Thursday 29 July 2021

Euro 2020 Postscript

In the days when I wrote a monthly fanzine for a Sunday League team I played for (a ‘playerzine’?) my player/manager suggested I conclude my supposedly witty match reports with “player ratings”. I didn’t take up this idea  as I feared I was causing enough offence to my team mates already, and indeed had nearly been dropped by that same player/manager on the morning of a game for comments about him that he had taken to heart. I talked him round eventually, but considering we only had 11 players turn up that day, leaving me out really would have put me in my place. 

My Euro 2020 reflections will cause the relevant subjects less resentment, partly because I am not a qualified observer of the professional game but mostly because they will likely never read them. Which is actually a good thing, as I have licence to say what I like without worrying about reprisals. Yes, definitely a good thing…Mr Matterface, can you hear me?

Thing I hated Most About Euro 2020 (apart from stampedes, abusers on social media and taking-the-knee booing)

Seven Nation Army blaring out from the speaker system when a goal was scored, especially in front of a noisy, nearly full capacity crowd watching the home team in a Final. Any additional, external accompaniment (including Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, which seems to be the chosen tune of celebration, as it was after the England- Denmark semi and also features on William Hill adverts; you can bet someone’s making some money out of it) in this event is a blatant insult to supporters (everywhere) and serves only as the latest message that fans should know their limits. 

That said, I am about to contradict myself…

2nd Thing I Hated Most About Euro 2020 (apart from…)

It’s Coming Home. No, It has to stop. 

Match I would watch again

Italy v Spain semi-final at Wembley. As the best commentator, Steve Wilson, said: “It’s been a fantastic first twenty minutes”, and it continued to be fantastic for the next 100. Actually, Steve may have said “football match” rather than “twenty minutes” but luckily I would watch it again so will hopefully find out. 

NB: “Its been an excellent twenty minutes”, he says, so I was wrong on both counts. 

A weird moment I can think of

Jonathan Pearce (oh yes), going on about the number of Crystal Palace players out of contract during Holland v Austria. 

A couple of Rio Ferdinand quotes

“But can you really see them winning it?” (Italy)

“England beat both those teams” (after Italy v Spain)

“Gareth Southgate has come up with the trumps so far”  (during England v Italy)

“If there was one thing I would criticise Gareth Southgate for, it would be the team sitting back” (after England v Italy)

Bit of xenophobia creeping in

The memes doing the rounds of Italy and Spain (and then Italy again) practicing diving. Did you not notice how England got their penalty against Denmark?! Or how Harry Kane and Jack Grealish spend half the match?!

Unlikely Hero

Clive Tyldesley. Knows there was a 2nd Group stage in the 1982 World Cup. Acknowledged the irony of taking the piss out of Ally McCoist’s playing career. Presented inclusive commentaries. Predicted France v Switzerland going all the way at the start. Mocked the ‘Mexican wave’ during the same game (“I think this game deserves better than that”. Shades of Brian Moore there). Is still the best ITV commentator.

A Disappointing game

France v Germany. Bloodless, thanks to France. 

An Interesting Studio Panel

Keane, Vieira, Neville (hosted by Mark Pougatch) for France v Switzerland. The 2005 Highbury Tunnel panel, you could say. 

Players I Enjoyed Watching

Olmo, Saka, Bonucci, Donnarumma, Chiesa, Tierney, De Bruyne, Pedri, Renato Sanches, Shaw, The England Captain.

Biggest Surprise 

Jorginho being Italian/Soyuncu Turkish/Digne French. 

I Love You Ian Wright…

Stop the Marvel references, though!

Favourite Goals 

Damsgaard for Denmark v England

Insigne for Italy v Belgium

De Bruyne for Belgium v Denmark

Morata for Spain v Croatia

Chiesa for Italy v Spain

Schick for Czech Rep v Scotland

Sterling for England v Czech Rep

Gonzalez for Croatia v Spain

A contentious issue

The person at the Final who was showing off their England shirt with Mrs Grealish on the back and the number 69…harmless fun, or a betrayal of womankind?  Similarly, those fans who are captured on camera, and play up to it like it's the highlight of their lives, even if their team has just conceded a vital last minute goal. Harmless fun, or a betrayal of footballfankind?  

To sum up then...

I liked that the player who scored the first goal of Euro‘88 became the winning manager of ‘20. There’s no real symmetry there, but I just like it anyway. 

I can’t pretend to have seen all the games - maybe I only saw the majority of a quarter of them, and would have seen even less if my daughter hadn’t shown so much interest in the England Semi Final and Final. As it was, and to my relief, she wanted to stop watching the Final after twenty minutes as the tension was too unbearable. After all, she had Italy in her class fun sweepstake, so had a vested interest. 

As for me, I need to have a think. I spend every two summers waiting desperately for England to be knocked out of a major tournament, in similar anxious circumstances to the Champions League Final of 2019 where Spurs took the reins. When there is so much about modern football that invites you to step away for good, sometimes I have to consider how much good this is doing me. 

Anyway, Ciao for now!

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). In February 1999, commentating on Nottm Forest-Manchester United, Barry Davies called the default response to Beckham receiving possession, “tiresome”. 22 years later, the tiresome show of hostility at Wembley for opponents blocking the path to ‘home’ for football wasn’t, I guess, intimidating for the wily Italians, but was 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, but is the equivalent to the joy expressed in pubs and bars when one of the 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: Letting the air out a bit and my vendetta with David Baddiel

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 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.


‘One more’ lonely night: Spain 2 England 1. Euro ‘24 Final

 I've already back-tracked on unflattering comments I made towards Alvaro Morata in these pages, so let me now add Marc Cucurella to tha...