Posts Tagged ‘scotland’
It may seem parochial to suggest it but the enmity between England and Germany didn’t explode until 1990. There’d been a few scuffles on and off the pitch before it but even in 1966 there is little mention of malintent between the sides. Even chubby Helmut Haller’s egregious pilfering of the matchball was only retrospectively condemned after Turin.
I can only recollect the game itself in highlight form. Largely because I couldn’t bring myself to watch it, preferring instead to drift outside to the family garden and busy myself inspecting the herbaceous border. Peonies were more appealing than Klaus Augenthaler at that stage. Although I was too young to summon the emotional faculties to cope with the tension, but I understood the aspects of the West German squad that made them so unpopular: pioneers in the art of diving, jammy deflected free-kick merchants, and above all ruthless and strong and unbeatable.
The European Championships semi-final at Wembley followed the blueprint created by the Turin match: fated England raise their game to be foiled again by Germany, who since 1990 had lost the ‘West’ in front of their name to be replaced by ‘fucking’. It was so sickening inevitable that Alan Shearer’s early opener just seemed to have written the opening passage in another tragedy. The Germans were more unlikeable than before, having slunk through pragmatically against Croatia in the quarter-finals. Matthias Sammer had been recruited from the old East Germany to ramp up the villainy factor. I think it was something about the way he minced forward from defence that was so disagreeable. And in front of him, a player I’d never heard of before or want to since, Dieter Eilts, dropping back to allow Sammer to flounce forward. He was a balding assassin required only to destroy anything resembling football that happened in his vicinity. It was anti-football and it was horrible.
Both England and Germany were going through what might euphemistically be called a ‘transitional period’. They were rubbish. Dennis Wise kept Steven Gerrard out of the side. I don’t remember anything about the game. I don’t remember where I watched it. It was a hollow victory put into context by both teams’ subsequent departure from the tournament. Some men throwing outdoor furniture at each other in the town squares of Belgium just added to the squalor.
Later that year Germany got revenge of sorts in the qualifying stages of the next World Cup, after which a bedraggled Kevin Keegan fell on his sword. He may have been polishing it up before the game. It would explain away ill-conceived team selection which brought back the worst excesses of the Graham Taylor era. I know that Gareth Southgate is a massive square, but putting him in a round hole in midfield was a bit much.
I pitched up at a pub at lunchtime to watch the reverse fixture from the best seat. I’ve watched football in pubs lying on the floor before. And on a window sill. Sofas are generally more comfortable. So we shoved one about a yard in front of a screen the size of Somerset. And waited. And waited. Scotland and Croatia came on. There was nothing else to do but get drunk. By the time the match kicked off there were about 200 punters behind our sofa but I was too confused to notice.
What transpired after is now a haze. Premium lager will do that to you.
The biggest news in the build-up to the 1990 World Cup was the installation of a second television in my house up in my parent’s bedroom. It was miniscule in comparison to the vast one downstairs, which must have been at least 18 inches in width. We invited the neighbours over to celebrate the switching on of the new set as we perched on the end of the bed to squint at the opening game between the champions Argentina and Cameroon, the most memorable moment of which was a concerted and vicious attack on Claudio Caniggia, the violence of which still contaminates my nightmares:
The Argentinians muscled their way into the knockout stages despite their African tribulations with a victory over the Soviet Union, who were a limp spectre of the side that had helped knock out England of the group stages of last European Championships.
The English and the other two members of that Euro ’88 group, Ireland and the Netherlands, were re-united out in the Mediterranean. England had lost to both in 1988, including defeat to the Irish on the same afternoon as my sister fell out of a tree. That was a bad day.
I remember that the chat was that England and their belligerent fans had been expelled out to Sardinia as if it was footballing penal colony. I was irrationally terrified of hooligans, like monsters in the cupboard. It wasn’t as if they were bashing down the front door to come in and throw the dining room chairs about. In order not to agitate the hooligan faction it seemed that the four teams of the group had agreed to play out insipid stalemates, England progressing as winners by default when they accidently beat Egypt.
Elsewhere Scotland yet again flirted coquettishly with the knockout phase before rejecting the opportunity to advance, performing their regular party piece of slipping on a banana skin, this time Costa Rica. It never fails to entertain, even on a tiny television.
David Platt sent me out of the French windows and skidding onto the lawn when he volleyed England past the Belgians in the second round. I spent a lot of the England games out on that lawn, not having the emotional faculties to cope with the tension, particularly in the quarter-final against Cameroon. In fact I can’t remember any of that game, just the half-time assessment by Jimmy Hill who maniacally repeated ‘shut up shop’ as England were ahead, his grotesque chin oscillating wildly like a terrifying ventriloquist’s dummy. And ventriloquist’s dummies are terrifying at the best of times.
I didn’t see much of the semi-final against the West Germans. I was continuing my vigil on the lawn. I covered every blade of grass that night, collecting myself to watch us blow it in the shoot-out. After which I went back through the French windows this time to sink my knees into the turf and cry.
Most of the more colourful memories of that World Cup are of the squalor: the defensive tactics, Frank Rijkaard’s flob clutching to Rudi Voller’s perm, and the Argentinians skipping and barging bizarrely into the referee during the latter minutes of the final.
There is one aspect of the tournament that will never be bettered in terms of artistic integrity though. The accompanying graphics supplied by the Italians were all cascading full-stops and sliding text. It was beautiful. Home broadcast graphics seem to have been dispensed in favour of more homogenised BBC and ITV versions since. It’s a crying shame.
