Saturday, 17 July 2021

Euro 2020 Day 31: Jeering for England

 It wasn’t the worst thing that some England fans did before, during and after the Euro 2020 Final, but the booing every time an Italian player touched the ball at Wembley was just as tedious and juvenile as when they did it to ‘one of their own’, Beckham, for the whole of 98-98. 

At least the commitment to infantile pantomime fare on Sunday was just for 120 minutes (plus penalties). Barry Davies said during one commentary that the default response to Beckham receiving possession was, “tiresome”. (a word Clive Tyldesley may have repeated on Sunday, had he not been retired from elite duty in the very year his beloved country reached the final two of a tournament). This show of hostility for the opponents blocking the path to ‘home’ for football wasn’t, I guess, intimidating for the wily Italians, just incredibly irritating to me. 

Then there was the mocking whenever an Italian pass or shot went wrong, which is a standard response to the ‘enemy’ side up and down the country during the domestic season, and is comparable to the joy expressed by some when one of the bar staff drops a tray of glasses.

UEFA’s regrettably employed match day entertainment team added to the unnecessary noise, blasting out Seven Nations Army when England scored, as if the response from 60,000 people hanging onto the belief that their perceived birthright was about to be rescued from the evil Europeans wasn’t sufficient. 

The excess onslaught on the eardrums continued with Euro 2020’s official theme tune (performed by Bono, an apt choice for the job given the tournament’s scant regard for climate change) still playing as the game kicked off. Then, during the break before extra time, it was the turn of Gala’s Freed From Desire (aka Will Grigg’s On Fire) to ‘pump the crowd up’, a move given the thumbs up by Alan Shearer and Rio Ferdinand, despite the dismay of John Stones and Phil Foden, both on the pitch during the most famous rendition of the song’s football variant when League One Wigan Athletic beat Manchester City 1-0 in the FA Cup 5th Round, thanks to Grigg.

The weirdest choice of noise on the night (besides booing, which is weird on any occasion) was England doing that clap over your head thing that Iceland brought to the last Euros, where they beat England. I can’t imagine as an Arsenal fan that I would ever generate a chant used primarily by Wrexham or Bradford City. 

I am out of touch, of course. The game is heading in a Matterface direction, and I have to admit I am in the Tyldesley boat, given the choice. As for where football is going right now…well football is everywhere. It’s a global game. But if I am to pander, then Football’s Coming Rome.

Monday, 5 July 2021

Euro 2020 Day 24: Talking can keep you going but does prolong other pain

When I was at my lowest point on Saturday (3rd July) I wanted to kill not myself but David Baddiel.

Maybe that's not entirely true. Maybe it was just his interminable bloody song I wanted to kill. I pick on Baddiel particularly because the earworm shitshow of his co-making isn't the only grudge I hold against him. Two years after FCH or ICH or Three Lions, or whatever the bollocks it's called, entered the charts, Baddiel was interviewed outside Wembley Stadium with tickets for the Arsenal v Newcastle United FA Cup Final talking about his "hate" for Arsenal while I sat indoors at home having not been able to get a ticket despite being a regular in the North Bank and Stand for the previous eight years. To make it worse, his team, Chelsea, had been in the previous years' Final, and another in '94. Why was he accepting this privilege? You may say that his stadium admission, alongside, of course, West Brom fan Frank Skinner (can't vouch for Ian Broudie and The Lightning Seeds, which is good as it saves me time rifling through their albums for lyrics of hypocrisy) was part of some corporate entertainment deal, but to me that just makes it worse.  

I have mellowed over the years and indeed went along with my good lady girlfriend to see his very funny comedy show at The Alban Arena four years ago, and have tickets to go and see his Covid-delayed next one (if you're a die-hard David fan and couldn't get one, please let me know) but on Saturday, during one of my depressive states of inescapable fixation now certified by a Doctor, I drove around and moped along with that arsehole tune going round in my head, mocking me until I reached the cliff edge.

Fortunately I reached our Close instead, and inside our house I could talk to my girlfriend who helped me lift some of the fog (It really is good to talk). She knew the evening was wracked with potential disaster as England were playing an easy-looking quarter-final with Ukraine (fair play to Southgate's mob, they've found another tulip-laden path to victory while all the top dogs claw each others eyes out) and had forewarned her Mum not to engage me with all the cheering and goodwill. The laugh is that we were going there for a family night of curry and cards for my delayed family birthday celebration!

