Sunday 26 January 2020

England granted cosmic consolation for the lousy luck of having Rees-Mogg and Farage

England’s Dele Alli (no.20) celebrates scoring his side’s second goal against Sweden yesterday. Picture: PA
England’s Dele Alli (no.20) celebrates scoring his side’s second goal against Sweden yesterday. Picture: PA
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

You'll be hearing Three Lions by Baddiel and Skinner and the Lightning Seeds many times over the next few days. That is important - not just because it is that rarest of things, a really good football record, but because it demonstrates the apparently effortless genius of the English for making great pop music, and thus enriching the culture of the world in ways that your Jacob Rees-Mogg will never understand.

Yes, England have been lucky in this World Cup - but in this there's a kind of cosmic consolation for all of us. A sense that the gods, even when they are being most unkind, will always try to give something back to you.

Because in its public life of late, England has been most unlucky.

It is not just that Brexit is one of the worst ideas of all time, driven by the worst people in the world, it is the fact that at these times of the utmost peril, the main "opposition" is coming from Jeremy Corbyn - which is to say, there is no opposition.

That is the killer, that is the most perverse stroke of misfortune - yes, there will always be Tory degenerates, selling the country down the river, but to have nothing up against them except Corbs, maintaining an ideological opposition to the EU which must have sounded excellent back in 1986 or thereabouts during all those meetings above the Dog and Duck, but which is of no use to any human being living in the world today... that is truly the most rotten luck for England.

That is the kind of bad break that can destroy a country for 800 years, a cruel accident of history of the type you'd see in a technicolour Hollywood epic, in which Charlton Heston, struggling heroically to speak, though he is suffering from a terrible wound, would look to the skies with his most noble countenance, his voice trembling with barely-constrained emotion as the orchestra plays something very sad:

"Ye gods… ye gods who hast abandoned us… ye gods who hast forsaken our warriors in battle, who hast taken from us our women and our children… ye gods… ye baleful gods who are so unmerciful that ye have sent these calamities to our land… spare us ye gods, we implore thee…"

That sort of thing…

So when Harry Kane was banging them in against Tunisia and Panama, like they were Bluebell United and Rialto who had somehow arrived at the World Cup, you sensed a bit of payback from those baleful gods.

And though I pointed out last week that drawing Colombia was not necessarily the greatest of breaks, given that Colombia can be very good, it turned out that Colombia were not good at all against England, that they decided - wrongly - that the game could be won though old-school blackguardism.

Lucky, lucky England. But then, for inflicting Nigel Farage on them, do the gods not owe them at least a win in a penalty shootout? Indeed we may be reluctant to admit it, but England has not just been unlucky of late in its public life, it has been quite unlucky on the park in these major tournaments.

While it is far more enjoyable to ascribe their failures to a complex range of psychological and cultural defects, to be losing all those matches on penalties over the years, they had to be a bit unfortunate too.

And we are lucky, in turn, that it wasn't Big Sam Allardyce getting the benefit of these happy accidents, because then we might have struggled with our own weaknesses in this domain. Then we would be hearing all too horribly the voices of the Brexiteers claiming that this is what old England can achieve on her own, when of course all these England lads owe their personal and professional development mainly to the Premier League, with its open-door policies and its cosmopolitan culture which is roughly the opposite of the narrow nationalism of Brexit.

Ireland can even claim with some validity that we have made our contribution, because the Premier League is ours too in the sense that we are paying for it with our TV subscriptions - and personally I do not begrudge that for one moment. Indeed when I recall that Jordan Henderson is on £100,000 a week at Liverpool, I am hoping that it is my money specifically that is going into that rather large pot.

They're our lads too.

Well done the lads.

Giles still ahead of the game

When Spain lost their manager, you could hear many pundits suggesting that this mightn't necessarily be a bad thing, that these players are top, top, top men who have been up there for so long they can probably manage themselves. So this bad thing might actually turn out to be a good thing.

One voice though, was dissenting from this uplifting narrative - John Giles on Newstalk was firm in his belief that this bad thing would not, in fact, turn out to be a good thing.

