June 2nd, 2012

England v Belgium (friendly, 2012)


Regarding Belgium, which sits across the water beneath the hindquarters of the United Kingdom as if having recently been excreted by the British Isles, it is extraordinary to think that such a thunderously ignominious nation is allowed to sit in such impertinent proximity to our own. Belgium is what happens when The Netherlands takes France to a seedy hotel in Luxembourg for the weekend and they fornicate; Belgium is the bastard, mongrel offspring of the encounter. It is only thanks to footballing fixtures such as this that we are reminded that Belgium exists at all (see also: Uruguay). Indeed, the Belgians recently held a referendum in which they were asked to decide whether the still wanted to carry on as a country. A narrow vote in favour resulted in the present Prime Minister one Elio Di Rupo, an ardent socialist, committed homosexualist and suspected Italian. It is, therefore, the present, stated policy of Brussels to sodomise young Englishmen in the European Zone, pay them an obscenely fair wage for their services and possibly attempt to sell them ice cream. Small wonder that for this fixture we laid a strong emphasis on a tight back four.

Belgium was not always quite so pernicious; one looks back fondly on the days of the kindly King Leopold, whose policies of benevolent annihilation did so much to drag a backward and recalcitrant Africa into the 20th century, though its natives were not always aware of the medicinal benefit of his methods. One also remembers, from more innocent times, the animated cartoon adventures of that young boy and his small dog, chasing hook-nosed, Hebrew arch villains across the Congo with the aid of Oogawooga, a larged-lipped, amusingly dusky local they befriended during an elephant slaughter. Belgium has also functioned as a convenient, midway location for our periodic, cousinly skirmishes with the Germans, in which the ground is somewhat liable to cut up when the going is good to soft. Better it do so over there, I believe we are all agreed, than over here.

The National Anthems determined the difference, however, between our nations as presently constituted, evoking our disparities. When we erect our statues, they do not pass water – Pissing Baden Powell would be no way to remember the author of Scouting For Boys. We paint, rather than eat our horses. Our own anthem was bellowed with particularly gusto and engorgement, this being the weekend in which we celebrate the Diamond Jubilee. Each of us “did our bit” to pay tribute to the Monarchy. I, for example, had Seppings dress up as Oliver Cromwell, whereupon I beat him to near death with a shovel. The Belgian dirge, by contrast, sounded as if it was composed for some quaint, tinpot city square Flemish military ceremony in which, on the orders of a Lieutenant-Commander, a costumed goat is fired from a cannon.

The game began at a brisk pelt, with Frank Lampard as conspicuous as ever in midfield. The defence was ably marshalled; how Ashley Cole and Glenn Johnson must have enjoyed being bellowed at across the field of play by John Terry, whose instructions were especially clear as he went to the trouble of telling them what he was not saying to them as well as what he was saying to them. Once or twice, the Belgians, like tourists who have accidentally strayed into Cornwall, not realising it is the property of His Royal Highness Prince Charles, found themselves trespassing cluelessly in the English half. They were quickly seen off, however, and it is a measure of the understanding between Joe Hart and the men in front of him that he and Gary Cahill only collided once, and at the mere expense of a broken jaw. Like Seppings, however, who suffered similarly after I set about him with that shovel, but who an hour later was serving me High Tea, Mr Cahill will, no doubt, be back in harness for the next game. We are not crying Belgian homosexuals, for whom oral pleasure is paramount.

England were swiftly a goal to the good, thanks to one Danny Wellbeck, who showed the sort of discipline and composure that made one realise that all of King Leopold’s work had not been in vain as he slipped it past Maigret, or Camus, or whomsoever was keeping goal for the Belgians.
Come the second half and England continued to dominate possession. Granted, it was Belgium who were in possession of the ball, but it was England who were in possession of Wembley Stadium. The opposing team knew that were they to encroach in the vicinity of the goal, England groundsman Mr Roy Hodgson would come striding onto the pitch brandishing a trowel and shouting, “Hoy! Keep orf. I’ve only just reseeded that perishin’ six yard box!” Steven Gerrard rolled back the years with his indefatigable play, passing and hoofing the ball like a twelve year old. James Milner once again showed that when a shirt has the name “MILNER” on it, he is the man to step up and fill that shirt. I can think of no higher tribute to pay to the man. An actual Ox might have been of more practical use on the pitch than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but not much more, such was his contribution. Theo Walcott, watching the game from afar, and doubtless “tweeting” as he did so, must have wished he had been out there and actually involved in the game.