My memories of the ’86 tournament are sketchy at best. So this could be brief. I was living on a housing estate in Suffolk at the time, and most of my more vivid recollections are of playing British bulldog with an albino called Graham. As they would be. My retention has also been corroded by the trauma of a prolonged period of bed-wetting which had been precipitated by an unfortunate incident with a plastic tractor and an old woman with a mechanical larynx that made her sound like a Dalek’s aunt.
I found comfort in the pages of my Panini and a preview magazine featuring optimistic articles about English prospects in the competition. Any hope of victory seemed to have been expunged after the first two games against Portugal and Morocco, picking only one point and failing to score in either. Not that I saw any of England’s group matches, the time difference from Mexico meant that I’d long since gone upstairs to urinate on my bed linen.
My only companion on the estate was a Canadian emigre called Tom. Happily, for the sake of playground banter, his national side were even worse than mine, contriving to lose every game they played. Including to France, who I was rapidly developing a minor obsession with and their direct, fluid and above all foreign style of play. And their matches kicked off at a decent hour. I followed them all the way to the semi-final where they disappeared from the tournament and off the face of the footballing earth before sheepishly resurfacing in Euro ’96.
I had little interest in the other home nations. Northern Ireland departed without me even realising they were there in the first place. Scotland’s continued failure to reach the knock-out stages created an amusing subplot. They took the lead against the West Germans. Gordon Strachan’s oddly sensuous attempt to mount the advertising hoarding in celebration will remain with me forever. They then snubbed a lovely opportunity to progress by drawing with an absurdly savage Uruguayan side that were down to ten men inside two minutes. The group was won at pace by Denmark, another team to catch my admiring glance with their weird continental play.
I was certain the Danes were going to win the tournament. And then they got pummeled 5-1 by Spain in the second round. World Cup football is not like normal football.
England were accelerating and in the process creating the blueprint for latter World Cup performances. Founder against the minnows, excel against their betters, before taking their leave in epic style against some dark force of international football, in this case the evil Argies. I still maintain that Maradona’s second goal is actually an own goal by Terry Butcher. And as for his first, I had to ask my Dad after next morning’s headlines whether it had indeed been scored by the ‘Hand of God’. I was much more theologically open-minded in those days.
England’s defeat brought about a degeneration in my bed-wetting. My Mum had to take me to the doctors and they gave me a machine. It was a bit like a smoke alarm but for piss. Unfamiliar with the essence of the NHS, I questioned my Mum who the contraption belonged to. She replied Margaret Thatcher. I felt a bit bad. She probably needed it herself.
Together with an incentive scheme involving Toblerones the machine seemed to do the trick. I’ve been dry for about eight years now.
As for the tournament, the bastard Argentines went on to win. I remember the final, and the utter puzzlement when a player called Brown scored to put Argentina in the lead. World Cup football was confusing. Brilliant, but confusing.
Andy Powell came to the rugger fore as a sort of strawberry-blonde wrecking ball, swinging at the opposition defensive wall and inflicting enough collateral damage for his colleagues to sneak through behind. Much of his fearsome reputation is based on the fact that until recently he looked like the giant murderous one from a gang of bloodthirsty pirates. You know, the one that stands at the back grinning belligerently and picking his teeth with the sharp end of his cutlass.
This season Powell is sporting a Samsonite short-back-and-sides and it appears to have had a deleterious effect on his game after two stolid performances against England and Scotland. It can’t help that he now boasts the neat crop of a bank clerk.
All this tonsorial difficulty should be taken into mitigation as Powell faces court proceedings after his arrest for being caught behind the wheel of a golf buggy just off junction 33 of the M4 at 6 o’clock on Sunday morning. His legal team might also like to highlight to the magistrates that his vehicle of choice is powered by electricity and that his eco-awareness reflects well on his character.
The most robust pillar of any potential defence is that this was a crime of rugger. Powell is a victim of his sport. He’s a ruggerman, this kind of pissed-up japery is what he’s supposed to do. He may the first man in legal history to be acquitted on the grounds of diminished responsibility due to rugger.
If this blog was an geranium it would have wilted away through neglect long ago. Well I’m back to sprinkle a watering can of words over this moribund little venture to see if we can revive it. I apologise for this break in service, but I offer these feeble excuses:
1. I’ve been playing golf in Scotland. If you like your golf courses wild and wooly and smelling quite a lot of cowshit then I can definitely recommend the east coast north of Inverness to you. It may be a few degrees short of the Arctic Circle but worth a pilgrimage.Try Brora for a start.
2. The domestic cricket season is dribbling to a close and I don’t know even know what date it is in the international arena after interminable nonsense that was the one-day series between Australia and England. I suspect that this is all part of an evil plan hatched by the ECB to murder 50-over, a plan which has already been excecuted on the county circuit and is now being implemented globally. I hadn’t even realised that the Champions Trophy had started so it was unlikely that I was going to write about it.
3. I’m finding the Premier League season strangely underwhelming at the moment. I think it’s because of the choking abundance of uninspiring fixtures. The kind of match that will have you dribbling into your sofa a third of a way through Match Of The Day. Now that the Football League Show is transmitted directly afterwards on BBC it’s possible to wake up and have no concept of whether you’re watching top flight or Championship football.