about something that was worrying him – even if that worry concerned having to be billeted with the above four players! – as Fabio Capello’s spoken English has proved to be fallible when under pressure. He does well (in my opinion), but still needs the services of a translator when being questioned by the media after games, to help him with those, how we say, difficult words. You cannot go to Capello with a problem as you have no idea if he will know what you are talking about!

And this, dear reader, is why I think that the England team struggled to gel at all while they were in South Africa. Team bonding is such an important part of sport these days, and without it, whatever team you pick and however talented your players may be, you will win nothing. If you cannot trust your team-mates off the pitch, how can you trust them on it?

I watched the first England game in our clubhouse and lambasted the West Ham fan when Robert Green let slip an easy shot. My, how long ago that seems! I watched the Slovenia game at home alone, with my frustrations being fielded by my wife in the kitchen. I was at work when we played Algeria, and though I was invited to go down the pub and watch with new work colleagues, I declined, and sat in the office listening to the Radio 5 Live commentary as ex-Addick Jermain Defoe spared England’s blushes and brought about the necessary win.

The next day, I went to Paris, and spent four days there having fun to celebrate my wife’s birthday. She was happy to spend some of that time sat in a bar watching games, but we also stumbled (if that was possible) on the FIFA Fans Park in between the Eiffel Tower and the hill leading up to the Trocadero. I had heard of this sort of park being set up around the world, but had never seen one before, and I was quite impressed.

Paris, being ever so cosmopolitan, had laid on a feast, and the park was pretty full most days we went near it (our hotel was only a couple of hundred yards away, so we did go near on most days). You could tell who was playing simply by the volume of flags or shirts of a particular country that were in the vicinity.
The first time we went past, it was Italy (and we heard the screams when they conceded and subsequently went out at the first round stage, much to the hilarity of the French I might add, who felt less humbled as a result!), and then a couple of day’s later it was the Brazil versus Portugal game which saw I suspect every Portuguese speaker in the city arrive on that hill. It was lovely to see the fans – male and female - mingle with each other, bearing flags of red and green or yellow and blue, football shirts aplenty, chatting away in their mother tongue (left). It was a true celebration of football, the global game. On another day, it was Mexicans everywhere, and of course the Spanish were out in force around the time of their game too. No trouble, no problems, and all of them having fun!

Returning from Paris on Sunday afternoon seemed like a good idea when I booked the trip; had the USA not score that winning goal deep into injury time, I would have been able to watch England play their next opponents in that Paris fan park, but my train journey home was at much the same time as the game. When the 3pm kick-off came, I was just exiting the channel tunnel and arriving in the Kent countryside. Pulling into St Pancras twenty five minutes later, I knew that Germany had scored – the conductor (probably a Frenchwoman) announced it to the whole train. I raced home, hoping to not hear any further score updates and extra time, but when I got to Bromley I had to walk past a couple of pubs/bars that were showing the game.

Now into the second half, I could hear anguished shouts and wavering support. A near miss judging by the familiar sounds,I told my wife, then there was a goal, I was sure. A small kid shouted to a friend that it was 3-1; it couldn’t be to England as he would have been happier. By the time I got home – with ten minutes or so left to play – it was 4-1, and the knives were out.

Lee Dixon, Alan Shearer and Alan Hansen ripped into the England performance. I had no idea about the “goal” that wasn’t allowed at that stage, and sat as they replayed the key moments. Some poor defence, a lucky break, and a bad decision saw England 2-1 down, and then two breakaway goals sealed the game. If England had been victorious in that way we would have called them world beaters, but they didn’t and we won’t.

How many Germans would get in to the England team the papers asked? Not many we were told! Crazy – at least eight or nine I reckon!. How blinkered can you be?

Capello skulked back to Blighty with the guillotine wobbling above his neck, but seems set to survive (and so he should, as there is unlikely to be anyone better!), while the players have now all disappeared off on holiday prior to returning for pre-season training later this month.

As for Charlton links, well, Dennis and Jermain scored goals, and Magic and Danny played a big part in their teams fortunes. Will ex-Addicks ever get another chance to play on the world stage? Who knows!

In August, expect the newspapers – the same rags that bring us stories about the indiscretions of Rio, John, Wayne, and Stevie G – to remind us that they are among the best players in the world and definitely playing in the best league.

Le Cup du Monde quickly forgotten.

Back at The Valley, “Oh Nicky Bailey” has moved to Middlesboro, Stuart Fleetwood has dropped down a division to play for Hereford, and Frazer Richardson has joined Southampton, which has supplemented the desperately empty coffers to the tune of nearly £2 million quid. To my mind, the only other current player likely to command a fee would be Jose Semedo, but we don’t want to see him leave (please!). Darren Randolph has left the building too, joining Motherwell on a freebie, while Deon Burton is apparently in discussions about playing overseas.

Alan McCormack and Gary Doherty have joined on free transfers, and they look like being key first team players next season. I still hope that Christian Dailly will re-sign, and maybe Lloyd Sam will too, if we can afford him. Rumours about ex-loanees joining permanently include Johnnie Jackson and Kyel Reid, and we also desperately need some fire-power with Matt Harrold rumoured to be joining on trial, though he alone will not be enough to my mind.

Enjoy the final!

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Great France!!
Go France!!! :)
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