Another famous victory, then, a Jubilee reminder that Hereditary Privilege is the just and sensible way to run a country, the sole alternative being Chairman Skinner. As I asked Seppings repeatedly several times as I thrashed him, “Is that what you want? Is that you want? This is just a bit of ruddy fun and is that what you want?” There was no querying that the ball for England’s decisive goal was over the line, but had there been any doubt, the expedient of video-tronic evidence was at hand, an experiment introduced for this fixture. Really, there was no need for this – the ultimate goal-line technology, as we know, is the word of an Englishman. The referee and linesman understood this well enough in 1966, it should be understood today.

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.

February 29th, 2012

England v Holland (friendly, 2012)


The natural genetic advantages we enjoy over the Dutch, that nation of orange-painted, mountainless, self-arguing-among boat dwellers and underage animal pornography addicts, are too numerous to list in full so let us restrict ourselves to but a few. When we see a cow, our first instinct is not to set up an easel and paint it, but to chop it up into beef cutlets to strengthen our national stock. When we see a tulip, we say to ourselves “Hmm, a tulip”, rather than buy them up in absurd quantities at inflated prices, thereby bringing both our economy and our empire crashing to their knees. When we see a bike, we get upon it to look for work, not simply ride around canal sides upon it in search of pancakes or prostitutes. Our attitude to grass is to play up, play up and play the game upon it, not legalise it. And when we appoint our managers, we do not simply employ some random, unheard of grey haired, button eyed nobody whose only ability is to stand in a dugout with his arms crossed, but a man who embodies the red and white spirit of our stoutest yeomen, the sort that has seen is through many a crusade and campaign, unconquered, unbowed.

I refer, of course, to Mr Stuart Pearce, new England manager and true. A shrewd appointment. He has the experience but more importantly the tremendous thighs which are essential to his task, besides which all other qualities are footling. Secondly, like any decent leader, he would not ask if his men to run through a solid brick wall until he himself had done so first. Yes, one imagines him, staggering from the collision with cement and masonry, concussed, teeth broken, blood pouring from his split lip, lurching unsteadily to the first man in line on the training field and bellowing at him, “Now, YOU!!” Such are the character building exercises that have ensured England’s international dominance. Grit walls of passion, trenches of grit.

The National Anthems marked the schism wider than any North Sea between our two nations. The Dutch effort, a random series of puffs and parps, sounded like a chorus of players attempting to blow out the accumulated phlegm from their wind instruments.  As for our own, I had Seppings wheel the bathtub into the Television room so that I could both ablute and watch the fixture. As I stood up and saluted for its surging duration, I can proudly report that my manservant received full in the face the upshot of my erect appreciation.

Our Captain for the day was Scott Parker. An excellent choice, for of him it can be said the following; he is English, and that is basically it, he’s English. What further commendation is required? His haircut, of course, which recalls the finest traditions of This England, of Chariots of Fire and jellied eels, black and white films and amiable gangsters, of inner city London areas that used to be lovely, until . . . Captain Scott. How wrong could anything possibly go? Not for him the impulsive, continental game of one touch football – rather, the more exquisite, English ritual of falling over when caught in possession, then getting a rush of blood to the head and lunging in with a potentially ankle breaking challenge to make up. Ah, Scott. If there is but a tiny flaw in his make-up it is in that name, Scott. An English Scot? Not to be disrespectful to the former leader of the German Reich but it is not unlike calling yourself Jew Hitler. The weasel Scot is our sworn foe and nemesis. Better that he change his name by deed poll, to say, Inger. Inger Parker, middle name “Land”.

(Speaking of the Scots, it is treacherous that prior to such an important fixture as this, Mr Kenny Dalglish insisted in playing Steven Gerrard for Liverpool in a trifling domestic match for some bauble or other just days before this match. Such insolence. Of Dalglish it has been said that he needs classes in race relations awareness. Quite so. After this calculated slight, it is clear that he needs to be made aware of precisely where, and how far below, the Scottish race stands in relation to the English variety.)