We'd mooted the idea of cancelling so her Mum could enjoy the game uninterrupted (and learn the players names) but we ploughed on, and after an unsteady start the evening was a success. I learned that England won 4-0 but I still couldn't tell you know who scored apart from Kane (I heard Guy Mowbray stretching out his name in a raised tone, rather like the time Tyldesley yelled out "Shearer!" as heard outside the Red Lion big-screen for England v Germany in 2001, in another disappointing outcome to that fixture).

I won't be watching the semi-final against Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday and will have to order a cave or something and judge when it's safe to come out, which is possibly never. I can't do anything about the hopes I have that Denmark's Eriksen-inspired tournament will bring about some kind of '92 repeat, while understanding that they lost the first two games this summer (the first, understandably, the second once Belgium sent on their best players); that said, they didn't win either of their first two in Sweden in '92 but went on to beat favourites' France (huh!) and defending champions Holland in the semi-final and then World Cup winners Germany in the Final. But England at Wembley? In the face of that peddled mantra? They won't win.


Friday, 25 June 2021

Euro 2020 Day 14: The disturbing new Matterface of football commentary

The trouble with youth is that it can make you feel old.

I was six when I watched the 1982 World Cup, and after some early confusion ("So dad, twenty four teams play each other? On one pitch?") I understood that the top two teams from each group entered into a 'second phase' format, where the clunky number of twelve qualifiers were split into four mini-groups of three. I can't say for sure that I was aware of the increase to 24 competing nations in Spain (from 16 in Argentina '78) or that this second phase format - four years before the advent of best third place finishers in 'Mexico '86 -  wasn't the norm, but what I do know is that the groups of three produced some of the most memorable moments in World Cup history; Maradona sent off against Brazil, Rossi hat trick against Brazil, Brazil the architects of mesmerising beauty and their own downfall; Keegan missing a sitter against the home nation. And many more...

Fast forward 39 years and ITV's new fresh-faced lead football commentator, Sam Matterface, weighing in at 43 years of age, is putting the words to England v Czech Republic at Wembley, and references the '82 World Cup. I'm not sure why (a connection with England's defensive achievements, maybe?  It doesn't always pay to listen.) But what did stick with me was Matterface's jokey add-on:  "I'm reliably informed a second group stage was a thing in the 1982 World Cup."

Now I may berate Clive Tyldesley for many things, but his sense of history isn't one. Yes, Matterface was only three when the 1982 World Cup was on, but should he not, as ITV's lead football commentator, be obsessed and fixated, or at least be aware of structures and formats of the greatest spectacle in the world game? I presume that he, as ITV's lead football commentator, has shown interest in football's past, read books, watched DVD's/videos. I'm sure he knows about the Maradona's sending off and the Keegan miss and the Rossi hat trick (or you'd hope he does) but it seems odd that he couldn't tell you in which context they happened. You know, for ITV's lead football commentator.      

But I wonder whether this dismissal of "a thing" of football past is just part of the wider ITV plan, which as with everything, is to kneel before the youths. It's not just about writing off historic events as dusty works of art, but it's also in Matterface's cool, casual relationship with stuffy old football rules. During the same commentary, Lee Dixon corrected him on a stoppage in play when the ref blew the whistle, not for a foul as Matterface said, but because the official himself had got in the way of the ball. This instruction  has been in place since the start of last season, yet ITV's lead football commentator, again reliably informed, replied "Ah, that's what happens when the ball hits you".

For ITV's lead football commentator, he seems pretty open about not knowing much about football. It is possible that it's just an act, that he's always known about the second phase of '82 and why it was planned that way, and is only too aware, as many football fans who aren't ITV's lead commentator are, that the ref will stop the game if the ball hits them. In the words of his predecessor, it may be - just may be - that ITV chiefs are ordering this nonchalance, that they want the commentating equivalent of a B side Oasis track which has the feedback left on and someone coughing.   

