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Monday 13 October 2008

Wake Me Up When It's Alll Over

Hi folks,

I was planning on writing a bit of a preamble, in an effort to add some much needed Arsenal relevance to the following missive. However after a long day unloading several containers stuffed with inordinately awkward and weighty scenery, I'm afraid I can just about muster hitting the send button.

So if you are only interested in the Arsenal (as I am, but unfortunately I still have to file my piece to the Examiner during an International break), then you have been forewarned


The hypocrisy of the tabloid media knows no bounds. Myself I’m rarely sufficiently absorbed in the eternal soap-opera that is the England team, to give a monkey’s. But it was a bit rich to see the Red Tops having a pop at those fans who booed Ashley Cole at Wembley on Saturday, when its they who are largely responsible for much of the resentment felt towards Cole, by perpetuating the image of him as one of England’s avaricious, overpaid “Bentley boys”.

Personally I’ve never believed in booing a player who’s wearing the shirt of the team you are supposed to be “supporting”, as it’s hardly likely to encourage them to play any better. However that doesn’t mean I don’t understand why so many of the 90,000 present, who’d stumped up serious wedge for their Wembley tickets (in these belt-tightening times!), felt entitled to give Cashley the bird.

England v Kazakhstan was hardly a mouth-watering prospect and I was half hoping for salvation, in the form of my missus needing some assistance pushing a trolley around Tescos, as I’m sure I’d have found more excitement in the supermarket aisles, than in the first half of this drab affair. However watching on the box, I thought I sensed some complacency in a couple of instances where, with the game still at 0-0, England players seemed to be caught on their heels, hardly breaking their necks to be first to the ball.

Having finally achieved an air of respectability, albeit courtesy of a bog standard set-piece and an own goal, Cole’s casual backpass and his gift of a glimmer of hope for the Kazakhis, was the apotheosis of the sort of lax, arrogant approach that has cost the England team so dear in many matches over the past few decades and it’s the sort of problem I would’ve expected a strict disciplinarian like Capello to have pounced on.

Every schoolboy defender has it drummed into them not to pass the ball back across their own box, to avoid just such a mishap. But it wasn’t just because supposedly the world’s best left-back had committed such a cardinal sin that they were in such high dudgeon on the terraces, but that it was representative of an insufferably casual attitude
I actually prefer Clichy, as in my most humble opinion he may be some years away from having Cole’s wealth of experience, but where Cashley requires the inspiration of the big occasion, or a grudge match to raise his game nowadays, Gael has more to prove and can therefore be guaranteed to produce the same consistent levels of commitment, week in, week out.

There was some suggestion that it was the Gooners present at Saturday’s game who were responsible for giving Cole so much stick. However while Golden Balls Beckham can do no wrong and receives more adulation from the England crowd for his warm-up routine, than Rooney gets for scoring a couple of goals, if it had been any of the other players who’d presented the visitors with a gift-wrapped goal, they’d have been subject to the same sort of angry reaction.

Moreoever, it is the media again who are largely culpable for the way in which the England fans permanently exist on the cusp of this love/hate relationship with the national team, as a result of the incredibly fickle way in which they vacillate between deification of the players one day and accusing them of being the devil incarnate the next.

Myself I’ve always tended to give them the benefit of the doubt, when they’ve offered up “we gave it our best” type clich├ęs, in breathless post-match interviews because I suppose still cling to some misguided romantic notion that even the most jaded old whores of the professional game must feel some inspiration, pulling on their national shirt. Despite the evidence of my own eyes, in games where I’ve expected them to go for it, hell for leather, I guess I’ve always assumed they were acting under the manager’s instructions not to hare around, chasing the ball like headless chickens.

However, sadly it would appear that nowadays, for established squad players, playing for one’s country is merely part of their job description and they go about it in a far too perfunctory and businesslike fashion for my liking. No matter what they might claim, all the evidence suggests that these days, it’s just another day at the office.

Myself I am more of a Theo Walcott fan than an England fan, as I can never really set aside some of the resentment I feel towards some of our Premiership opponents. Although Theo started Saturday’s match with all the energy and enthusiasm of a youngster who still gets a real buzz from being picked to play for his country, as the match progressed, it was as if the spark of his dynamism was doused by the humdrum way in which his teammates went about their business.

It reminded me of the joke about the young bull wanting to run down to the lower field to procreate with a fine looking heifer, while his elders advised him to walk down and procreate with them all. Yet in truth most spectators would’ve rather seen Theo score once early doors, than to wait all afternoon hoping the old bullocks might find the energy to do the business before all the cows end up heading back to the barn with a headache!

Meanwhile it’s unlikely that as a stadium, Wembley is ever going to become the fervent home fortress the FA are hoping for, because of the way in which, much like our new place, they’ve focused on maximising their income from the corporate moola. If it’s mildly embarrassing at our gaff when the game restarts after the break with Club Level half empty, because of the prominent position of the posh seats of the Bobby Moore Club at Wembley, it looked bloody awful when the second half kicked off, with the camera pointing directly across the halfway line, showing the players in the centre circle, with all 1800 of the seats in the background entirely empty.

I actually contacted a Gooner pal of mine to get the scoop. I suppose my strict scruples about not selling football tickets above face value are not quite so valid, in an age where the suits are perfectly happy to write off vast sums for the privilege of being present at “must see” football matches. Thus along with others, he bought his Bobby Moore seats as something of a buy to let investment, whereby the approx. £500 a pop pitch doesn’t really cost him anything, so long as the Gunners don’t make it to a Wembley finals and he can cover his outlay by flogging them off for both Cup finals for a small fortune.

In their defence, he tells me that the 1800 member club and its restaurant are so vast that it takes him 8 mins to get to his table and back and by the time you include a trip to the karsey, half-time is over. So the logistics of serving 1800 members makes it impossible for them to get back before the start.

However he also forwarded details of Saturday’s menu, which I’ve included here, as it highlights more succinctly than I ever could how dramatically football has changed in recent times and how the large amounts of disposable income from the “nouveau” footie fans have become a necessary evil, to feed the insatiable appetite of he footballing beast (although perhaps much of this income will have been disposed off during the parlous economic climate of the past couple of weeks!).

On the pitch it might still be the beautiful game, but the trend for these elitist and extremely profitable enclosures in our modern arenas couldn’t be more far removed from the pie & pint, piss in the pocket of the punter in front terraces of yesteryear.

As for the Boys in Green, perhaps the Azzurri’s draw in Bulgaria suggests that the outcome of Ireland’s group is not written in stone (as nothing else appears to be nowadays!). Yet on the basis that even a misfiring Italian team should have sufficient wiles about them to win the group, an Italian win in Sofia would’ve probably best served their qualification prospects. We can but hope that they can do their bit to keep the competition interesting with a win in Cyprus?

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