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John Giles

Bad, he insisted, was not good. And when, eventually, I saw the shootout between Spain and Russia, I was totally unsurprised to see that he was right. It brought me back to the day when Bill O'Herlihy suggested that a certain midfield partnership might work as well as any other for Ireland, even though they weren't all that good, leading Giles to explain that you could indeed play those lads all the time, if you believed there was no difference between good players and bad players.

But there is a difference, you see. Knowing the difference between good and bad is not as easy as it sounds - I guess John Giles just made it sound easy, until he was taken out of the RTE panel by an act of executive delinquency which must have seemed at the time like one of those bad things which might actually turn out to be a good thing.

It wasn't.

Due to a long-standing commitment — open heart surgery or something, it doesn’t really matter in the light of what I am about to tell you — I found myself recording RTE’s coverage of Spain v Russia on Sky Plus.

So I was watching it later, watching it in full, just like it was in “real time”, liking the fact that it was going into extra-time, because anything that makes any part of this World Cup last a bit longer, is inherently good.

I had been thinking too, that it was time for the tournament to have a match with extra time and penalties, and this one was starting to look like a serious candidate — it had the classic formula of the superior side slightly off their game, up against a team who will be delighted to take it to penalties.

And so it came to pass, with Russia now looking like the favourites for the shoot-out, given that they’d wanted it more.

And then the recording ended.

Imagine my surprise, as I sat there looking forward to the first penalty shootout of Russia 2018, only to have somehow forgotten Rule One to be borne in mind when you are recording a knockout game — that you must always record the next programme as well, in case your game runs over the allotted time.

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Yes, imagine my surprise...

It is there on Page One of the Match Tapers Rule Book, and it is not just Rule One, it is also Rule Two, Rule Three and Rule Four. You must always record the next programme, because otherwise you may find yourself sitting there like one of those people who have witnessed some awful event, telling the reporter that it would never cross your mind that such a terrible thing could happen on such a glorious day.

Imagine… my… surprise.

Imagine, too, the surprise of Nathan Murphy from Off The Ball who shared this on Twitter: “Avoided score of Uruguay v Portugal all evening. Sit down to watch highlights, continuity announcer says: ‘On the day Messi and Ronaldo are knocked out of the World Cup, here’s today’s highlights.’ WTF!”

We need to address the sufferings of people like Nathan and me, because it is now believed that inadvertently finding out the score of a match that you have taped, or being otherwise thwarted in your quest to watch a game “on delay”, are among the biggest causes of private grief and indeed of public grief in our culture.

We need to make it socially unacceptable to be recklessly communicating a scoreline while a “big” match (which is any match really) is in progress — even careless body language can be devastating.

We need a public information campaign, and in cases of malicious “sharing”, we need on-the-spot fines.

To be out in the world these days, and to avoid hearing the result of a football match, is an achievement of such significance, it should be recognised at the People of the Year awards.

But to get to the sanctuary of your own home — and then to have it destroyed for you in some peculiar way that you never saw coming….men have been broken by such things.

Sweden get the credit without wild card Zlatan

One of the heart-warming aspects of Sweden's success is that it was done without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, their wild and crazy superstar who has been developing his wild and crazy brand by representing Visa in their World Cup campaign.

About that brand, it really gained its lustre with the Zlatan autobiography, which established him as a maverick genius with an hilarious line in egotistical posturing - though in fact much of this persona was made up by the ghostwriter, just to keep himself entertained on those long, boring Scandinavian nights, pretending to be Zlatan.

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Zlatan Ibrahimovich. Photo: Peter Powell

With their maverick genius lining out for a credit card company, perhaps the journeymen who were left in the Sweden squad have been drawing inspiration from that ad campaign, which, with a savage poignancy, is based on Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO).

But perhaps the Visa corporation itself put it best: "We created the campaign in somewhat of a modular way, such that we can support the key priorities and initiatives at a market-by-market level, while it still ladders up to a global campaign and a global theme about how Visa enables you not to have FOMO."

Yeah, they had it all figured out…

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