November 15th, 2011

England v Sweden (friendly, 2011)


As Seppings informs me, passing the finger around the inside of his collar in that queerly nervous manner of his as he does so, the Sports Department of the Daily Telegraph continue to be engaged in industrial action against their employers, a long-running saga that stretches back decades; this is why, as regular Telegraph readers will be aware, no coverage of international association football has appeared in the paper since 1966. Why they continue to print editions as if the back section has been hastily cut out with a pair of scissors I have no idea, but such is the condition of the journal when presented to me on my platter each morning by my faithful retainer.

I have therefore no recourse, no archive from which to draw in order to revel, in detail, in our many, glorious victories against the Swedes these past few decades. They can exist, therefore, only in the imagination. Our excellent record against these Scandinavians is no surprise, for we, as a nation, are significantly more battle-hardened than they, with two successful world wars under our belt. The Swedes, by contrast, opted for “neutrality” in the last campaign. This is a stain on their manhood, for which, under the terms of the 1945 armistice, their men of fighting age should have been obliged to go about in dresses, frilly petticoats and second-hand floppy hats cast off by the ladies of Ascot, until further notice. As ever, sadly, excessive leniency carried the day.

It is not that the Swedes would be much use in the war; one might as well carry into battle actual swedes and hurled them at oncoming Panzer tanks. It galls, however, as each Remembrance Day passes, to think what such a ceremony would be like in Stockholm. For it is known that they sustained a single casualty in World War II; an unemployed trawlerman who out of curiosity, put out to water in order to have a closer look at what the fighting, only to be upended by a passing German submarine. Other nations have their Tombs to the Unknown Soldier; Sweden would have its own to the All Too Well Known Civilian – Olaf, justifiably known to one and all in Stockholm as the town cretin.

It was against such a race of Nordic n’er-do-wells (especially not against England) that our bulldogs were pitted this evening. The National Anthems told their usual tale of gross disparity. Our own was belted out with customary gusto and precise diction by every man jack of our players as the camera passed down the line; lip-reading John Terry on the television set, it was perfectly obvious what words were coming out of his mouth. As for the Swedes, their own, self-defeating, ponderous dirge, a sort of musical retreat from Moscow, was about as uplifting as a four hour black and white film set on a small island outside Stockholm about a depressed man, a blonde girl and an imaginary spider in which car chases figure not at all.

The game began at a swift pelt, on England’s part at any rate. The Swedes, whose singular shirts in part made up for the failure of the 1945 armistice, seemed somewhat distracted, staring at their own goalmouth as if still astonished that they hadn’t been required to assemble their goalposts themselves with an allen key from a flatpack bearing the word PNARKK. Their “star” player was one Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a galumphing, overrated, ineffectual Northern European oaf, who as such looked quite of place on an English football field.

Quite unlike our own boys; Theo Walcott looked lively as ever, though given that he is not yet at an age where he can take a driving test, it was wise of his colleagues not to entrust him with the ball. Phil Jones made his customary surging runs forward, with all the restraint and composure of a young farmhand being pursued downhill by his own, runaway tractor and faced with the imminent prospect of having to hurl himself over a dry stone wall into a pigsty. Frank Lampard, it eventually became evident, was not playing, but glancing around the stadium, you sensed what he brings to the team. Those were not empty seats; they were occupied by the spirit of Frank Lampard. Certain aspects of our play could be described as “agricultural”, but given that we are the country that gave agriculture to the world, back in the early 20th century, as countless black and white photographs attest, this was quite in order.

Our effortless efforts were crowned, naturally with a goal. Gareth Barry met an incoming cross with a facial expression that in no way resembled that of an urchin bracing himself for a slap on the head from a schoolmaster and dispatched the ball into the net in precise accordance with his expectations.

Come the second half, and England were so in control they could afford to replace their keeper with the noted European historian Timothy Garton Ash. Despite frequent invitations from our defence to let them show what they were made of in front of goal, the spirit of neutrality ran through their veins like custard. Meanwhile, at the other end, a special word must be accorded to Bobby Zamora, whose performance in an England shirt drew many a gasp; “Bobby Zamora? England??” Pay no heed to his hue; he is veritably the “British Bobby”, with all the attendant competence that entails, patrolling the beat on the forward line, turning up for the ball often within minutes. With the Wembley nets under strain from having been called into action twice in four days, it was considerate of him, in these straitened times, not to put them under any further wear and tear, even though at times to do so would have been easier than shooting a fucking dead elephant in the fucking arse with a fucking blunderbuss from fucking point blank fucking range.

Yet another win against opponents whose warrior pre-eminence has long since joined their ancestors in Valhalla. However, the last word should go to Mr Roy Keane, who, when considering the natural impediment of his nationality, is emerging as one of the more intelligent commentators on the Commercial Broadcasting Channel. “There’s been a lot of nonsense written about John Terry”, he opined, this night. Quite so. A lot of nonsense indeed. That what has been written about him is a series of factual, verified and well-documented incidents involving his person does not make it any the less nonsense. It is a nonsense that such things are factually true about an English footballer, one which calls the very concept of the Fact itself into question.

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