September 7th, 2010

England v Switzerland (Euro 2012 qualifier, 2010)


Last night, I had the most queer and disconcerting nightmare. The scene was South Africa and the recent World Cup. In the fevered fancy of my nocturnal state, the England team, far from crushing the opposition as is their real life wont, played like a pack of overprivileged, arrogant, yet fundamentally invertebrate cowards, either too stupid or too full of themselves to take tactical instructions. In the mists of my phantasm, they played collectively coated in a cold sweat of anxiety, anxiety that without the foreign players in their Premier League teams there to cover and compensate for their pitiful technical inadequacies, they were in constant danger of being found out by even the meanest minnows of footballing nations who’d at least grasped the basics of retaining possession and passing the ball along the ground.

As my head doubtless thrashed about on my pillow, visions danced before me of Wayne Rooney playing with the indignant confusion of a man who was suddenly required to wash his own socks and cook his own breakfast for the first time in his adult life, of Steven Gerrard floundering in some mysterious other-world in which he had to cope without the not ridiculously unwarranted forcefield of hype and reverence that customarily surrounds him, of John Terry – John Terry! – being exposed as an egotistical, troublemaking tossrag who’d fatally and pathetically overestimated both his worth on the field and his influence off it, being outflanked and humiliated by Signor Capello – the team mascot, for Heaven’s sake! – a scenario as preposterous as that of Mr Basil Fawlty, of the light entertainment series Fawlty Towers being forced to grovel apologetically and tie the shoelaces of the waiter Manuel.

In this hellish and hideously absurd manifestation of the disturbed unconscious, England were forced to return home early, their imperial delusions that they could dominate the world with their olde world, gunboat footballing tactics in tatters, yet still in glazed denial about their shortcomings, howlingly exposed in plain sight as they were by the Germans, whose youth had taught our clumsy old men a footballing lesson, exposing them for the fumbling, slow-moving, testosterone-warped, overrated, undertaxed, irreflective, clubfooted, pigbrained, boorish, cosseted, arse-faced bunch of News Of The World exposes waiting to happen and all-round tit-faced twats that they were.

At last, I woke up, roused by Seppings, who, for want of any other manservant to hand, I punched hard in the face, then came to. Ah, but it had all been a dream, indeed, doubtless brought on by the Gruyere I consumed late last night before repairing to my bedchambers. A Swiss cheese. Well, revenge for my torment would be exacted upon this nation whose idea of percussive instruments is each other’s leatherbound arses, whose idea of a receptacle for alcoholic beverage is not a pewter tankard but a small barrel attached to a large dog. Pewter tankards versus small barrels attached to large dogs – that was what was at stake tonight.

The National Anthems marked the gross differences in quality between these two footballing nations. Our own, which would have only been improved, I’d suggest, by our players standing with loaded rifles presented, to be fired at random into the crowd upon the conclusion of the final verse. As for the Swiss’s wan effort, it is clear why this nation invented watches – in order to have something to look at, repeatedly, throughout its tedious duration in the hope of its imminent conclusion.

There might be those among you, excessively inclined to view foreign nations through the prism of outdated stereotypes, to imagine that the Swiss would be capering about the field in Alpine hats. Not so. Whereas we English are of pure blood and pedigree, the modern Swiss type is a mongrel, gone somewhat to seed – typical of a national so liberally inclined that they granted women the vote in 1959 (though I do not believe there are any plans to grant servants the vote, thank goodness). Nowadays, the Swiss are an eclectic rabble, comprising Frenchmen in search of the clean, fresh water and hygiene lacking in their old country, of Germans who lack the mettle to mingle with their own, proud race, of Italians who have wandered into the country by mistake, too busy jabbering to see where they are going and have been unable to find their way out, and of sundry Turks and dishevelled types from the lower Slavic hordes.

And, despite the Swiss inclination towards neutrality manifesting itself if their efforts to try to do the referee’s job before him on every decision, this was a predictable one-sided affair. Wayne Rooney, sporting a new haircut which gave him the stylish air of a fat urchin having been shaved for nits, slotted home early on and for the remainder of the first half, and thereafter the entire team could have retired to the pavilion and taken tea for 20 minutes, so little a threat did the Swiss present. On the one or two occasions when they did sally forth into our penalty area our defence held firm, not for one moment resembling befuddled members of a home guard platoon reduced to panic and almost skewering each other with their fixed bayonets, having mistaken what turned out to be an acorn dropped from a tree for a lobbed grenade.

Come the second half and we were even able to give our teaboy, Adam Johnson, a runout, as well as one or two other members of the travelling catering staff, including a Mr Darren Bent, whom mascot, Signor Capello, introduced to the field of play in error, doubtless in a prank played by his English handlers. Mr Bent looked as surprised as anyone – and he faced stiff competition in that department – when, finding himself in yards of space, alone in the penalty area, he managed to kick the ball into the net, of all places. But such was our superiority by this stage – (I mean to say, the early 21st century, when the English as a race have pulled even further ahead in the evolution stakes) that we could afford to chortle at our inferiors.

There were many good points to emerge from this fixture – Joe Hart certainly doesn’t like look he’s one pimple’s length away from a goalkeeping disaster, Theo Walcott managed to last some ten minutes before sustaining an injury, giving the lie to the idea that Arsenal as a team are a bunch of brittle-boned, milk-averse, calcium-deficient crocks. And finally, Wayne Rooney managed to go almost the whole 90 minutes without once visiting a prostitute. This is English stoicism and restraint at its stoutest.

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