Our European guru educates and enlightens
When Wayne Rooney slotted home England’s third, even the cynics in the pub started to believe that England would earn at least a draw.
At half-time, with England 1-0 up courtesy of the Stanmore Pelé, someone had started up a chant of “We’re on the way with Fabio Capello’s army” but stopped after that line, mumbling: “It doesn’t quite scan does it?” When the Stanmore Pelé got his hat-trick, no one sang, they just roared with joy, relief and disbelief.
3-0. Phew, we'll get at least a draw out of this now...
The evening had started unpromisingly with The Times declaring “England captain John Terry fully alert before Croatia clash.” Obviously, it was nice to be assured that the skipper wasn’t comatose but somehow the revelation didn’t engender the kind of optimism I needed to watch the Three Lions.
Things went from bad to badder with the revelation that Virgin Media’s TV service was down in the Shepperton area so I would not, after all, be watching it from my worn brown leather sofa.
Against my better judgement, I was forced to watch it in a pub and drink Kronenbourg.
I know you’re thinking, he protests too much. But last time I watched an international in a pub, I was obliged to make conversation with a drunken Scotsman who kept calling me “John!” and the last time I watched England in a pub we drew with Switzerland 1-1 in the opening match of Euro 96 and the disappointment went straight to my liver.
It took a whole day of washing up to restore domestic harmony.
But I bought a pint and chose a table. Setanta was doing its level best to entertain us with insightful analysis.
do you think Fabio Capello said to them in the dressing room?” Chris
Waddle was asked. “Stand up and be counted,” said Waddle. I briefly
imagined the players being told to stand up so they could be counted,
like troublesome pupils on a school awayday or like soldiers in the
Falklands counted in and out by BBC reporter Brian Hanrahan.
The counting must have gone well because, to my relief, there were 11 England players on the pitch when they kicked off.
When David James got his first touch, I was dismayed to see he had shorn his locks. I have no statistical or scientific evidence for this, but in my gut I am convinced that, if you’re a Croatian striker bursting through on goal, you are much more likely to be put off by the sight of a goalie sporting the most outrageous blaxploitation haircut since Richard Roundtree stopped playing Shaft.
It’s one thing to have a keeper who fills the goal, but a keeper whose hair fills the goal is surely even better.
Inspiring as the action was, the cameramen felt obliged to pan around the stadium to show us such treats as Fulham’s Jimmy ‘Bullardinho’ modelling a hairstyle that was thoroughly Macca (McManaman not McCartney) and Bernie Ecclestone, sitting next to his partner who looked like Cruella da Vil’s grandmother.
Bernie seemed immune to the general euphoria but then, as the man who owns Formula 1, he’s probably not used to registering excitement at sporting events.
At one point, England had 86% possession, a dominance which so frustrated the Croatians they eschewed their silky counter-attacking game and adopted tactical plan B: kicking lumps out of people.
This strategy hasn’t really worked for anyone but Andorra – who are secretly allowed a quota of bad fouls per game by officials on the grounds that they aren’t footballers but plumbers, postmen and physiotherapists – where the system is quasi-officially known as The Ruffle, after the intended effect on the opposition.
When Croatian defender Robert Kovac was sent off, there was a brief chorus of “Goodbye-ee, goodbye-ee!”. There’s something about England’s football team that seems to evoke world wars. When Croatia snatched a consolation to make it 3-1, one of the wags by the bar did a Corporal Jones and started shouting “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!”
Croatia's old guard take 'getting stuck in' too far
Then the Stanmore Pelé struck again, shortly before getting a congratulatory smile and handshake from David Beckham who came on for six minutes.
Of course, we mustn’t get carried away, we must take each game as it comes (the alternative – taking games in batches of six – would be confusing for fans, players and media) and it was only one night.
But, as Frankie Vialli said in that suspiciously high-pitched voice of his, oh what a night.
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