August 15th, 2012

England v Italy (friendly, 2012)


For many decades, I have been faithfully composing these reports, labouring over them for many hours as Seppings stands in attendance holding my inkpot, a substantial thing forged from 18 pounds of pewter. I have recorded many a triumph, including England’s 10-1 victory over the USA in 1950 (ignorte all misprints) and that fateful day in 1953 when we saw off the miserable Magyars 3-0, six of their goals having been retrospectively disallowed for communistic tendencies in their distribution of the ball and calculated subversion of our defensive policies, all of which came to light following the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I can safely say, however, that no game in England’s history was more keenly anticipated than this fixture against Italy, this titanic and vital clash of  toil versus tan, of sweat versus swarthiness, of elbow grease versus hair and rest-of-body grease.

As the so-called Olympiad has wended its tedious way to its conclusion, in which we have had to endure everything from our own Queen being hurled from a helicopter at the behest of a subversive National Health Service sympathiser to the national celebration of near-naked men diving into water together (a criminal offence until 1967), those of a proper stripe have itched for the resumption of the international footballing calendar. Worst of all, we have had to endure the usurping obscenity of “Team GB”, a footballing miscegenation against which I was pitted from the start. It is not that one is against the Union of England, Scotland, pliant Ireland and Wales in the Kingdom. We have fought men with blue painted faces and worse and more recently, men with beards to preserve this way of things. Let us be quite clear, however, as to its purpose. Wales and Scotland function as mountainous sandbags, a buffer in case of invasion from the Viking North or the formerly colonial West across the Atlantic. They are not our allies but essentially sub-human shields. Prince Charles has been personally appointed by Her Majesty to see that the Welsh know their place, the Duke of Edinburgh to see that the Scotchman knows his. In Olympic founder Pierre De Coubertin’s Ode To Sport he writes, “O Sport, you are Fecundity! You strive directly and nobly towards perfection of the race, destroying unhealthy seed and correcting the flaws which threaten its essential purity.” It seems that, this being the aim, involving the Welsh in any capacity amounts to an act of mongrel pollution.

This being so, it was inevitable that “Team GB”, unlike England, were fated to stumble at the knockout phase. Experience tells us without the likes of Terry, Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney it was always destined to be so.

Back, then, to sanity and an international fixture played just days before the start of the domestic season in neutral Switzerland, attended by two men and a St Bernard, with England wearing red shorts. How bitter and salty must Theo Walcott’s tears have been as he was forced to sit out what would have been the most important game of his life due to a bruised thigh and how redoubled his grief upon later discovering that the “bruise” had been carefully felt-tipped onto his leg by persons unknown.

The National Anthems told the essential story of the difference between the two teams. How our eleven men and true must have relished the opportunity to deliver their close-formation rendering of the tune, much practised in training, and ringingly audible in a near-empty stadium. As for the Italian anthem, which proceeded at the brisk pace of an occupying army beating a hasty retreat from Abyssinia under a hail of spears, it was  little more than a mute cry of surrender to the redshorts.

The game began at a cracking pelt, as some of England’s less familiar names set out their skills, a veritable Harvester Restaurant of footballing comestibles. Baines the coleslaw, Walker the boiled potatoes and Adam Johnson providing the Thousand Island dressing. There was Andy Carroll, too, the first horse to represent his country. Had he born Belgian, he would doubtless long ago have succumbed to the cleaver of some provincial restaurant’s chef. Key players were sadly absent tonight, including Terry, Gerrard and Lampard but England made a point, time and again of passing into the empty spaces they might have occupied in their honour.

Ultimately, this was a reminder not just of English supremacy but of football’s supremacy as a sport.  This was no handball, in which lithe, Swedish women dashed from one end of the court to another in a high-scoring display of manual acumen, or volleyball, with its improbable acrobatics and five-set intrigue. If the Olympics has taught us anything it is that football does not require such distractions, or excitement, or fun, or joy, for anything much to happen from one quarter of an hour to another. Football is football, much as England is England and so it will remain forever thus. Like the return of the senior manager to his desk after a lunch break, football and England are back; normal service has been resumed. Rejoice at that news.

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