March 26th, 2011

England v Wales (Euro 2012 qualifier, 2011)


At my old prep school in Chichester, as part of our arithmetic studies, all boys were set the following conundrum. “If an Englishman is worth 12 Frenchmen but only three Germans, how many Welshmen is he worth?” It was, as the more astute reader will have already divined, a trick question. For the Welsh, of course, are not men. Those who have railed against the Welsh have, in the past, been accused of “racialism”. However, to distinguish between ourselves and the Welsh is more a form of species-ism – like the difference between man and duck. Yet even that is to flatter the Welsh. For animals have a variety of uses which the Welsh do not. Animals can be kept as domestic pets. The Welsh cannot be thus housetrained. Ask them to “sit” and they merely stare at you balefully; throw a stick in the park and, far from racing off after it, they will simply gawp at you with a sort of dumbfounded indignation, bordering on insolence. This, I should say, is based on my own, first hand dealings with the Welsh.

Moreover, unlike animals, the Welsh are inedible. I have not tried them myself but my friend Aspinall has and he describes them as obnoxiously pungent on the palate, though his portion may have been overcooked. Their sole value, so far as I can see, is as a living example of the Pre-Dawn of Man. The features of Gareth Bale, for example, are a Pitt Rivers museum in themselves, a fascinating study of the crude prototypes of man that existed over half a million years ago, before he discovered fire, the wheel and how to use his own thumbs.

It was against these creatures that England’s doughty nobles were ranged on the field of play this day. It is yet another indictment of UEFA’s absurdly inclusive policy. The Welsh? Who shall we play next, the Picts? But there it was. England were not just representing their country, Her Majesty, or her son, whom she put in charge of the Welsh in order to give him something to do. England were representing homo sapiens as a whole.

The National Anthems showed the difference between the two nations, were the true measure of whose knuckles were closer to the ground. Our own soared like a mighty eagle across the Welsh skies, casting a gimlet, withering eye on the pockmarked landscape below, defecating from aloft in contempt. The Welsh anthem, by contrast, dragged interminably, like a visit to one of the country’s heritage sites on a rainy, August afternoon to be informed about The Many Uses Of Slate (in North Wales, it is considered a sandwich filling).

The game was only a few minutes old before it became abundantly clear that this would have been a good opportunity to give our schoolgirl XI a run-out. England ran through the foe at will, despite an early, unpunished attempt at anal sex on Ashley Cole in the first few minutes, which might have been canine over-enthusiasm on the opposition’s part. The Welsh struggled to acquire the ball, like a language in desperate search of a vowel before its speakers run out of phlegm, but to no avail. Our beefeater midfield held firm.

Despite almost certainly being extremely closely related, the Welsh defence were an ill-co-ordinated bunch. But then, a Welshman playing football is, as Dr Johnson said, like a woman walking on its hind legs – inherently absurd. There are traditionally but two stark choices facing the young Welshman as he stands on the threshold of adult life. Go down the mines – or join the “New Romantic” movement. Either way, your face will be plastered in black. The third choice of association football is simply and evidently not an option, certainly not in a country with such an unstable and uneven landscape. You can’t walk five yards without encountering an enormous hill; sneeze, meanwhile, and you are liable to precipitate a mining disaster.

England were two to the good at half time, with the Welsh failing even to register a shot on goal. Were they fusiliers, they would be court-martialled and shot themselves for utter cowardice, though it would fall to representatives of another nation to take aim at them. As for England, they were the footballing equivalent of Scott Parker’s hair. Dawson was like a stick of rock at the back, Lampard was much praised by all who saw him on the pitch, Glenn Johnson had a braided air of nauseatingly smug self-satisfaction which he has fully earned with his career performances thus far, while Jack Wilshere represented the durably, flinty spirit of English yeomanry, falling over and writhing in tearful agony only twelve times. Rooney’s ability to take up space seems to increase with each passing game.

The sole entertainment of the second half was when a dog came onto the pitch and began running around, to the befuddlement of the English midfield and defence. Eventually, however, the referee soon put a stop to its antics (the creature’s name was Bellamy) and even brandished a yellow card at the hound for excessive yapping.

An effortless victory, then, and affirmation of evolutionary history as it stands. England stand erectus once more, the Welsh considerably less so. In fairness, their confusion in front of goal is explicable, as any goals scored by the Welsh would have counted for the English in any case, lacking as they do any autonomy, being ought but the place where we keep our cottages.

However, there was a burning talking point which preceded the game – the question of the England captaincy. This, of course, is a vital role, far too important to be put to a democratic vote, unlike the relatively trifling matter of who should be Prime Minister. The England Captain, in the erectness of his carriage, the blood in his brains, the contour of his bare thighs must be the bodily epitome of This England. Hence, God himself appoints the England captain, channelling His guidance through whatever rude vessel He should choose to do so.

In this case, it was mascot Fabio Capello, whose comedy Italian stylings are designed to put the team at ease (“Where is a-da- my hat? Oh here it ees. Oh, no, it is a-da-bucket! Mama mia, now I am a-da-all weet!”) Some have blamed Capello for the handling of his most excellent choice but they do not realise that he was being guided in his movements by the Almighty, moving in mysterious ways. As he announced to the press “I reappoint John Terry”, he would have no control over the utterance – it was as if his mouth were operating independently of the rest of his face. As someone who suffers a similar affliction himself, one would have thought that Rio Ferdinand would have understood this.

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