Wednesday 21 February 2018

England's restoration drama evolves from farce to fantasy

Dion Fanning

T he John Terry story is, we are assured, a story of redemption. It is a redemptive tale many of us can relate to. More of us have been in the arms of our best friend's wife than have ever missed the decisive penalty in the European Cup final. John Terry is, unfortunately, a man we can understand.

Since Fabio Capello stripped him of the England captaincy, Terry has led Chelsea to the League and FA Cup so it is an unusual story of redemption in that it is a tale without any noticeable hard times.

The story will be complete if he successfully negotiates England's trip to Cardiff next week, a tie that has now been set up, not only as a football match, but as the final hurdle in Terry's return to the fold.

But it is not a tale of redemption. It is a tale of self-absorption and fantasy. England's belief that they need an Arthurian captain returns in the quiet months between their failure at major tournaments.

They cannot escape the mythical time of 1966. Their harking after a captain who would remind them of Bobby Moore and of other inspirations. They are pining for something, they are pining essentially for a more sophisticated version of 'One World Cup and Two World Wars'.

Arsene Wenger was asked recently whom would he turn to for a "Churchillian" speech before the game against Barcelona. "Theo Walcott," he said, "who else?" He didn't, of course. "Churchill," he replied, proving that Wenger, for all his flaws, still knows that there is no point playing that game.

Fabio Capello, on the other hand, still seems baffled. Every day he looks more like a consul placed in a baffling land whose customs he cannot comprehend. No matter how many times he attends one of their strange banquets and dances long into the night, in the morning there is still mutual incomprehension.

So now he is planning to audition Terry again for the role he stripped him of last year. At that stage, Capello had decided that the England captain could not be a man who may or may not have had an affair with a woman who had previously been involved with a former team-mate. It was a strict moral code. Perhaps it was too strict for a team heavily dependent on Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole, men who are answering to their own code and remain deeply attached to it.

Rio Ferdinand has, in the meantime, been an exceptional captain, as has Steven Gerrard, whose ability to play his natural game was unaffected by his appointment last summer. This is no longer good enough for Capello who is determined to demonstrate his coldness to the players by alienating all of them equally.

He could have told them that the captaincy is an irrelevancy but it has been elevated by the media and those who see commercial potential in it. But the potential is in being the heir to Moore and Churchill, not Trevor Cherry or Ephraim Longworth.

The list of mediocre captains is endless but they are judging to an impossible standard and an artificial one. Terry will pass whatever test they have set for him next weekend. But that was not the problem in the first place. The problem can't be solved on a Saturday in Cardiff.

* * * * *

I don't think I've had a sustained run of betting at the Cheltenham festival since they extended it to four days. Even a horse-racing bullshitter such as myself can tell that they've diluted the card with the extra day. As importantly, the natural momentum has been destroyed.

The addition of an extra day's racing was an act of cultural vandalism, clearly taken by a marketing manager or someone who has never tied one on at the festival or any place else.

The fourth day ignores the overwhelming anecdotal evidence that a man can drink for three days -- Friday, Saturday, Sunday being the customary routine -- without doing anything but the anticipated amount of damage to his health, his relationships, his family, his career, his home and anyone who might try to deny him a drink. The addition of a fourth day creates an avalanche of trouble and bad feeling. It is too much!

The ancient rhythms have been disrupted by this crass act. Paddy is born with a three-day clock which has never let him down. Now he must evolve. He must change or die.

The marketing men won't mind, they will say they have brought in more revenue, but they said that in Hollywood too, just before they released Police Academy 9. They have their money but they have diluted something of our culture which we can't get back.

The fourth day at Cheltenham was a direct challenge to the natural order of men who for years have known how to get through this and many other three-day festivals. We cannot even contemplate the suffering of those who would arrive in Cheltenham the previous Saturday, pacing themselves with the odd game of cards and carvery lunch before lift-off. They now stagger on till Friday, a schedule that makes it virtually impossible for them to drink at all this weekend.

It is equally preposterous to suggest that they would just go home for a day in the middle of the festival or, worse still, pace themselves.

After all, unlike say your German, Paddy is perfectly capable of betting his entire week's fighting fund on the first race on the opening day and persuading himself that is part of a sound financial strategy.

More has meant worse and a dulling of the senses for the men who made Cheltenham great. Paddy is an essential part of the spectacle and in these straitened times, he cannot be at his best if he is being overworked and asked to find the enthusiasm for four days standing at the winners' enclosure, singing 'Olé' as the inevitable Irish horse is led in.

By Thursday night, Paddy should be having a well-earned rest. Like any top-level athlete, he needs his recovery time.

Sunday Indo Sport

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