Monday 24 July 2023

Women’s World Cup Day 3

Is it really Day 3? Australia’s New Years’ fireworks go off hours before ours, so it’s always difficult to know for sure. I’m guessing New Zealand have fireworks at the same time, it’s just that we don’t seem to get footage of those. Bit harsh on them. We can’t all have a Sydney Harbour bridge.

What is certain is that this Oz-Kiwi championship was already a triumph before a ball was kicked, specifically because the hosts prime ministers and a following wind of protest stopped Saudi Arabia getting their murderous, evil hands on it as sponsors (not that Riyad Mahrez, Karim Benzena, Ruben Neves, Eduardo Mendy, Firmino and faux LGBTQ+, Women’s Rights champ Jordan Henderson were listening, or cared to). 

Working from home on Thursday, I watched a couple of minutes of Australia-Rep of Ireland while I got my trainers on to go to the supermarket, enough time still to see Katie McCabe commit a foul. The only surprise element of this to me was that she was playing for Republic of Ireland. I’d always assumed she was a fiery Scot. This is similar to the revelations of Euro 21, when Jorginho was presented to me as an Italian and not a Brazilian as I’d believed, also Lucas Digne being French not Spanish and Leicester’s Soyuncu (his first name escapes me) coming from Cyprus not Greece.

The supermarket was also responsible for my delayed entry to the England-Haiti game this morning, nipping in for Radox bath salts on the way back from jobs-in-town while the action in Brisbane got underway. Because the game was on ITVX, I knew I wouldn’t be able to rewind to kick off, but chose Watch From The Start hoping that I could fast-forward. Alas, this facility wasn’t available, and any consolation that I might come across some noteworthy rubbish punditry was denied me by the slick combination of Laura Woods, Emi Eluko and Karen Carney. Not even a mansplainer in sight, such as a Larsson, or a Partridge figure like Dion Dublin, fully re-searched up as in 2019.

It would be very Dublin-esque to talk about my own history with the Suncorp Stadium, where I’d played on a patch of grass outside it with some fellow backpackers in 2006. I struggled with one particularly energetic opponent and might have tried to pretend that my pace hadn’t gone. That same year, Australia’s men qualified for their first ever World Cup, seeing off Uruguay in a play-off and booking their flight to Germany the following summer. 

35 minutes of chit-chat and adverts was a bit of a grind, but finally the action got underway, Euro 22 winner and pitch side summariser  Jill Scott predicting a 4-0 win over the Women’s World Cup debutants from the Caribbean. 49 years ago, Haiti’s men’s team played in the West Germany World Cup, taking the lead against underdog favourites Italy. 

Against England, Haiti barely got into position for kick off, perhaps distracted by the blaring pop music as their opponents prepared to take the knee. Fortunately the countdown to kick off triggered a collective sprint to their allocated areas.

Maybe I was in no position either to moan about countdown to kick offs, considering my behaviour in Stadium MK last summer during Germany-Finland at the Euros. I haven’t confessed to this before now, but I joined in the Mexican waves with the family. Yes, walk away if you must, I don’t blame you. I offer my deepest sorrow for the hurt and betrayal caused. As a leader, I am Jordan Henderson, weak of will when it comes to the crunch. As ever, I can only defend myself by pointing the finger at the family. A father must meet certain expectations and I put them ahead of my principles. Shameful, I know. 

For those of you left, I will seek redemption by complaining about VAR. It beckoned the ref over to look at a potential penalty for England. Then, for the first time ever in a football match, she had to tell the crowd why she wasn’t giving it. This is apparently what people want. Perhaps it’s what The Man wants. Interestingly, she didn’t announce why she only gave a yellow card to the Haiti defender who raked her studs down Chloe Kelly’s shin in the incident that might have led to the pen. Further examination showed that there had been a foul by Lauren Hemp on a Haiti player before that. Co-commentator Emma Hayes was bemused as to why a card, irrespective of colour, was given at all if the challenge was, hitherto, off-the-ball. I am certainly confused. A free kick for Haiti but also a yellow card for Haiti for an offence during a time period judged to have not existed. I suppose if you announce that, you’ll be announcing 15-20 times a game. 

