England 3 – 2 Scotland: Frankly Vulgar Matchday #3

Rickie Lambert, pictured here with giant tracksuited owl behind him. (Photo: Telegraph)

Rickie Lambert, pictured here with giant tracksuited owl behind him. (Photo: Telegraph)

Alan Partridge would describe this as a ruddy good football match. Thankfully for both you (the reader) and I (me), I’m not Alan Partridge, so I will have to spend the next 5 paragraphs describing this match without recourse to the word ‘ruddy’. Partridge aside, this was a bloody good football match and arguably the most entertaining friendly England have played in a long time. Much of the match was defined less by England than by their Scottish opponents who gave a seriously pugilistic account of themselves here at Wembley. In fact, I’d written a long and elegiac match report about just how great Scotland were.

Then Rickie Lambert went all Roy of the Rovers on me.

Rickie Lambert scored his first goal, a powerfully directed header, for England yesterday with his first touch after coming on as a second half-substitute for Wayne Rooney. Rickie Lambert is 31 and not long ago had a job screwing lids on the top of jars of beetroot.

“I couldn’t get a club anywhere, I was training at Macclesfield without a contract and I didn’t have any money so I had to had to earn some by (working in) a factory. It was a beetroot factory. I don’t even like beetroot!” – Lambert

Now he is winning matches for England. Stories like Lambert’s are why football is the most popular sport in the world. Now before I get even more sentimental lets talk about Scotland, a country which is pretty difficult to get sentimental about unless you are noted ham actor and fascist, Mel ‘FREEEEEDOM’ Gibson.

International friendlies are usually an exercise in pointless corporate bullshit and incredibly boring football. The clear animosity felt by Scotland and their fans towards the English lifted this encounter into a far less dismal realm.

Manager Gordon Strachan who on the night looked like a cross between Boris Becker’s nan, a glazed ham and a giant walking wasp sting, has reinvigorated Scotland since he took the team over in January and this progression was clearly shown against England. Captain Scott Brown was a study in ferocity, bald and snapping like a turbo-charged turtle alongside his more cultured midfield partner James Morrison. Both were particularly dynamic and assertive in the opening half-hour, when Scotland had their best period in the game.

Joe Hart, clad in an embarrassing kit that made him look like an irradiated banana, was almost entirely at fault for Scotland’s first goal. It has to be worrying for both England and Manchester City that high-profile mistakes are becoming increasingly common for Hart. The aforementioned Morrison received a clearance from a Scottish corner and with Theo Walcott failing to even flail in the way of him, took a fairly straightforward shot from the edge of the box, straight in the direction of Hart who had to fuck up spectacularly in order to allow the ball past him and into the net. Which is exactly what he did.

The 20,000 Scots in Wembley duly went completely batshit, fuelled not only by the joy of taking the lead against the hated English but by an afternoon well spent doing this to Trafalgar Square:

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Furthermore those 20,000 Jocks present yesterday managed to unequivocally shut that shite brass band up for most of the match – I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them on behalf of all right thinking English football fans everywhere for this unassuming service.

England started poorly and looked toothless, unable to make use of some intelligent running from Theo Walcott or Jack Wilshere’s ability to turn and beat players in tight spaces. Instead they relied on the rapidly calcifying Steven Gerrard to spray and wedge pointless sideways passes to Kyle Walker or Leighton Baines in areas where neither was able to threaten Scotland.

Gerrard might have his uses as a leader and a deliverer of lavish set-pieces but the fact he was made to look so unauthoritative by Scotland’s midfield may give Roy Hodgson doubts about whether Gerrard ought to automatically start for England should they qualify for next year’s World Cup.

England’s Lazarus act began in the 26th minute when a neat exchange between Rooney and Tom Cleverley fashioned a first proper chance for the home side. Moments later it was Cleverley’s supple pass that put Walcott in behind Steven Whittaker and despite a dodgy succession of touches, the Arsenal forward was able to finish smartly past McGregor.