The game began at a cracking pelt, with England swiftly on the attack and Steven Gerrard, playing with typical imagination from midfield, passing to a series of imaginary forwards. Scott Parker could take sole credit as Ashley Young linked up with Danny Wellbeck to shoot on goal. Gerrard was replaced by Daniel Sturridge and there was Scott Parker again as Sturridge accelerated past two Dutchmen and passed into an empty six yard box. The Dutch insolently attempted to shoot from distance but thanks to Scott Parker, the keeper saved. Thanks again to excellent work from Scott Parker, the referee whistled for half time.

Come the second half and Chris Smalling was carried from the field on his shield following a collision in what would have been a certain goal for Holland had Scott Parker not cleared off the line, which indeed was the case. Smalling was replaced by Phil Jones who huffed and chased like a farmhand anxiously pursuing the local squire’s huffy daughter whom he had ill-advisedly offered a ride home from the barn dance in his wheelbarrow. He worked hard, and, thanks to Scott Parker, delivered the vital pass that led to England’s second goal following Tim Cahill’s effort, which was well onside if you take into account that the linesman did not interfere in any way. The Dutch grabbed a late consolation goal thanks to the fellow in their line-up clearly selected because of his resemblance to John Profumo which they hoped would sap English morale. This, however, was clearly a “pity goal”, granted by the English defence on account of feeling sorry for the Dutch over the whole tulips business.

A famous result, then, which should ensure that Stuart Pearce becomes the Ramsey of his generation. Small matter that on selecting a team for Nottingham Forest he once failed to pick a goalkeeper; such a “failing” sets him in excellent stead to manage England, for whom the very act of opting for a goalkeeper is a calculated insult to their back four. One can imagine the Shakespearian, sinew-stiffening speech he gave to the players in the dressing room as, summoning the blood to his thighs he squeaked, “Look, I know I’m the bloke who used to hand you your boots as you came in to get changed, then collected after to take ’em home to polish but, I’m really like your boss. You call me Mr Cornwell – I mean, Mr Pearce. And you’ve gotter do what I say otherwise I’ll – I’ll tell Trevor Brooking!” Such a man will lead us beyond this trifling Harfleur to the Agincourt of Euro 2012.

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.

October 10th, 2011

England v Montenegro (Euro 2012 qualifier, 2011)


And so, it has been confirmed even to the satisfaction of the pedantic, blazered gnomes of UEFA that England are natural qualifiers for Euro 2012. It has been a prolonged, calculated insult to our Queen and her English ancestors that we have been made to submit to the indignity of these qualifiers. Our word as gentlemen that we were more than fit to take our due part in these finals should have been more than adequate. Unconscionably, it was doubted. We have had applied to us, to the letter, the terms of what is a Bounder’s Charter devised by mountebanks of the lowest stripe. We are quietly fuming. Cities have fallen under our cannon’s blaze for lesser slights in past, better centuries.

To Montenegro, then, a nation whose population amounts to 3.6 million, if you include the goats, which we see no reason not to. Their very existence as an independent state is, of course, a quaint absurdity, not unlike Rutland declaring sovereignty, the local bank manager appointing a cabinet and the snooty middle aged lady who runs the High Street hairdressers declaring herself Queen. Tonight’s victory should clear the way for the United Nations to act swiftly and decisively in reimposing unification on the Balkan region, so as to banish the current confusion as to which of them is which an why the devil we should care.

(Incidentally, had I been listened to in 1945, this whole absurd situation need never have arisen. There was talk of the displaced Hebrews of Europe being allowed their own, traditional homeland.  As senior consultant to the Civil Service Department of World Affairs, I recommended that this wandering people be placed somewhere we could keep an eye on them, en masse to the Balkans, with the present inhabitants dispersed and shooed away to its peripheries, encouraged by sweeping machine gunfire. I proposed that the new region be called Jewgoslavia. I was narrowly outvoted, 17-19. Hence our present, disastrous predicament)

The National Anthems, as they rang it on this oversized turf-sty of a stadium, marked the disparity between the teams, the peoples, the species pitted against one another. Our own, as ever, obliged the cameraman to pan above waist length along the England line, lest younger viewers be disconcerted by their 11 man shorts salute. The Montenegroids, by contrast, sounded like the mass, ritual suicide march of an entire population into the sea, upon news of a poor national crop yield following the breakdown of the tractor.

