May 26th, 2012

England v Norway (friendly, 2012)


It is the custom, each Christmas (as we are no longer allowed to call it, thanks to a certain Mr Livingstone) for the country of Norway to present England with a tree, which takes its place in Trafalgar Square. This is in gratitude for what they refer to, with revolting Scandinavian understatement, as the “assistance” provided by English forces towards their country in World War II. A single tree. Some countries might express their gratitude for saving them from utter oblivion and life beneath the grinding heel of an oppressor with, let us say, the profits of 75% of their country’s oil deposits granted in perpetuity to the crown, but no; a single, paltry tree. Certainly, this is an improvement on some other nations; take Jamaica, for example, to whom we English brought order, stability and the good habits of civil society but who do not give us so much as an annual hedge. All the same, however; a tree. How the statue of Lord Nelson must gaze in petrified fury each year upon that tree, wishing it had the capacity for urination.

Fortunately, the Norwegian back four were a great deal more generous in their dealings with England but then defence has never been their forte. Needless to say, their wartime performances in the major campaigns have been atrocious; as the country’s single painting depicts, their posture in times of invasion is to stand on a bridge and scream like a woman. (It is the work of one Edvard Munch, though to look upon it, one could as easily expect it to bear the signature, “Joshua, 6 1/2”). They have a monarch of sorts; he goes by the name of Harald. Unlike our own Queen, who offers pivotal leadership on the world stage, theirs merely cycles about near the harbour front, waving to tourists or assisting them in finding their way to the nearest herring cannery or suicide farm.

The National Anthems told the story of the disparity between geographically sensibly central England and the ludicrously northernmost Norway, whose frightfulness I encapsulated in a couplet worked up in my Varsity smoker days in the 1880s – “What the devil are you doing all the way up there?/Catching your death of cold, not that we care.” Our own is so utterly arousing that one is moved to walk briskly to the edge of one’s grounds, make a small hole in the soil and proceed to make love to one’s own country. The Norwegian effort, by contrast sounded like nothing so much as a succession of brass and stringed instruments falling off the back of a cart. Still worse, its verses exhibited a morbidly exclusive obsession with the fortunes of its own country, which is ill-becoming, to say the least.

The game began, and before you could say the full name of the country’s current Prime Minister, just nine minutes in, England were one up, the goal scored by Ashley Young, who is black, but it was allowed to stand. A Mr Roy Hodgson looked on. Much has been made of his appointment as England janitor-cum-kitman; it is his job, among others, to see that the players’ shirts are folded and laid out to a razor crispness and their boots dubbined to a high shine. There has been some controversy that a fellow of his low, coarse pedigree should be deemed fit to screw in the studs of English noblemen like Stewart Downing but time will tell whether he is competent for his chores. The controversy over the job of England manager, meanwhile, still simmers; I am of the view that so perfectly organised, so able to adapt and shift formation regardless of the opposition are our eleven men that such a post is superfluous. On team listings as they appear on our television screens, where, for example, in the case of the Italian team it reads MANAGER: LUIGI SPAGHETTI, for England, that space should be occupied by the words MONARCH: ELIZABETH II.

A goal to the good, England pressed on, with great verve and aplomb, despite playing on a surface that looked like it had recently been the site of an oat harvest. Leighton Baines reminded us that he is no obscure stop on the London Central line somewhere between Epping and Ongar but a formidable stopper of impertinent foreign forwards. Scott Parker made the sort of impact he always seems to make for England – in this respect, he deputised perfectly for Frank Lampard. Andy Carroll has been reproved in the past for his behaviour – assaults, common or otherwise, drunkenness, and so forth. He displayed here that he is a reformed character, quietly minding his own business, a threat to nobody. James Milner’s performance conjured up, as ever, those two words “James Milner”. As for Phil Jones, he charges forward time and again with the air of a hulking farmhand, who, overcome with homebrewed scrumpy, has attempted to ignite his own flatulence, inadvertently set fire to his trousers and is now frantically searching the countryside for a pond, or large puddle into which to thrust his burning hindquarters. However, it was the performance of Captain Steven Gerrard which caught the eye. Mindful that it was Janitor Roy’s first match in charge of equipment and wishing not to create excess scuffing, he launched himself into a tackle on a Norwegian defender in which neither his boot nor any other part of his kit made contact with the ground. Some might say that this was typical of a fucking player with a bucket of fucking blood for a fucking brain and all the fucking positional sense of a fucking Scud missile launched by a drunken fucking Mexican on fucking fiesta night but his consideration for his Cockney underling is commendable.

A word, too, for Theo Walcott; what fear he must have struck into Norwegian hearts as he ran up and down the far touchline alone, in preparation for entering the field of play. I shared this cheering thought with Seppings, only for him to observe, diffidently, that in fact this was Theo Walcott actually on the field of play, for which he received the sting of my riding crop.

An excellent and most absorbing contest then; a masterclass to the foreigner in deportment, skill, superiority, beef, both of the corned and prime variety, all marinated in the finest spunk. Had the Norwegians any grace, they would send an extra tree annually to stand in the lobby of the English FA, for the assistance with which we provided them this evening in showing them how to play the game. But then, there is as little chance of that happening as there is of their returning to us the North Pole, swiped from under our noses by their fellow Amundsen, rightfully the property of our own Mr Scott, almost as effective a Captain as Mr Gerrard.

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