England’s leveler was an injunction that ignited Rooney’s interest in the game, after he spent most of the opening half hour looking as angry as an old man who’s golfing holiday had been interrupted by his teenage daughter’s unplanned pregnancy. A clever interchange with Welbeck led to a shot that almost crept past McGregor, and a dubious offside decision late in the first half prevented him from scoring his 9th goal in his last 10 England appearances.

Kenny Miller’s turn and surging dispatchment gave Scotland the lead and hope of a profound victory in the second half; a goal notable for the dummy Miller sold Gary Cahill, a dummy that the Chelsea centre-half bought so thoroughly that he probably didn’t even ask for a receipt.

England were roused by this affront, like some great cantankerous sea beast brushed by a school of fish. The response was swift – Welbeck heading a classy Gerrard free kick into the net within five minutes of Miller scoring. England continued to clank through the gears, threatened occasionally by the running of Naismith and Miller, until Lambert got his improbable debut goal twenty minutes before the end to give England a tenuous win.

Promising for the Gordon Stachan’s men; Roy Hodgson will be hoping that his side can improve before the crucial World Cup qualifiers they face before the end of the year.

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Manchester United 2 – 0 Wigan Athletic: Frankly Vulgar Matchday #2

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There are very few photos in existence that show the new chairman of The Football Association, Greg Dyke, looking this happy.

 

These big showpiece FA events are about as much fun as watching a ‘classic’ (e.g. a repeat) edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and generally about as memorable as the last thing Justin Bieber tweeted (incidentally his last tweet was this: “WE ON A BREAK!! #restandrelaxation – #unlessIhitthestudio” – I’m sure historians everywhere will be scrabbling to note that down for posterity). 

Today’s Community Shield match between Manchester United and Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium wasn’t much of an exception. A few old guys (who on this occasion looked a bit like the Chuckle Brothers) shuffle past the players offering weak handshakes, presumably just before being ushered to a euthanasia booth somewhere. Then the national anthem (that po-faced hymnal to our pointless monarchy) is sung, not by the fans, but by some opera singer who thinks she’s at the Super Bowl. If you happen to be on Twitter when one of these things starts brace yourself for the only actual legacy of the Olympics: a barrage of somnolent “jokes” about when Emeli Sandé will turn up to belt out that bloody Professor Green song

The actual match was decided by two goals from Robin Van Persie, underlining just how important he will be to ‘Man Yoo’ as they get ready for a post-Rooney future. The first, a languid header sent past Scott Carson just inside the right-hand post, was a typical example of his superb technical ability and his ghostly accuracy. The second which came just before the hour, was a scrappier affair. After some neat build-up play from United, Van Persie received the ball on the edge of the Wigan area, dropped a shoulder and shrugged the ball past Carson with the help of a deflection off James Perch. 

Looking at the starting teams I had a masochists excitement when I saw that Phil Jones and Grant Holt would be having what can be described as a fugly-off with each other. Such a clash would not be out of place on a mud-sodden battlefield during the Wars of The Roses, given the mutual, lumbering Englishness of their styles. Alas the promised confrontation never really arrived, principally because Wigan (unlike Holt’s former team Norwich) have not yet adjusted their game to get the best out of the big lad. 

New look Wigan are a very different prospect from the silkily doomed side managed by Roberto Martinez last term. Owen Coyle is building a side as British as getting savagely glassed on a freezing August evening in Leeds City Centre after a big night of binge drinking. His approach is typified by summer signings like Holt, Crainey, Perch, Carson and Barnett. Pick of the bunch is young James McClean, freshly arrived from Sunderland,  an Irish pugilist who specializes in running in straight lines and pushing people, qualities which ought to lead to great success for him in English football’s second tier. 

In fact, Wigan’s best chance of the game was created by McClean, who fired the ball dangerously across the six yard box after Smalling misjudged a long pass from Crainey. The cross/shot couldn’t be met by Holt, when only a touch would have plundered a cheap goal for the Latics. Set-pieces, long balls and looping crosses, nothing too fancy for Coyle and Wigan. 