The game commenced at a brisk clip, the opposition scattered like scarved old women knocking over boiling pots of the soup in which minutes earlier they were washing their menfolks’ clothes as the English cavalry advanced, brandishing flaming torches and cutlasses. In a trice, England were 2-0 up, the second goal from Darren Bent in particular dispatched with the formal ease of an old retainer handing on a tray to the plantation owner a note from the British Governor presenting his compliments. Towards the end of the half, the ball did somehow bobble off one of the Montenegroids into the England net. Joe Hart could have stopped it, but as England goalkeeper he has more important things on his mind, and whatever it was, we can be sure, was of greater urgency than scampering after stray balls like some dog in the park.

Come the second half, and England decided to have some sport of their own. It has been noticed that our mascot, Sig Capello, has rather “gone native” and over-involved himself in England’s games. He has a habit of panicking and jumping up and down helplessly on the touchline whenever he mistakenly worries that England do not have matters on the field under 100% control. For their amusement, therefore, England’s players decided to ping the ball about as if having been plugged collectively into some sort of computerised Random Shit Pass Fucking Generator, which could be patented and marketed as Footbollocks by some enterprising entrepreneur. Ashley Cole in particular provided a master study in mystifyingly offhand uselessness; he should consider the stage. Sig Capello duly looked as comical as an Italian who has accidentally boiled himself in his own spaghetti and is thrashing about helplessly in the pot.

Late on, as Frank Lampard entered the field of play. There are times when a player must make the fine judgement as to whether make a difference or make no difference. When things are going well, as they always are England, it is judicious not to risk “spoiling the broth”. Hence, Lampard wisely decided, master chef of English footballing cuisine that he is, to make no difference. Whatsoever.

The sending off of Wayne Rooney marred the remaining few minutes of the game, though it remains unfathomable as to why he was dismissed, having viewed the clip of the incident that evidently led to the red card several times over. Was it a case of mistaken identity, brought on my his follicular surgery? I can only surmise that the referee, Wolfgang Stark, who judging by his name is doubtless genetically predisposed to raising his arm upward in a rigid and diagonal position at any given moment, did so, and accidentally whisked up his red card from is pocket with his fingers. Unless it is suddenly a red card offence to kick a peasant’s legs violently from underneath him when he proves mildly vexatious, then I can see no reason for the adjudication.

Small matter; England carried the day as naturally as if it were a burden, and they a white man. So, let us examine in detail, then dismiss with  light laugh, our probable opponents.

A nation whose football scientists are on the point of discovering a scoreline lower than 0-0. A nation slowly sinking into the sea under the burden of national debt, its ancient ruins and the generations of bodies of menfolk in caps, collarless shirts and braces buried in the topsoil and beneath the foundations of motorway bridges. All that will be left of visible of Italy by the year 2012 will be the top 35 feet of Mount Etna.

No one knows better than the French that it is a long way back from Moscow; it is barely any less so from the Ukraine. Expect their handbagged women to be throwing stilettoes at one another in the dressing room after a catastrophic humiliation in the opening game, the like of which  has become their staple addition to the gaiety of nations. They can kiss their chances goodbye; and their chances will duly be covered in rouge lipstick traces.

Expect England’s seafaring Jack Tars to ram the Spanish Armada amidships where it hurts, with a mighty oak thrust. Patient passing game, forsooth! There’s only one way to win a game of football; by roaring, galloping, hoofing and barging; and that is merely yourself, at home, watching on the television set, with your manservant dressed in the opposing team’s colours and justly enduring the robust physical treatment you mete out to him.

The Third Reich. Germany will, as ever be ruthless, well-drilled, more machine than man, blonde and joyless. The Luftwaffe. Expect them to be formidable opponents, laid low only by their gimlet myopia and inability to cope with the cheerful obduracy of Tommy Atkins. Josef Goebbels.