Football


I was officiating at a great Confirmation Service on Wednesday evening as the England team limped out of the European Football competition.  I didn’t think that Croatia would be a pushover, but I did think England would do enough to qualify.  Most of what needs to be said has been said – ‘not the losing, but the manner of the defeat;’ the derogatory comments about Steve McClaren, a good man, who in the end did not come up with the goods etc. etc.  There are however some questions that need to be addressed

Firstly, ever since my time as a footballer, it has been readily acknowledged that foreign players are technically superior.  Why then is the same observation made thirty years on?  After the millions of pounds spent on academies, the training (over-training?) of young and raw talent appears to be still churning out players of lesser technical ability than our foreign counterparts.  The obvious answer is that either there is something fundamentally wrong with coaching staffs or our game still thinks that you can achieve in the modern game without possession of the football.  A novel idea I suggest.

Secondly, it seems to be in the English psyche that you pick players on the back of reputation rather than form.  Our national cricket team suffered the same problems till recently.  It is certainly true that teams need a balance of experience and youth.  It is certainly true that Scott Carson was the form keeper before the first goal on Wednesday.  But the obsession with trying to play Lampard and Gerrard in the same midfield, the reliance on a non-match fit Michael Owen are just part of a bigger package that lacks courage and imagination.  However good in theory these players are, in practise they have not even qualified for a tournament from a group of mundane teams.  The conclusion is inescapable.

Finally who next will seize (want?) the poisoned chalice called the manager’s job?  The debate about whether to have an Englishman at the helm is another piece of evidence that in little England we have not yet woken up to the fact, that like it or not, football is now a global industry.  I have no idea who will succombe to the temptation, but whoever it is deserves our prayers!

I was privileged to be at Man. Utd.’s victory over Aston Villa yesterday.  I gather that the attendance of 76,003 was a record for Old Trafford, certainly since the days of all seater grounds and a record for the Premiership.

The game was good.  ‘A game of two halves,’ as they say.  United were awesome in the first half and it it looked as though it could become one of those freak scores that occasaionally happen.  However, Villa dug in after half time, United sat back, as they often seem to, and surrendered more possession to Villa who, thanks to a rare mistake from Vidic, scored a goal.  For a short time it looked as though Villa might get back into it, but alas for Villa fans, it was not to be.

Liverpool (7 team changes from the match against Arsenal) and Arsenal looked very good yesterday – the Henri goal was brilliant – and Chelsea, without quite ‘hitting their straps’ were ominously convincing.

I found myself falling into territory occupied by sociologists in the 1960′s and 1970′s in looking at football support as a religious phenomenon.  The ground was pregnant with expectation to begin with; the adoration was obvious; the liturgies were familiar and established, albeit a little vulgar at times, and the involvement, despite the ‘prawn sandwich’ contingent, was self-evident.  It would take someone as weird as me to make such a comparison, but I couldn;t help it!

Even the now accepted nickname for the ground, ‘the theatre of dreams’ carries with it the hint of promise and fulfilment despite the odd nightmare!  I wonder how long the nickname will last if United cease to deliver.  The good thing about God is that He sticks around, even if at times, He plays hard to get!

Oh dear!  Just when Liverpool fans think they have grounds for optimism they suffer two defeats at home.  Arsenal fans can rejoice in the fact that the young players Arsene Wenger is rearing look to have amazing potential for the future.  Dudek had a mixed bag of an evening.  Sky commentators blamed him for the first two goals, but he did save a penalty! (Is 6-3 much better than 7-3??) Key question is how much Liverpool fans are going to blame Raffa for his self-confessed selection bloomer?  Liverpool fans, let us know, can you forgive or does his rotation policy need scrapping asap?  Arsene will feel he has had another good day at the office.  Who could disagree? 

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