September 2nd, 2011

England v Bulgaria (Euro 2012 qualifier, 2011)


In the 9th century, Krum, the Khan of Bulgaria, defeated the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros I at the Varbica pass. As token of his victory, he had the skull of his slain foe lined with silver and used as a wine cup. In our own times, I should not recommend that John Terry, England’s own veritable captain and Khan, insist that his Bulgarian counterpart’s skull be similarly hollowed out and made into such a vessel; I have tasted Bulgarian wine. In a rash act of cruelty towards my manservant Seppings, I made him finish the bottle. This ill-treatment troubles my conscience to this day.

The thrashing of Bulgaria is not so much a victory, in truth, as a formality, part of the warp and weft of European history, stretching back to the 12th century. Since then, it has been a part of the rite of passage for any growing European entity or empire, be they the Turks, the Russians or the Germans, to thrash the Bulgarians en route to regional dominance. Tonight, it was the turn of Gary Cahill to administer his own swipe, by way of a “blooding”. Thrashing is the very rhythm of Bulgarian life and culture, and has been so for centuries. By their tanned hides shall you know these people. And so it duly was tonight. It might well have been said, by way of diversion by our variety hall comedians, that “If England don’t win tonight I’ll eat me perishin’ hat!” The Bulgarians,  in mournful contrast, doomed to perpetual defeat, did eat their own hats, as they do every night; their national dish is Baklava, a form of sensible headjoy, rather than reckless sustenance, in the rest of Europe.

The National Anthems marked the vast difference between a supreme and a sub-people. Our own was as loin-tingling as ever, the playing of which is well known to have had a bracingly Viagrian effect on our own Prince Philip over the decades, producing four fine children. One imagined a trouserly ascension in the Grand old Duke as our boys bellowed it out tonight, even in these, the Autumn of his years. As for the Bulgarian anthem, it was an ominous, flaccid dirge, full of foreboding, as if rumour had spread of a national beetroot shortage, or a failure to meet quarterly targets in the production of latrine mops.

The game began at a terrific clip; men against dogs. The Bulgarians regarded the ball as if it were some fascinating, otherworldly object of which they were doomed never to have possession, like a pair of denim jeans or a transistor radio. Our boys pranced among them like cavalrymen gaily torching the villages of bewildered, enserfed Eastern European peasantry. Stewart Downing was a luxury, one, unlike the average Bulgarian, we could well afford. Joe Hart, keeping goal, would be quite entitled, this coming Monday, to barge aside the hopeful queue of Bulgarian asylum seekers and apply for Unemployment Benefit for the 90 minutes he spent idle this evening. Theo Walcott once again comported himself with the sporadic excellence of a lad who may blossom into a great player once he reaches puberty. As for Frank Lampard, he was not selected for the first eleven – it would be an insult to him to be selected for such a petty chore as tonight’s game – but it is a tribute to him that he contributed no less than usual on the field of play.

Of course, the hero of the evening was Wayne Rooney. It has been widely reported, with much mirth in the yellow press and beyond, that he has availed of hair replacement surgery. Headlines will doubtless ensue such as “HAIR WE GO”, THATCH MY BOY”, “WEAVE DONE IT”, ROONEY TAKES HAIRPIECE AGAINST RUBBISH OPPOSITION”, ROONEY SHOWS NO SIGN OF WIG-NESS”, “HELL TOUPEE FOR BULGARIANS” and ROONEY SCORES TWO GOALS DESPITE LOOKING LIKE CUNT” but of one thing there is no doubt; in ten years time, he will be enormously fat. Fat on success.

The game was effectively over at half time; it is an insult that England were pedantically obliged by UEFA jobsworths to turn out for the second half, rather than be whisked home by military plane so as not to have to endure 45 more minutes of the stench of Sofia, the stench of defeat and of attempting to manufacture soap from cabbage extract. However, play on we did, in a markedly sarcastic manner. The latter stages were marred by racialist, Simean chanting by sections of the Bulgarian support. This was bemusing, especially coming a people who are so consistently bottom of Europe’s racial league table that it is a wonder that they have not been relegated to the Zoological Division. Who, of all people, are they to jeer? It was as if one of their number had taken to the pitch carting a wheelbarrow full of Bulgarian currency and taunted Rooney; “Look! See, I buy one cup your Leicester Square coffee easy, bigtime!”

Lothar Matthaus later apologised. This was appropriate, of course. It later transpired, however, that he apologised because he is actually affiliated to the Bulgarian team, in the capacity of manager. This came as a surprise – but of course, this only shows that when it comes to England, foreigners band together in jealous, baleful hostility regardless of their own nationality. As for England, we have only English managers. Mascots such as Capello do not count, nor do gardeners widely mistaken for managers on account of their deceptively profound utterances count either. (Red faces and media blackouts all round when Mr Eriksson finally declared, “Look, I am Sven from Sweden, my job is to water the indoor plants at Soho Square, why do you keep asking me about Ecuador?”)

Further good news emerged when it turned out that the Welsh had beaten group rivals Montenegro, for which large sections of the media congratulated them, out of natural fealty to Prince Charles, their goals the property of the Crown. However, I should not discount this being a botched attempt on the part of those resentful, Harlech blackguards to deliberately lose the match, so as to thwart their English masters. When it comes to the Welsh scoring two goals in the same game, it can best be marked down to accident, or “cock-up” rather than conspiracy.

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