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20 June 2016
When the England football team arrived back from Italia 90 to a heroes’ welcome – instead of what normally greets one at Luton Airport, grey skies and disillusion – I remember one or two of them expressing surprise, saying they hadn’t realised the tournament had been such a big thing back home.
Now, of course, sports teams abroad will be well aware, through social media, of the hopes and dreams invested in them by those of us in our living rooms or on our laptops; but it’s rare a player will put in a word for us, the sofa-sprawling millions on the home front.
So thanks to England rugby union captain Dylan Hartley who, after the historic victory over Australia on Saturday morning, and after his tributes to coach Eddie Jones, and the rest of the squad, ‘the guys,’ recognised the part played by those of us who just sit and snack.
(By the way if you’re ever asked to define the difference between rugby union and rugby league, it’s that union is staffed by ‘guys,’ league by ‘lads.’)
“I’d like to thank everyone that tuned in at home. Thanks for the support,” said the skipper.
No problem, Dylan. Really. Sure, it meant getting up early, what with the 10.30 start here in Britain, and we have to stump up the Sky subscription fees, which appear to be inching by stealth towards the £100 a month mark.
But on Saturday you and the, er, guys made it worth it. For those of us yearning for the simplicity of a full-blooded head-to-head battle between utterly committed opponents after a surfeit of the cagey tactical stuff we’ve been watching at Euro 2016, Saturday’s second half rearguard battle by England was just the job.
“Heady days,” said Sir Clive Woodward – twice – before declaring an interest, revealing Eddie Jones as “a mate,” meaning that even had England succumbed to the Aussies, the coach was unlikely to be subjected to the treatment Roy Hodgson routinely receives, win, lose, or draw.
Frankly, I don’t know how Hodgson got his job because, listening to the radio ‘phone-ins after the Wales match, it appears there are several hundred TalkSport listeners who are better qualified than him to do it.
It was ever thus. The sheer hopelessness of the England football manager, whoever it is, has always been part of the fabric of life here, like the unreliability of the weather, the fecklessness of teenagers, the impossibility of getting a half-decent sandwich on a train, and the desperation that enters our souls at the words, “and now a brand new sit-com.”
It would be good to get away from all this, but some of us stay here in the name of sport, and it’s nice to be recognised for once. I realise it’s unlikely we’ll be confronted by riot police wielding tear gas canisters in the comfort of our homes, or suffer Ivan breaking a chair over our head. But we are subject to sports radio and what passes for reasoned debate in the unforgiving hours broadcasters have to fill after the match has finished, Adam Lallana has moisturised, Joe Hart has rinsed and repeated, and the team is back in its luxury hotel playing computer games.
Plus, round my gaff, I have the immense incumbency thrust upon me of watching all the football so I can call my wife through should anything noteworthy happen, by which she means goals or crowd trouble. Thus I issued the call when the Croatian fans started throwing flares during the match against the Czech Republic.
The pundits on the BBC declared themselves mystified by the fact that the Croatian fans appeared to be fighting amongst themselves. It was only later, watching the highlights on ITV, that Slaven Bilic, once more showing his worth as a panellist, was able to clarify, pointing out that it was probably fans from Split, his home town in the South of the country, fighting with those from Zagreb in the North.
The long-standing antipathy between the two cities, he explained, derived from the feeling in the South that Zagreb is favoured by the football establishment and by the government generally.
“When there is a match between Hajduk Split and Dinamo Zagreb, you don’t take your kids,” warned Slaven.
Finally, is it time for a worldwide re-think of national anthems? They all seem to come from the same handbook of tedious martial music, and are rarely at all redolent of their country of origin. I exempt the French whose anthem is passably hummable, mainly thanks to Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains, but before the Spain – Turkey match, for example, not a single Spanish player even pretended to join in with their dirge.
Is it not possible the tournament might be a more peaceable event if these turgid calls to arms were replaced with more fun, less militaristic, tunes? And if you are looking for a template, may I refer you to the Eurovision Song Contest.
Screen Break had no hard and fast rules in looking for a benefactor but accepted a concrete proposal. Screen Break ran in The Guardian for 16 years, and then in the Racing Post. The first two episodes in its current incarnation can be found here, and here. Week three, now better know as ‘The Screen Break that cost Steve McClaren his job’, can be found here. Weekfour featured the wacky world of Jonny Wilkinson. Week five came witha money-back guarantee on laughs. (It was so funny that nobody at all asked for their money back). Week six was all about managing with an iron bar (and the boat race). Week seven was the Windies winning wonderfully. Week eight was all about Willett’s Masters and a win for England. Then we considered God’s team, followed by people going Leicester gaga, including Emily Maitlis, and the anti-Semitism debate, and then Aston Villa and Newcastle, aka Dim and Dimmer. Next up was the BBC White Paper, mushy peas and rugby league.Then A Question of Sport touch a nation’s nerve as Jimmy Hill earned a nation’s sympathy. Then Graeme Le Saux rubbed shoulders with Pele, and Rovers. The passing of Ali, recalling Euro 96, and the Derby followed. Then Euro 2016 STARTS and it’s all about Clive, Bilic and Co. Also well worth a read is the most amusing ‘My celebrity death match‘. This piece is also a MUST READ. And so is this one.
And you can follow Martin Kelner on Twitter @MartinKelner