March 29th, 2011

England v Ghana (friendly, 2011)


Students of British and military colonial history will be enthralled to learn that I was one of the leading participants in the Ashanti-British war of 1900-01, in which the British, as ever, prevailed. It was there that I first took Seppings into my employ. I honoured him with the task of being personal bearer of my chamberpot, as the latrines of West Africa were legendarily rank and no place for the repose of the hindquarters of a distinguished officer and gentleman.

The pot, fired under my personal supervision in one of Stoke-On-Trent’s most prestigious kilns, was generous in its dimensions and it was Seppings’s task to run alongside myself and my mount throughout the campaign, bearing the mobile porcelain convenience on his head. Unhappily, on the first day of battle, the pot was holed by a stray bullet from the dusky foe. However, we English are made of stern stuff. I continued to avail of the pot, and Seppings continued to be its bearer, my waste products, liquid and solid, leaking and trickling constantly down his face as he ran at my side. For here, in a nutshell, is the relationship between English master and underling as it has stood for centuries. How we must have confounded the enemy.

The opposition that day, while exuberant in the frontline, dancing and chanting wantonly, showed great defence lapses, and, of course, tactical naivety. So it was in 1901, so it was this evening. It was tactically naïve of these Africans to have agreed to this footballing fixture at all, in which they were sure to suffer a heavy defeat, one which would have them hammering desperately on the doors of the Commonwealth in a manner reminiscent of the American cartoon character Frederick Flintstone,  begging for re-admittance.  For it was the folly of The Gold Coast to declare itself independent in 1957, an act of treachery – for the very language of that name, English, tells us to whom all that gold logically belonged. Instead, they recast themselves with not so much of a nomenclature as a noise: Ghana. Their first bungle, as I understand it, was to reject the Gold Standard in favour of the Cocoa Bean Standard; their history has been ruinous ever since.

There was a delay prior to the Ghanaians entering the tunnel, as they underwent their pre-match, chants, prayers and rituals, one of which no doubt included selecting a member of their team to be sacrificed in order to propitiate their straw and bamboo stick god. Judging by England’s sallies in the first half, this was presumably their left back.

The national anthems showed the humiliatingly vast differences in our nations and cultures. Our own, rendered by the straight-backed flower of our youth sang aloud of the joy it is to be alive, free and English, pulsing with the rhythms of a Sergeant Major bristling and striding slowly up and down the line during a close inspection of the ranks. The Ghanaians’ effort, by contrast, sounded like it had been improvised at the last minute on a handful of dustbin lids on the eve of Independence, which the hapless protectorate must surely have assumed would most likely be vetoed by the Duke of Edinburgh.

The game began with the opposition querulous and agitated but with the English following the example of their pith-helmeted ancestors and firing very high into the air by way of a warning. One does not wish to be “prejudiced” against the Ghanaians – one gives them every chance. But when they send out onto the field a team composed entirely of negroes it merely confirms what many of us had long suspected of them.

What most took their eye, upon my word, was their insolence. There were moments when the home team, quite understandably, stood on aghast as the Ghanaians enjoyed passages of dominance in possession. It was, quite absurdly, as if they, not the English, were wearing the monocles. They compounded their impertinence by making sallies deep into the English domain, approaching closer than any African would have dared in decades back unless carrying a tray bearing a brandy and soda siphon. Their audacity in presuming parity quite took the breath. England were required to fire further shots high into the air.

Fortunately, sanity was restored as Andy Carroll, a fellow who epitomises all the virtues of the modern day Englishman, arrowed home sure and true from the edge of the box. As Conrad might have remarked, had he had the nuanced wit to do so in Heart Of Darkness, this was boiled beef as opposed to boiled missionary. That Mr Carroll pushed over a Ghanaian defender as he positioned to score might be construed by the mewling, pansied do-gooder brigade as “technically a foul”. However, the African fellow was clearly loafing and loitering with no good reason, as his type are wont to. Carroll was as within his rights to push him over as he would have been had he come upon him standing alone on a street corner. In those circumstances, he would have been preventing a certain street robbery; in these, he was preventing England being robbed of a just goal.

Come the second half and England continued to shine. Joleon Lescott was a man who is clearly well used to playing with fire, and did so on many occasions this evening. The aforementioned Andy Carroll demonstrated a touch as sure and formidable as that of an oil tanker guiding a bobbing ping pong ball safely back to shore. It was once again made abundantly clear how necessary a part of the England line-up Frank Lampard is. Mascot Sgnr Capello gawped blankly at events, with no clue as to what was going on, no idea why his handlers had knocked on his caravan door and brought him  out to a football stadium for the second time in just four days.

As for the Ghanaians, they merely amused. First, there is John Pantsil who undoubtedly has no idea why all Englishmen and true laugh heartily every time his name is mentioned. It all reminds me of a fellow, another African, as it turns out, whom we employed in some menial wallah capacity during one of my colonial stints. Queer name, like a lot of his sort. Combinations Mzwele, he was called. We used to call him to the mess every night solely to guffaw in his face for fully 30 minutes. He had no inkling why. It turned out, by the by, that his name actually wasn’t Combinations at all. It was Moses. But of course, there’s nothing funny about the names Moses. Which is why I expect one of the officers called him Combinations instead. Rough, English, good-humoured logic at work in the field.

There was also a diversion extremely late on when their Number Three found himself, to his shock and panic, with the ball at his feet at the edge of the England penalty box. As jolly English defenders chuckled at his predicament, he tripped over his feet, swung and flailed and eventually hoofed at the ball, with hilarious consequences – the ball landed inadvertently in the England net. Of course, since the whole thing was a bizarre accident, and the English defence quite obviously would have seen off any seriously intended attempt at goal, it will undoubtedly be stricken from the record.

A fine and instructive occasion, marred only by the attitude of the disquietingly numerous Ghanaian supporters – even when facing defeat they continued to wave, dance and cheer, quite oblivious to the humiliation the faced as a team, a nation, a people, a continent, a hemisphere. This was quite garishly improper. They should take a leaf from the English supporter who in turn draws upon nature. Consider the potato. Then enlarge that potato in your mind and pull an ill-fitting replica white shirt over it. Then sit the potato in the stands and look on as it chews gum fast and stares with passionless, disgruntled sultana eyes on the field of play, occasionally shouting. “Cut it back – CUT IT BACK – FACK! WORK – CHANNEL! LEFT CHANNEL! GET RID! FACK!” The Ghanaians are aeons away from such an evolved state of spectating. And sadly, as any competent phrenologist would confirm, they are impervious to the English example.

Comments are closed.