September 3rd, 2010

England v Bulgaria (Euro 2012 qualifier, 2010)


Last week, upon dining in the Great Hall, I happened to notice a small stain on my fishfork. I did not overreact, like some Turkish despot but responded in a measured but firm manner. I summoned Seppings, pointed out the blemish on the offending cutlery, then, setting aside my napkin, proceeded to tie him by the ankles from the chandelier that hangs above the dining table, and set about his head and body with my stoutest Zulu knobkerrie. I then dragged him half-naked out into the gardens, attached him to the rear of the lawnmower and pootled up and down the gravel pathway at high speed until he was rendered nicely raw. Whereupon I prepared him a vinegar bath. Finally, for good measure, I trundled out the giant catapult, hoist him into the spoon and took aim, with a view to projecting him into the cesspit. Would that I had had Frank Lampard perform the task for my aim was poor; the fellow splatted face first into the side wall of the coal bunker.

It was precisely this sort of treatment that England meted out to the Bulgarians on Friday night – emphatic corporal punishment delivered in an altruistic manner, in order to teach them a lesson about precisely where they languish in the footballing scheme of things. For this is a country for whom being battered is as natural as it is a dead fish. In 1913, in the Second Balkan War, for example, all of Bulgaria’s neighbours rose up and trounced her, by way of a warm-up for the First World War, in which the Bulgarians performed with an ignominious lack of distinction once again. But then, what can be expected of a nation whose national dish is pulped newspaper dumplings stewed in cow’s blood, whose combined plumbing and sewerage system is, to all intents and purposes the Danube, whose principal source of winter fuel is their own currency, and whose principal trade, undertaken in the main square in Sofia, is in attempting, unsuccessfully, to sell each other bric-a-brac commemorating in gruesomely sycophantic terms, the 25th wedding anniversary of Mr and Mrs Leonid Brezhnev?

The National Anthems were the measure of the disparity. Our own, of course, delivered like a Steven Gerrard pass, with such gusto that was not confined to the stadium but sailed up and out beyond it; the opposition, a hymn of praise to their landscape as bizarre, though not unheard of, a a Bulgarian farmer willingly betrothed to a bail of hay.

The game began at a cracking clip, the Bulgarians, hampered by the residual newspaper ink lingering in their lower intestines, rather slower on the uptake. The referee was doubtless under instructions from the English FA to be on the lookout for Bulgarian dirty tricks – the niggly dig of the elbow at set pieces, the exaggerated dive, the umbrella jabbed in the back of the thigh. Bulgaria does have one professional footballer, a Mr Dimitar Berbatov, granted asylum by Manchester United some years ago, but he has retired from international football to concentrate on his smoking.

Within minutes, as adept at making passes on the field as he is unaccustomed to making them off the field to prostitutes who are quite clearly gonna be on the blower to the fucking News Of The World before they’ve even hosed themselves down and to peel apart the viscous batch of £50 notes he’s pulled out of his jeans pocket, I mean, really, you stupid, hairy egg-like cunt, is there really nothing going up there other than fucking hair loss? – Wayne Rooney had put through Jermain Defoe to open his account.

Defoe’s performance on the night made a mockery of his skin colour – not in the sense I myself used to do in Smokers during my Varsity days, corked up to the hilt, in the days before the tyranny established by Mr Benjamin Elton suppressed all freedom of expression in the United Kingdom. Rather, his performance was of an altogether higher pigmentation. But he was not the only player to shine. Adam Johnson showed that he has all the credentials to slot right into the England team – head down, blaze wide when you’ve got two unmarked players to your left. Glenn Johnson demonstrated throughout the game a full range of concentration levels, Steven Gerrard was imperious in midfield, spraying phlegm all around the pitch, while Frank Lampard has discovered a role in which he is of maximum use to the England team.

Time and again, England charged through the Bulgarian defence, like cavalrymen through a women and children’s refugee camp, upturning cooking pots, scattering rags attached to washing lines to the winds, trampling small dogs beneath their hooves. At the match’s end, the Bulgarian players were frisked for chamois leathers, lest the blighters be thinking of melting discreetly into our workforce,  before their deportation was arranged. There is no need for their valet services here – the back seats of English cars, in particular that of Mr Rooney, remain resolutely unstained. We are family men.

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