Archive for June 2010
It seems like an entire generation of English footballers is being written off as degenerate no-hopers and a dearth of talent uncovered which will apparently leave the national side bereft until the U-17 European Championships-winning side comes of age.
One member of that team is Saido Berahino, a striker playing in the youth ranks at West Brom. Berahino came to England in 2003 as a refugee from Burundi, one of the poorest countries in the world and an arena of ongoing civil war. He touched down at Heathrow alone. His mother sent him the airfare having arrived in the UK previously and secured her right to stay. Bewildered home office workers spent days attempting to re-unite the duo.
I daresay that after a few year’s immersion in the culture of big-time football, Berahino will be spit-roasting with the best of them, but for the moment he serves as a useful counterpoint to the excesses of the current crop. An upbringing that represents a startling asymmetry to the cosseted existences of his seniors.
Plus he sounds a bit like he’s from Brazil. Go Saido.
The nation has a new hero. Howard Webb is bidding to end 36 years of hurt by becoming the first English referee to officiate at a World Cup final since Jack Taylor took charge of the 1974 match and awarded that penalty to the Dutch in the second minute of play.
It has been a sorry tale of misplaced optimism since Taylor’s appearance, as a succession of hopefuls has foundered under the weight of expectation back at home.
If Webb succeeds then he will step up to take his place in the pantheon of great English officials alongside Dickie Bird and that man who used to stand by Centre Court at Wimbledon looking fretfully at rainclouds.
An open-top bus parade has been planned in Webb’s hometown of Rotherham. His assistants Mike Mullarkey and Darren Cann are have been invited to wave their flags from the sides of the bus. The bus will make its way to the town hall where a civic reception will be held by the mayor. The function will be attended by local dignitaries and businessmen, including Rotherham’s other favourite sons, Paul and Barry Chuckle.
It is believed that a bronze statue of Webb is to be erected outside the Parkgate shopping centre. He will be cast in his favourite pose: brandishing a yellow card. At anyone leaving Mark and Spencers.
The one downside is that the local police expect a spike in the crime rate on Webb’s return to the area. The concerns are that there will be a rise in petty felonies by those hoping to meet the great man or even, if they’re lucky, to be arrested by him. Webb is a policeman.
Rumours abound that a proposed OBE has been put on ice until the start of the domestic season. When everyone will think he’s a wanker again.
At times like this my dad used to tell me that it was just a game. And I would lose my rag. A nation lost its rag today. The rag may never be found again. Even Gareth Southgate seemed vaguely ticked off. Apoplexy polluted the airwaves and jammed the phone-in switchboards to be fomented by the populist posturing of Alan Green, who decried the plight of the wretched masses who’d opted to migrate south to follow their team.
Firstly, if you enjoy finances sound enough to afford the pilgrimage to South Africa then you should consider yourself infinitely more fortunate than the impoverished hoards that reside there. Secondly, if you are shallow and near-sighted enough to allow a game of football to ruin a trip to an exotic land then you are not deserving of our sympathy.
The motif of the majority of the griping was that the fans felt betrayed by a lack of spirit in the trenches. But it was that desire that informed the witless display in the second half, as England lost their composure in the face of heinous injustice in the first. Steven Gerrard deciding that his captain’s armband was a licence for increasingly vainglorious attempts at the German goal. John Terry assuming that his imaginary armband was a permit to take permanent station as an attacking midfielder.
I was completely serene at the conclusion yesterday. Overwhelmed by the sudden knowledge that this pair and the rest of the squad are divorced from reality. They are not representative of me. So let’s move on. It really is just a game.
Something must have been lost in translation when Franz Beckenbauer labelled England as ‘stupid’ for not topping their group. It’s seems oddly infantile coming from one so urbane, as if after he’d said it he poked his tongue into his chin and slapped it. You half expect Fabio Capello to respond in kind, ‘well you’re stupider’.
The tiresome aspect of Beckenbauer’s outburst is not that he said it, but the inevitable cliched reaction that has followed: “that’s Capello’s team-talk written for him”, “he should just read out his quotes before the game”, “stick a photo of the smug German bastard on the dressing-room wall”. If I had a pound for every time I’d heard one of those this week, I’d have about £14.
Heaven forbid that Capello takes any of this advice. You can imagine the players gathered round waiting to be showered in tactical nuggets from their coach and instead have Capello hand out photocopies of the offending article in Bild.
“But what about Ozil? Do you want us to man-mark him?” Capello just points knowingly to a picture of Der Kaiser.
“Are we going for the diamond or four across the midfield again?” Er Beckenbauer. “How far do you want the full-backs to press up the pitch?” Beckenbauer. “But….” Beckenbauer. Beckenbauer. Beckenbauer. Beckenbauer.
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.
Given the deleterious effect it may have on his magnificent hair, Joachim Loew has probably never worn a spiked helmet. So I have no idea how he might look in one. But we’ll probably find out this week when The Sun publishes its unique interpretation of the German manager amid a gallery of goose-stepping bratwurst and possibly David Hasselhoff in lederhosen.
Despite the tabloids’ most strained attempts at whisking up the xenophobia, it’s definitely more difficult to hate the Germans now. And it’s not really because of the war. We’ve been laughing about that for yonks. Since ‘Allo ‘Allo that is.
But mainly because German football has changed. It’s been a sustained period of mutation since 1990, when they were thoroughly disagreeable largely because they were really good. During the European Championships in 1996, when their powers just began to pass their sell-by date, they substituted in a grittier wilful arrogance which simmered throughout the tournament and came to the boil in that hellish peacock walk executed by Andreas Moller on sending England out.
And then they turned bad. Laughably bad. So bad they lost to Keegan’s England. So bad they were thumped by Sven’s team. So bad that when they reached the World Cup final in 2002 the rest of the world giggled and sighed at their ludicrous durability in the face of total incompetence.
And at their nadir Jurgen Klinsmann and Loew applied the final spin on the revolution, liberating the team from the defensive shackles that bound their predecessors. Joyous yet fragile football that has inched them closer towards the summit again. And since they’ve gone onto the offensive they’ve become less, well, offensive.
So if like me, you’re struggling to summon up the bile from your innards to aim at Germany, then here’s a little aide-memoire for you:
I don’t really like John Terry. I don’t think many people do. He is admired mainly by small children in Chelsea replica shirts who choose to concentrate on his strengths as a footballer and ignore his manifest failings as a man. It’s probably easier to gaze at the poster on the bedroom wall and not consider a career polluted by self-interest and tawdry off-field escapades.
But watching Terry fearlessly launch his head towards a three-way collision with the Jabulani and the Port Elizabeth turf this afternoon, I was able to forget his patent unlikeability too. Heroic to the point of self-parody, there are few more stirring scenes in football than a defender attempting to head a ball mere centimetres off the ground.
If only there was some way we could keep Terry in captivity on the pitch. If after every game a secure van could wait to transport him to the next stadium where he’d be forced to wait in confinement in the hospitality suites until the remainder of his team-mates pitch up days later. Then we wouldn’t haven’t to listen to him or read about him or speculate on whether Wayne Bridge will ever shake his hand again.
Then I might like him.