I haven't got it in me to call for Tyldesley to return to the throne, but there are some of his values that ITV football would do well to keep.

Where is the professionalism? Quite frankly, who cares?  

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Euro 2020 Day 9 - Line of International Duty

So Lucas Digne is French, is he?

That's Everton left back and not Spaniard, Lucas Digne. Before his appearance in the white shirt of France yesterday, playing on the Budapest pitch against Hungary in the second round of group games, I had, in my subconscious, assumed that Digne was, like Mikel Arteta when he played, one of those good Premier League players who could get nowhere near the Spain international team. But no, I've been labouring under another long-term Jorginhio-esque/Soyuncu misapprehension. The partly shaven-headed, tattoo-armed, good for a free-kick-and-cross Goodison successor to Leighton Baines is in the French squad that is hotly tipped to win this tournament.

It must have been Digne's Barcelona connections that fooled me. Or am I now getting him mixed up with Gerard Delofeu, who also played for Everton and Barcelona? Delofeu's not in the Spanish first team, but is that because he's not good enough for them or because he's not good enough for France? I mean he's got a French forename hasn't he, like Houllier and Depardieu? But then of course, there's Gerard Pique, who definitely played for Spain and Barcelona. So confusing. Now I come to think of it, there are players in Arsenal's first team whose country of birth or representation I am unsure of. Thomas Partey? At least when I watch him in an international I won't be taken by surprise.

Anyway, England-Scotland, I watched it. I'd had a word with myself and have now stopped getting all grumpy about flags and excitement. Stopped telling people about my feelings. I explained myself on a family WhatsApp group last week and felt unburdened. I found myself looking forward to the match, like "everyone else", and yet after all the hype and the bantz and the record viewing figure for the year, it turned out to be Ian Buckells. A booed conclusion. Not from me, though, I enjoyed the tension, like I enjoyed Ally McCoist's co-commentary (less so, Lee Dixon's - love you, Lee), and even Sam Matterface wasn't that bad. Even better, the now traditional Lee Chapman at West Ham tribute act performed by Harry Kane on the international tournament stage meant there were no Spurs players on the pitch for the last 15 minutes. No Arsenal ones in the  England team either, though one in the Scots ranks.

England now face the Czech Republic on Tuesday, both on four points and heading for the knockout round - but through which door? Reminds me of the England-Belgium scenario in 2018, a top-the-group showdown with a twist; one of you will walk through a lovely flower garden with afternoon tea provided (Colombia, Sweden, Croatia) and the other will be confronted by barbed wire, attack dogs and snipers (Japan, Brazil, France).

Three days before Wembley there was Munich and, during Germany v France (I didn't realise how many teams would be getting home advantage at the is tournament), I thought that Clive Tyldesley's demotion seemed to suit him. He produced an insightful, inclusive, self-indulgent-free performance alongside the ever-affable McCoist (prepared to have his playing career ripped the piss out of by people who could only have dreamed of getting anywhere near the level he reached). Maybe the pressure is off, and he is less focussed on the game going out in pubs. I did question his assertion at the end of the 1-0 win for France (a strong, flawlessly-managed effort by them which left me cold) that "there has been nothing to be terrified by". As McCoist said in response, "France have got a lot more in the tank".

What I hadn't expected them to fire out was Lucas Digne.                      

Monday, 14 June 2021

Euro 2020 Day 4 - Identity crisis

Straight from the off, the delayed Euro 2020 championships (the one that in years from now will be the source of much anguish as people try to recall who hosted the event; 'well, it must have been us, mustn't it? The Final was at Wembley, yeah?... but then again, I'm sure that was also the year Welsh Clive went to Azerbaijan for a game. Or maybe that was a qualifier... honestly, you can't even trust your own memories!') has been causing surprises. {before I go on, I feel it's right to say that of course the biggest shock in these early days was the collapse of Denmark's Christian Eriksen against Finland, and all of A Fan of No Importance's best wishes are with him}. 