United’s win was merely whelming. 39-year-old Ryan Giggs started here, still astonishingly pert and wiry, still urbane in his passing and movement, still inevitably amongst the best players on the pitch almost every time he plays. Ostensibly this is good for United, but it is also symptomatic of their weaknesses in midfield that their best player in that area (beige pass-o-meter Michael Carrick aside) will be 40 in November. It is actually difficult to imagine United not having a crap midfield, and even more difficult to imagine a player as accomplished as Cesc Fabregas taking touchline orders from new assistant coach Phil Neville. 

These pronounced weaknesses in midfield are a gnawing problem that David Moyes will have thought about long before the short period on either side of half-time when Wigan’s tinpot midfield was on top of United’s.

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David Moyes and Malcolm Tucker (above) have never been pictured together. Coincidence?

 

 

With the amount of opprobrium and obloquy that surely lies in wait for Moyes this season I almost expected his shirt to be blood red, prepared for all the knives and arrows that will be aimed at him, waiting for the first inevitable slip-up. As soon as that first fuck up comes I fully expect some clichéd American army guy (played by Stephan Lang) to appear at any moment just to fatuously utter in Moyes’ ear: “Davey, you ain’t in Kansas anymore.”  

Right now he is the mini-Ferg, the diet-Ferg – same stripey tie, same gum but will there be the same results, the same relentless ability to win that characterized real-Ferg? A look of distinct discomfort was briefly visible on Moyes’ face as he lifted his first trophy, before he returned to looking like a slightly healthier Malcolm Tucker. 

 

QPR 2 – 1 Sheffield Wednesday: Frankly Vulgar Matchday #1

Joey Barton. A triffic lad and the right sort by all accounts.

Joey Barton. A triffic lad and the right sort by all accounts.

Is it possible to make a triumphant return to the Championship? Surely such wordplay is an oxymoron, particularly given the circumstances in which QPR sunk to English football’s second tier last season. This quibble about words is nothing more than a thought experiment anyway, as QPR’s win yesterday was not particularly triumphal. A performance marked by some promise and a little awkwardness is unlikely to have the likes of Wigan and Watford running scared just yet.

In a packed and surprisingly jovial Loftus Road there was initially little sign of the trepidation that might be expected given that on the last two opening days Rangers managed to concede an impressive 9 goals without reply. The faithful even managed to loudly cheer the odious Joey Barton’s name from the outset. Nobody even having the temerity to abuse Joey for the rather Tevez-ish alice band he was sporting (clearly he feels entitled to such a dismal accessory after spending some time as a ‘continental’). They were rewarded with a reserved sort of sub-Beckham display from his position tucked in on the right wing, where he delivered a succession of ruminative passes and crosses until he was substituted in the second half. There was even the bizarre sight of Barton and the man he once described as a ‘pub player’, new signing Karl Henry, chatting happily with each other during a break in play. A forgiving mood was indeed abroad.

A mood punctured when Wednesday’s large and menacing striker Atdhe Nuhiu opened the scoring in the 19th minute. I feel a great deal of responsibility for the goal itself, due to a perverse, reverse curse of the casual commentator. As Nuhiu picked up the ball on the edge of the box I noted what an impressive start to the game he had made, he then of course spiralled the ball past Rob Green’s paw. Oh dear Will. There followed a pregnant twenty minutes that seemed to promise the rebirth of all the ugly feeling that had festered at QPR in previous months. As Barton and Alejandro Faurlin sent overly lavish passes into the stands one could sense the pressure of the previous season on all involved at QPR. ‘Arry Redknapp’s face was the colour of a slowly setting Hawaiian sunset and this condition was not just down to the heat of such a fine summer’s day.