Eventually England did get a penalty, when a Haiti defender at the back post flicked the ball with a finger due to having both arms outstretched above her head as if she’d forgotten what sport she was playing. Interestingly, Lucy Bronze, whose header was affected as a result, didn’t even appeal, merely running back to position tie-ing her hair up. But this time, more than any other time, the ref announced the award of a pen. Georgia Stanway stepped up, Hayes said “right of the goalie” which the goalie overheard, tipping over. Seemingly the whole Haiti team ran to thank her, not realising the ref was about to get in a third announcement, informing us that it was to be retaken due to the goalie moving early. Again no one had protested, but in fairness the unpunished-moving-goalie-at-a-penalty has long been a bugbear of mine (so you are saying you’re a fan of VAR now? - Ed) with perhaps the exception being Dave Beasant’s 1988 Cup Final save from John Aldridge. Just think, if VAR had been around then, the first FA Cup Final penalty save might have been Mark Crossley’s from Gary Lineker in ‘91.  That said, you’d like to think VAR would have overruled the Aldridge award in the first place, Clive Goodyear clearly sliding his foot against the ball and not Aldridge. Imagine ref Brian Hill having to announce that to the 100,000 Wembley crowd back then! He would have been obliged to in the first half, too, when he disallowed a Peter Beardsley goal that wasn’t offside. There would be so many announcements you’d think you were in a supermarket rather than a football match. Thank you for shopping at Wembley.

On her second go, Stanway found that bottom corner to the goalie’s right, Hayes emulating Motson in that ‘88 Cup Final when he’d talked us through his conversation with Beasant the previous day and the direction he would dive to. 30 minutes gone, would the floodgates now open? Perhaps the banks should already have burst, Arsenal new girl Alessia Russo unable to turn in a number of crosses from the left, where Alex Greenwood and Hemp dominated. That said, Haiti should have scored at 0-0, and looked dangerous on the break. 

The chances reigned in for England in the second half, mostly for Russo, and though I saw her substitution for Rachel Daly, I wouldn’t see for myself whether the Villa woman would fare any better, given the picture was lost in the 70th minute and didn’t return. Maybe this was a last-ditch ITV moment of classic farce but in all likelihood it was our telly. If we’d have made it back from shopping in time, my morning in front of the football would have been a lot smoother, as it was I needed to select the Watch Live, which took me to Scott and the other pitchside broadcaster, who I don’t think was Georgia Tennant, to confirm the 1-0 score line. 

Monday 17 July 2023

A solution from the past

 The Steve Archibald episode of Icons of Football (a BBC Scotland production) put me in mind of yet another long-lost football feature probably lost to the game for good. 

I’m not talking, as you might expect, about Tottenham Hotspur winning trophies, although my thought was inspired by footage of their 1984 UEFA Cup Final over Anderlecht - in which Archibald scored a penalty in the shoot out - a thought that if turned to reality could be used to inspire change for the good of both the game and the fan (so no chance then - Ed).

Archibald’s success from 12 yards, and captain Graham Roberts’(?) lifting of the trophy was seen in the stadium by 40,000 Tottenham fans, which younger readers (pah! - Ed) may consider an unusually generous allocation by UEFA for the conclusion of its second most prestigious club competition (the main prize was also won on penalties by an English team, Liverpool, at the home of AS Roma, who were also their opponents). Rather, this was the second leg of the Final, yes second leg, just like there were second legs in all the previous rounds, and indeed still are today in the modern Europa League concept until the Final, which is a one-off game often played in a stadium small enough or unreachable enough (like Baku in 2019) to cause mass resentment among supporters who have been on every part of the journey until it’s climax.

The ticket allocation protest is an annual one - for both domestic and European Finals. The corporate football family muscles it’s way in conscience-free, and even if you get a ticket it’s going to cost well over £100 on top of the travel. As much as I derided the European Conference League, I can’t deny that West Ham fans had a great time watching them win it in Seville, though it’s a shame my West Ham friends who go to every home game didn’t get the chance to be there. No doubt they enjoyed it at home or in the pub, but it’s never the same as being there, and even if the conclusive leg of a Final may not fall at your home ground, you’ve rightfully watched your team in the Final

Away games both domestically and in Europe are a closed shop at the top level, with the same people and their number of credits representing the team, but here surely is an opportunity for the supporters to be every much as part of the grand occasion as the pyrotechnics and the pointless, expensive pop acts.

So, in the words of Deniece Williams, from the song of the same year that Spurs triumphed in Europe at home, let’s hear it for the fans (Jeez -Ed).

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

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