Opening night, Italy v Turkey, and it turns out Jorginho of Chelsea is Italian. Who knew? Plenty of people, obvs, but not me. I've been watching him for the last three (?) seasons believing him to be Brazilian. In truth, I'm not certain I even considered him to be Brazilian, and probably just subconsciously recalled other Selecao players down the years with the same name. To me, he has always just been 'Jorginho of Chelsea', sprayer of passes and expert penalty taker (except when he misses, like at home to Liverpool last season - 'why the hell does he persist with that stupid, poncey, leftie, hoppy-skippy technique, eh? Asking for trouble. Don't matter it worked 20 times before, it's nah that counts. Send him back's he from, Bomber...f**king Brazil! Might have known, the c**t').

No sooner had I recovered from the revelation of the J Man having a national identity, then Leicester City's Soyuncu is playing against him for Turkey when I swear down some commentator or pundit or Talksport mouthpiece (probably Sam Matterface, the dick) mentioned that he was Greek. If this is happening to me in the first game, then I have to wonder what other episodes of incredulity are about to be thrust upon me in the next three weeks. Thank goodness Republic of Ireland haven't qualified.    

On Sunday, I watched ten minutes or so of England-Croatia, though of course I had little chance of avoiding it even though I'd committed myself to our new huge inflatable pool in the back garden in anti-tv sunshine.

"What was that noise?" Meredith asked next to me in the pool, aghast.

"I think England have just scored" I said, confident that the disappointment was disguised in my voice. No need to pass your prejudices on to your kids.

It's been three years since I came out as an English football fan who doesn't support England, but I have met new people since then that I talk regularly to, often about football, and the dilemma is always there. Meredith had a friend over during the first half who lives just round the corner, and her dad asked me if I'd "seen the team", before reading it out in expectation of my enthused or concerned response. At half time when he picked his daughter up, he talked of "a nice, bright twenty minutes". I didn't say anything, it didn't seem the time. A few days earlier, I’d already 'confessed' to another neighbour, who'd been talking with me generally before  conversation turned to the inescapable international football tournament about to start.

"What are the chances England can end up with the trophy?!" he’d speculated, at which point I closed off any possibility of warm engagement on the subject by stating my abstinence. He gave me the now customary reaction of silence while processing what exactly had just been filed into his ears. 

In 2018 I gave the impression on this blog that revealing my true self was an act of courage, or was at least my tipping point in a sea of ignorance. I truly believe that if I were to come out as gay, for instance, then the vast majority of people who know me would support and applaud my bravery, celebrating my new found freedom, and yet that support is absent whenever I explain my 'difference' regarding the national football team.

That said, thank you Guy Mowbray for saying late on in the Eng-Croa game that "no England fan will be resting easy". I salute your inclusivity. Normally an international tournament has a dizzying effect on G to the M, like a pasty ginger who's been laying out for 10 hours in 30degree sunshine protected only by a factor 4 sunscreen, but fair play to you there, pal, appreciate it.

Less appreciation from me for co-commentator - and one time League Cup Final winner, no less - Jermaine Jenas, who now sits alongside the greats of England co-voices down the years such as Jimmy Hill, Trevor Brooking, Kevin Keegan, Big Ron and Glenn Hoddle. It's fair to say JJ doesn't seem embarrassed by this, and neither, presumably, are the BBC - especially when you consider how long they've been promoting Mrs Brown's Boys. 

What do you mean "it's a man"?                          

Friday, 4 June 2021

The AFONI's (A Fan of No Importance's) End of Season Awards

I think we can conclude that it's the end of the domestic season. It's not always easy to tell, but the Champions League Final being played is a strong clue. I've been feeling sad ever since that match, and presume this is because it's all come to an end, rather than anything specific happening in that final 90 minutes itself.

Anyway, my instincts tell me that I must make a few judgements, comments and fact-free insinuations on all (well not all, some) of what has happened on football pitches over the last eight months, and more importantly off it in batshit-crazy places like punditry areas and opinion studios. My own opinions on other people's opinions will be restricted to opinions projected on BBC output due to my continued rejection of satellite channels that explicitly sell football and ruin it (although BT Sport did show the Europa and Champions League Finals for free, so I can take down Savage and Ferdinand at least).  ITV doesn't have football anymore (they might have England games come to think of it, but that doesn't affect my participation as a viewer) although their supply of The Big Match Revisited is vast and impressive.

So here we go...

