June 11th, 2012

England v France (Euro 2012)


The renegade nation of France is said to lie just 26 miles away, across the Channel. And, certainly, it is a tribute to the self-purifying properties of English chalk that the White Cliffs of Dover are not  slightly off-white, given their proximity to the rancid pungency that is the Gallic wont. However, this is only the unhappy state of affairs if you set your face East. Set it West, towards the Atlantic and beyond, and France is a much more congenial 24,875 miles away. We have been frequent foes, we and the garlic-chomping Dracula-repellers the French, and have all but invariably come out on top. Indeed, had King Harold learned to duck back in the 11th century, we would have a 100% record against them.

They say that the only good Frenchman is a dead Frenchman but even this is untrue. Given their hygienic tendencies in life, in death their stench would be even more frightful. Unless I had a pet budgerigar with a terminal heart ailment in dire need of a transplant, I would have no use whatsoever for a dead Frenchman. One does not wish to resort to the commonplace newspaper cliché of referring to the Second World War when writing football match reports – the ease with which we won that campaign makes for an insulting comparison with the altogether hardier, warrior-like efforts of John Terry and his men. However, it is appropriate to say that when all that it took for France to fall was for their border sentries to spot through their binoculars what turned out to be half a dozen leathered trousered tourists from Cologne on a mountain hike advancing in their direction, whereupon they lay down their arms en masse and put their hands on their heads, it is small wonder we made such mincemeat of them tonight.

Touching further on the topic of the French and their odour; this is no casual insult but a fact, rooted in solid, scientific research. In 1948, as a senior member of the Diplomatic Corps, I had the misfortune to reside for a week at a Parisian hotel. By way of an experiment, I sent out my man Seppings for a bar of soap, a precious commodity in those days of rationing – to procure it, he was forced to sell his body. Knowing the French aversion to detergents, I left it on a coffee table in the lobby, in plain sight, wondering if it would attract any interest, with a view to returning to the table later that afternoon to see if it was still there. Sure enough, I had only been back in my room ten minutes when a hotel clerk knocked at my door, soap in hand and said, “Excuse me monsieur – ah believe you ‘ave left zis downstairs.” Experiment completed, case proven. Filthy, filthy people.

The case was further reinforced by the clothback book of my nursery days, entitled Timmy And Pierre (A Guide To Deportment And Breeding For Very Young Gentlemen Of The Empire). On the left hand page was the rosy-cheeked, eight years old Timmy, who, the embroidered text properly told us was a) Polite b) Punctual c) Kind to his spaniel d) Scrubbed his face well e) Patriotic f) Did not associate with the knives and boots boy g) Attentive to his governess. On the right hand page was eight years old Pierre, who, we learned was a) Rude b) Uncouth c) French d) Oversexed e) Rank f) Drunk g) A collaborator.

The question was, what French team would turn up this evening? The one prone to strut and blunder about the pitch before losing 1-0 to The Christmas Islands, as has so often been the case, or the one that doesn’t turn up at all because the team got into a heated argument on the coach about the best route out of Paris, inadvertently ending up in the aptly named Toulouse (twinned with the small Welsh town of Alwys-Cochytup). Certainly, given their solitary post-war military exploit, it is clear that they would have rather have been facing a team from New Zealand, playing in recyclable sandals.

The National Anthems were the measure of our two nations; we, who when we see an onion, pickle it, rather than base our entire national identity around it, they who only remove their socks to tread grapes. Our own was bellowed with sub patriotic verve that upon hearing it, Prince Phillip’s bladder infection would most certainly have cleared up instantaneously, allowing him to urinate as merrily and painlessly as a small Belgian boy. The French’s puffed up Marseillaise, meanwhile, had one pining for a giant cartoon English foot to descend and squelch it.

The game began at a cracking pelt; England glowing with the perspiration of honest effort, the French coated in beads of anxiety sweat. The Republicans represented a risible force; Ribery, raising the question of who was manning the bells at Notre Dame in his absence, looking as ever like some early, botched French laboratory attempt to create a facsimile Gary Neville; Debuchy (what, Erik Shatie wasn’t available for selection?) woefully ineffectual. That is all that can be said about the French.

England, by contrast, surged goalward like cocks thrust. James Milner certainly wasn’t as extraneous as a new branch of Greggs in a Yorkshire shopping precinct, as an early, near-miss proved. Joe Hart’s Mancunian self-confidence certainly wasn’t the equivalent of Liam Gallagher being loudly convinced that his latest album was the finest release since Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Inevitably, we scored first, Lescott overcoming both the French centre back and being named after a Dolly Parton song to head home.

As is the current trend, there was much “tweeting” about England’s performance tonight. I had no idea what this meant, until I heard Mr Jamie Carragher’s half-time talk, in which he tweeted in a high Scouse register, unintelligibly but enthusiastically for several minutes.

From hereon after, we controlled the game. The sheer extent of our presence in midfield was epitomised by Frank Lampard; what a pity his natural partner Scott Parker was absent. As for Gerrard, there has been flippant talk of his Hollywood passes; tonight, as one corner symbolised, which sailed nervously into the relieved hands of the French goalkeeper, his were Pinewood passes – straightforward, untroubling, quintessentially English. The French character, humiliatingly, is symbolised by that doyen of the silver “flickers” Gerard Depardieu; our own, by contrast, is epitomised by our redoubtable, longstanding midfield, Gerrard/Lampardieu, so to speak.

And so, the game ended, marred only by the performance of the referee, whose bias towards the French was palpable. In England, when we foul, we kick honest clumps out of our opponents, which can be measured on the old Imperial scale – a half pound of calf here, a pound of thigh there. Not so the French, masters of the niggly, pinchy, cowardly little infractions, measurable only in foreign grams. There was also the small matter of the ball landing in the England net on one occasion, although goalkeeper Hart was clearly not ready for the shot; doubtless this will be overturned without protest from the French. The alternative is that Harfleur be put under siege by our own, latterday Prince Harry, in which case, even the womenfolk will not be safe, for the difference between Frenchmen and women is indistinguishable to the English eye. When we breach the ramparts, anything with a moustache will be considered fair game.

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