Wednesday, 6 June 2018

With St George....

England  2  Nigeria  1

International Friendly

“We have to believe…” were the words of the England Captain Harry Kane as the World Cup 2018 loomed ever larger.

Once the calendar trips into June and the local petrol stations are banging out tacky flags to attach to our car roofs, while every third house has a Cross of St George hanging out of the window, you know that the jingoism and commercialism that surrounds any major football tournament is just a mere rendition of “No Surrender” away.

Yep, you’ve picked up on the cynicism already? Well, let’s be honest, in 1990 I thought it was ours for the taking, but the bloody Germans…..and then when Thirty Years of Hurts was certain to come to an end in 1996, it was those bloody Germans.

Since then it’s been the Argies, the Portuguese, the Germans again, the Brazilians and of course the geyser loving Vikings. You see, our hopes have always been dashed because of someone else, someone else strangely enough being better than us. That’s how it works, the best teams typically win things, and that’s why we are now Fifty years down the line, and for some it still hurts.

It doesn’t hurt me, I’m at a stage now where I really don’t care that much. I accept we are a second rate nation, and when it comes to the biggest of stages, the Germans, the Brazilians, the Portuguese, the Spaniards and such like will always have the edge.

I look at our group and would take second place to a very good but ageing Belgian side. If we are lucky we might draw another second rate nation in the last sixteen, and if we get through that, it will probably come to an end in the quarters. The reason it will come to an end in the quarters is because there are at least eight teams in the World better than England.

I’ve never watched an England International game before in my life, and the reasons are numerous.

Firstly it was simply travelling to London and getting tickets, then I started to question just how much I wanted to sit or stand in a crowd the took pride in booing national anthems, singing songs about the IRA and World Wars, and then of course getting involved in club rivalries and ultimately jeering players who happened to play for the wrong London club.

No, it wasn’t for me, so much so that I stopped watching the games on television, and furthermore, as squads were announced, I was finding I’d never heard of players? Dominic Solanke, Joe Gomez, James Tarkowski  and Lewis Cook, come one, I’m normally nodding off by the time Match of the Day is starting!

...In My Heart
So, to suggest I was approaching the upcoming World Cup with a lack of enthusiasm would probably be a good analysis, although not strictly accurate. I was looking forward to seeing some of the great players on display like Messi, Ronaldo, Salah, Dembele, Mbappe, De Bruyne and Coutinho, but no Lions were jumping out at me as the kind of footballers that lift you from your seat.

Mrs H suggested a couple of months ago that we get some of the cheap tickets that were on offer for the friendly against Nigeria. Principally so that young Master H could have the chance to see his heroes in action before they set off for Russia. I agreed with the idea and decided to approach it with an open mind.

With the morning of the game upon us we made our way to Stanmore and found a parking space for a tenner behind the local Lidl, the station car park was full, so thankfully we had a Plan B.

Four stops later and we were alighting at Wembley Park, now, the area around Wembley Stadium has changed beyond recognition since I was a regular visitor for Trophy, Vase and Play Off games pre the re-build. Back then it was a dump, an industrial wasteland with the only attractions being the Torch pub and if that was full, a six pack from one of the many off licences at the top end of Wembley Way. Ticket touts were plentiful as were the knock off merchandise sellers, but in both of those case’s that hasn’t and probably will never go away.

Wembley is proper smart these days. Modern tech businesses, educational facilities, smart apartments and retail units adorn the approaches to the stadium, it feels far more welcoming than it ever did. The stadium looks magnificent as you approach it, but if you swing a right and head for the London Designer Outlet, it goes up another notch.

Smart shops, nice restaurants, bars and a well set out Fan Zone are there to cater for the every need of the football fan. We arrived four hours before kick off, and to be honest, were never bored, and the atmosphere was very friendly and family orientated.

Posh Seats
Once inside the stadium it continues, we sat high up in the Gods behind the West goal, and had a quite magnificent view of the pitch. The catering facilities were well organised and despite a 70,000 crowd in the ground, it always felt comfortable.

Atmosphere wise, it was again, very much a family occasion, and apart from a few ditties coming from the opposite end and plenty of noise from the plentiful Nigerians amongst the crowd who certainly added to the event, it was pretty tame.

England played well in the first period and went in at half time with a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Gary Cahill and Kane. But, to be fair, Nigeria were awful. They looked like a side who had been paid a significant amount of money to simply turn up get rolled over to keep the home fans entertained by seeing plenty of goals flying in past them.

They decided to try a bit in the second period and scored early on through Arsenal’s Alex Iwobe, but thereafter the game petered out into one full of substitutes, stoppages and play that in general left you watching the clock somewhat.

So what purpose did it serve? For me it did two things. Firstly, it was a family occasion and many young children got the chance to see their heroes, some for the first time, and all for a tenner. That can’t be taken away and many memories will have been made. Secondly though, it probably made the FA a fair chunk of money through ticket sales, merchandise and general human consumption.

Ok - It's Impressive
But while the kids were happy, what about the cynics? Before I answer that, I would say that getting out of the stadium, up Wembley Way and onto the tube was pretty straightforward under the circumstances and for that the authorities should be applauded. So the fact we were on the M1 and heading North in pretty quick time was a bonus, but has watching England in the flesh made me want to go again, and do I think they have any better chance of winning the World Cup before I went?

I would go again, maybe for a competitive game, but I suspect the whole ambience of the occasion may be somewhat different. I wouldn’t rush back to a Friendly game though that is nothing more than an exhibition match, unless maybe it was one of the superpowers.

The Away End - They Were In No Hurry!
This England side will not win the World Cup, it lacks creativity, inventiveness and that maverick footballer who can turn a game in a moment. They have some very good footballers, excellent footballers in fact, but World Class footballers? No, and that’s where the difference lies, last eight, at best!

On that bombshell, the season is now over for Bobbles Blog, it’s been a blast, thank you for reading, thank you for the feedback, and thank you for not suing!

Enjoy the World Cup…….

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