English team Manager of the Season: Brendan Rodgers     

Now before Pep Guardiola comes after me accusing me of just trying to be different, well, he can talk (no defensive midfielder in the CL Final other than your top scorer, eh?). Of course you're great PG, but it's Brendan Rodgers I'm going for here. I couldn't have imagined naming the pearly-whites smoothie in this category even just a few months ago, as frankly I didn't like him. He loved himself at Liverpool didn't he? Had an extra-marital affair with his tactics board; told the world about Arsenal's interest in him to secure a better contract at Leicester not long after being there. Bit full of himself. But I have come round to him, he'll be delighted to hear. He's coped excellently and uncomplainingly with a succession of different injuries, long and short-term, found the all-important "solutions" with the squad he has, kept City in the top four every week, often the top two, until the very last match when it was all just a step too far, Cruel that they should end up 5th, their fans mocked by Gareth Bale, a narcissist who I will never bend to, City's desperate search for a winner perfect prey for a man who preserves all of his energy for individual glory. 

But Leicester had won the FA Cup by then, a memorably uplifting early evening (groan) in front of fans, whose joint reaction with the players was a better advert for the competition than the endless justifying of it's heritage by the Beeb. Had Rodgers not done the honourable thing in dropping James Maddison and Ayoze Perez for West Ham away late in the season for attending an illegal party during Covid restrictions, City may have held on to that 4th place, but these were the actions of a man setting a great example and putting principles before himself. 

Guardiola may have remarked that Man City's title win wasn't just down to "f***ing money", but it helps doesn't it, Pep, both in normal times and in a pandemic, in fact particularly a pandemic when teams have to play every six hours.

Worst Pundit: Jermaine Jenas      

Having already slated a Spurs player above, cynics may allege that team bias has directed me to my decision above. This may well be true (it is true) but Jenas only narrowly takes this award ahead of Danny Murphy...what's that, he played for Spurs as well, did he? Oh is that why he never criticises them?  Yes, makes sense now I think about it, why else would he focus so much negativity on Arsenal winning 3-1 at Palace but not say anything about Spurs haplessly losing at home to Villa? 

Anyway, Jenas. Honestly, sometimes I agree with things that he says, but then some people agree with things Boris Johnson says. Somebody at my work once declared that Jenas "gets on my tits", because of his array of criticisms of players. "You weren't Pele", the work friend added, and that's defo true, he wasn't Pele, still isn't. He wasn't even Abedi Pele. Nowhere near The Romford Pele. Indeed, how come this unremarkable Premier League footballer gets to co-commentate on Champions League and FA Cup Finals? But it is his MOTD2 appearance talking about/crying over the North London derby at The Emirates this season that lands him this highly contested gong. Six hours elapsed between the final whistle of Arsenal's 2-1 win and the beginning of the highlights show and still he failed spectacularly to find his professional hat. Such tantrum-based indignity leave me no choice. 

He probably wasn't even the Nottingham Pele.    

Best Use of a Famous Children's Book Saying During Half-Time of a Champions League Final - Rio Ferdinand           

Having taken time away from merking the grateful BT Sport crew, Rio identified the difficulty Manchester City faced in breaking through the Chelsea 'block' and informed the viewer that "you can't go through it, you can't go round it, you have to go over it." The omitted 'Under it' may actually have been an option, like the POW footballers in Escape to Victory digging a hole beneath the playing surface and would certainly have bemused the nasty German Tommy Tuchel far more than City not picking anyone who could tackle. But canny Rio realised just in time that he wasn't reading a bedtime story to the little Ferdinand's and was actually live on air, so quickly plucked out "round" before anyone noticed. Unless this is a new variant on players naming song titles in interviews and commentators saying naughty words during matches...

Best co-commentator: Chris Waddle

Simply because he challenged Ian Dennis' astonishment at Man City going several games unbeaten by making the point that they have the most money and the best players.   

Worst Judge of the Viewer's Mood: Robbie Savage

"Go on David De Gea!" Savage implored during the marathon penalty shoot out between Manchester United's and Villareal in the Europa League Final. Rob, we've been here with Tyldesley, most English people want the other team to win, mate.       