Thankfully Rangers picked up and scored two quick goals to take the lead, first was Nedum Onuoha’s tap-in, celebrated with all the panache of a man wandering to the fridge to see if there is any milk left, and followed by a neat strike from the lesser-spotted Andy Johnson. The latter looked sharp throughout the match giving his best impression of an angry gnome chasing confused mammalian intruders from his favourite garden patch. Johnson, with his tendency to make Louis Saha look like the patron saint of physical fitness, will be an important asset to QPR if he manages to stay on the pitch and out of the physio’s room.

I’m required in the interests of fairness to say something about Sheffield Wednesday. Their wonderfully priggish and priapic away support was certainly refreshing after two seasons of mostly crap fans from The Best League In The World™ – good effort gentlemen. What was less refreshing was the return of the lamentable former Cardiff boss Dave Jones to Loftus Road. Jones, his fat face now resembling a cross between the owl that adorns Wednesday’s crest and Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, used his post match comments to make dubious remarks concerning two “penalties” he felt should have been awarded to his side during the game.

“It’s an embarrassment for the officials to miss two clear-cut penalties” blathered Jones. “We’ve been told by the League Managers Association and the Referee’s Society not to talk about it but something has to be done. How does he miss it?”

It’s safe to say Jones is one of those perennial Championship annoyances that I have not missed. A decent if unspectacular start for QPR though, although far better teams than Jones’ tinpot outfit lie in wait.

Star Man: Chris Kirkland really stood out. I read before the game that Wednesday’s keeper had almost single handedly kept them in the division last season and on the basis of this display it was easy to see why. Junior Hoilett impressed for QPR, looking particularly spritely in the first half.

The Kind People have a Wonderful Dream – Thatcher’s Funeral

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Mastur-weeping: how the Chancellor rolls. (Photo from the Mirror.)

Yesterday was Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. You could almost hear Paul Dacre weeping as he masturbated. You could actually see George Osborne doing the very same thing during the service, live on national television.

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Guns. Lots of guns. Nothing says funeral as much as a shit load of guns.

London felt cold and hermetic yesterday. The sun dutifully refusing to break through the slate sky that Maggie made her final journey under. The usual modes of governance seemed to cease for the day, no PMQs, no toiling of Big Ben – instead the hawkish buzz of news copters and the sallow blue uniforms of the police and military lit by up by gunmetal. The minutes before and during the procession were a ten million pound suspension, a time machine, old Maggie allowed to hold office one last time. For a couple of hours Britain was a necrocracy, a mausolocracy.

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Spot the odd one out.

A old P.E. teacher of mine, a former marine, had a story about Maggie coming to their base and inspecting the troops – “My back has never been straighter” he would say proudly. According to him she was the strongest, the toughest Prime Minister we ever had, strength being the only quality he seemed to really appreciate. Yesterday I wondered whether he was near me somewhere on Fleet Street, ready to straighten that back again in respect and admiration for a final inspection.

Those who lined the route yesterday were called Thatcher’s ‘supporters’ by the media. This was partly true. There was a fat man in a dark suit sitting atop a red telephone box, legs outstretched like a parachutist, shouting and yelling and clapping “GO ON MAGGIE”. What a patriot. As if her passage to St. Pauls and then to be cremated was some necrotic team sport. Cheering the little box as it went by seemed inappropriate to me regardless of any political opinions.

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Everyone is a historian on days like this.

I wasn’t there as a ‘supporter’, like most others I came simply to observe the spectacle, to pay homage not to Thatcher but to the death of the kind of politician she represented. In a world of suits, deference and consensus her species has ceased to exist, the politician with conviction who allows it to drive decision making. The number of pictures taken and films made yesterday along the barrier at Fleet Street is a testament to this feeling.

In the last week we have been told countless times that we are ‘Thatcher’s Children’, but she was a matriarch not a mother. The applause as she rolled past yesterday was scattered – the applause given to one who is respected, not loved. How very British it was  to depart the world in such a way, to such strained and muted politeness.