Author: Ian

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

I’m unsure of what to make over this Peter Crouch business. Obviously, this sort of thing is all very amusing, but I can’t help but be concerned that he’s just giving people another stick to hit him over the head with if it all goes wrong for him this summer. At least he has almost certainly done something that will land himself a very lucrative advertising contract once the finals are over. Without wishing to come over all Mystic Meg or anything, I’m already having visions of a Pizza Hut advert with him dancing like a robot in it. Possibly while Rio Ferdinand wees into a specimen bottle in the background. At the moment, it’s all going very well for him. When he was thrown on against Argentina in December, you could almost visibly see their defenders looking at each other as if to say, “what… the… FUCK… is that?”, but he had the required effect, providing sufficient confusion to give Michael Owen the space to score the two late goals to win the match. He has visibly grown in confidence since then, and has seen off many of his detractors with solid displays for both Liverpool and England since then. I’m still not completely sold on him – £7m is a lot of money for a striker that only managed ten goals last season, but several things strike...

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Kitted Out

I intend to, at varying points throughout the couple of weeks before the tournament begins, to touch upon the varying paraphernalia surrounding the World Cup. The shirts, the balls, the goals, the nuts and bolts that hold the whole shebang together. The more you think about it, the more important the kits are. One of my primary recollections of watching England in the early 1980s is this shirt. I was ten years old. I didn’t know any better. I thought England dressed like that all the time. I didn’t realise that this shirt (made by Admiral) was something of an aberration in a long line of plain white shirts. What you’ll probably find at some point, in the run-up to this year’s finals, will be an eight page article about the team kits, possibly with a running commentary from somebody like Wayne Hemingway saying things like, “well, this year’s Togo shirt is very colourful, but it could really do with leather elbow pads”. You can see all this year’s kits here, and I think that, for once, most of the manufacturers have made rather a good job of it. The curse of the modern football kit is what I would describe as the “identikit”. Big manufacturers, most notably Nike, would design one shirt, and simply alter the colours to suit the appropriate countries. This reached a nadir in Japan/South...

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A Quick One, Before You Go Away

If you haven’t seen this, then I suggest that you devour all of it. Very quickly. I have said for a considerable amount of time that the BBC don’t make enough use of their massive sports archive, and I’m delighted to see that, for this World Cup, they have, to an extent proved me wrong. It’s all here and, particularly delightfully from my point of view, they’ve uploaded the original review programmes from just after the tournaments, rather than cobbling together right now. This is, so far as I can see, a fundamentally good thing, as we get to see the tournament from the perspective of the time. Desmond Lynam, for example, reminds us at the start of the 1990 review that the 1990 tournament was, relatively speaking, a poor one. Too many teams played too defensively, meaning that, although this competition has been given a rosy glow with the benefit of hindsight, we see the truth behind a tournament that was less exciting than previous ones. Likewise, I had forgotten just how poor England were in the group stages in 1986, and the extent to which some atrocious refereeing marred the 1994 tournament. Most nostalgic for me, though, was the sound of the World Cup – at least up until 1982. Back in the old days, digital sound technology wasn’t quite what it is now. Matches shown on...

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England 3 Hungary 1

I’m probably in a minority in so far as that I really enjoy these friendly matches. No pressure, no stress, just an exhibition involving some of the best footballers in Europe. If they contrive get their back-sides spanked by, say, Denmark or Australia, we can put it down to a bad day at the office and get on with it. Tonight’s match was an intriguing one. I don’t really know anything about Hungary (as they are now – >everyone knows about the Puskas team of the 1950s that – quite literally – dumped Billy Wright on his arse at Wembley in 1953), and places for the Paraguay match are up for grabs. It all made for an interesting evening. So… as ever, a mixed bag. The first forty minutes was poor. Not for the first time, Ericsson played it too cautious for the first forty minutes. Hungary sat back relatively well, and the “experimental” formation wasn’t equipped to pressurise them into making mistakes. Of course, as soon as they did start pressing, things started to happen. Beckham was magnificent – his best England performance for a long time – and Owen started to get into decent goal-scoring positions. Pity Lampard missed the penalty, but there we go. The second half performance was considerably improved. The midfield got forward to support Owen, and the goals started flowing. I was particularly...

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Paradise Found?

The state of the England football supporter is an unusual one, and not a pleasant one. Disliked by more or less everyone, and with ludicrously over-optimistic hopes fuelled by a media that thrives on peaks and troughs (and nothing in-between), it can be a fairly unhappy existence. No genuine England supporter was surprised by Wayne Rooney’s ropey metatarsal bone. If anything, it was a blessed relief that it happened soon enough for him to have anything like a cat in hell’s chance of making the finals. Four years ago it was Beckham. In 1986 and 1990 it was was Bryan Robson. It happens. And with England, it usually happens to the wrong person at the wrong time. What England do supremely well is drama. You don’t need me to recite the litany of travesties that they have somehow got themselves involved in, but I will say this much: when have England ever meekly surrendered in a competition, with no fight, or no drama? Even in 2002, Ronaldinho contrived to get himself sent off. You’d be surprised how many people forget that. But it happened. The upshot of this constant disappointment is unstinting pessimism. There’s an advert on the television (for Mars, I think) which shows just how little advertising men know about football. The advert consists of a tubby man in the standard garb (St George’s t-shirt, possibly face...

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