A few words on VAR    

I've stopped moaning about VAR, not just because I hate it, but because everyone else is doing the moaning for me, like younger legs doing all my running on the pitch. I actually find it entertaining and quite relaxing to hear all the pundits and fans slaughtering it, as it means I don't have to get all worked up myself. It's here to stay, and unlike the doomed Super League, people actually wanted it, so I hope they're enjoying it.   

That's all for now, might do a Part 2 to this, but it will soon be Euro 2020 (2021) and I'll need time to iron my Croatia, Scotland and Czech Republic shirts.  

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Brendan Rodgers shows Super League principles - but in a good way

It seems very rich (!) that Super League evil man Florentino Perez should question the attention span of  supporters when he himself has presided over 12 managers in his 18 combined years as the head of Real Madrid.   

Sometimes, as with Vicento Del Bosque in 1999, a Champions League isn't enough. If the league doesn't come with it, you're out on your ear, pal. So it was no surprise that the popular Super League was erected by the insatiable appetite of Perez, only to be withered away so soon by the passion-killing youths he so caringly reached out to, as they fanny-farted all over his sordid intentions, screaming their lack of consent and blowing their rape alarms.        

Why does a 74 year old billionaire care about 'saving' European football anyway? He's just bored, isn't he? Bored of all those league titles and Champions League wins. Bored of being the president of one of the most famous clubs in the world. None of it is enough. Retirement doesn't seem much cop to him either. Is he just trying to stay alive by killing the game? Or was it actually world-wide attention he was after?

Perez hasn't apologised for the grenade he threw, but then he probably doesn't think he has to, and maybe he doesn't. The owners of the six implicated Prem clubs have said sorry, or at least got their minions to do it, and though apologies were never going to have much impact there was, in contrast to the political world that Perez comes from, at least a show of contrition.

Further down the food chain, there are examples of leadership and accountability in football that embarrass, or should embarrass governments. Leicester City manager Brendan Rogers, seemingly a ready-made politician if ever there was one in the Prem, dropped three of his players for attending a house party that broke Covid restrictions. The game in question was at West Ham, enjoying their best season for 35 years and just below Leicester in the table with both battling for a top four spot and Champions League qualification (now back on the agenda). West Ham won 3-2 and City could certainly have done with the creativity and threat of James Maddison, who has scored eight goals and set up five in 26 matches this season from midfield; but as Rodgers said, "they have to be punished or they don't learn". 

Maddison, in some areas, shows an ample capacity not to learn. Sent off for diving against Brighton & Hove Albion in 2018, he publically apologised to Leicester fans, tweeting that he'd "learn from it". Fast forward four months, and Maddison falls over a non-challenge from Arsenal's Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who mouths "I didn't touch you, Mads" but is himself sent off. MOTD pundit Danny Murphy referred to the apparent contrition after Brighton and the pledge to learn and said "He hasn't". 

This season though, Maddison drew praise from Gary Lineker, of course, and indeed some primary school teachers for setting an example with a "virtual celebration" when scoring for City. Explaining his air high-fives, he said "It's probably what we should all be doing at the moment". And yet, in light of the party a few weeks after (and examining his other celebrations that include directly addressing tv cameras, and running imaginary lines to signpost his name on his shirt), one could easily conclude that it was actually just a bit of attention-seeking.

Rodgers could have said Maddison's partying (and hiding-when-busted) was being 'dealt with internally' blah, blah', or even kept it quiet (if that were possible) or perhaps, as some other leaders have done during lockdown, defended him for breaking clear guidance, maybe going as far to praise him; after all what self-respecting 24 year old wouldn't endanger lives by attending a party of approx 20 people. Our rules are there to be broken!         

Instead Rodgers showed true, responsible leadership, as did Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta in March, dropping captain and star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for again being late to a team meeting before the North London derby. Again, that could have been kept quiet, but while Aubameyang's removal could have resulted in huge pressure and ill-will on the man in charge, there are principles being shown by those underneath the moneymen (with their 39th games and Project Big Pictures and Super Leagues) that demonstrate an integrity and humanity lacking in those who are playing an entirely different game above them.      

Euro 2020 Day 31: Jeering for England

 It wasn’t the worst thing that some England fans did before, during and after the Euro 2020 Final, but the booing every time an Italian pla...