Monday 28 June 2010

The morning after the long drive after the afternoon before

We set off on the 500km drive from Pretoria with high hopes. By some miracle, Fifa released extra tickets on its website the night before the game and, in a state of elation and disbelief, we'd landed four of them. It couldn't have been a smoother journey and Bloemfontein, bathed in sunshine, was a picture of efficiency and the perfect scene for a football game.

English and Germans spread along the edge of a small lake, with the ground in background, peacefully and respectfully milling before the big occasion. There was only the occasional mention of the war - maybe England fans were nervous. Or not drunk enough: many of the bars had run dry.

Fifa has messed things up again and our four tickets had somehow turned into ten. Great news you'd think, with this media-hyped invasion of Bloem by "thousands" of England and Germany fans we'll make a fortune on the extras. But that never materialised. This is England v Germany in a World Cup in a 45,000-seat stadium, we kept muttering to ourselves in astonishment as we bumped into more and more ticket sellers and only a handful of buyers. The day went downhill from this point.

By the time we'd shifted our last ticket moments before kick-off we'd dropped the price from GBP140 to GBP30. We missed the national anthems and the start of the match. The omens then took a further turn for the worse when we walked to our seats. Every person we squeezed past to reach our spots at the end of our row was German. We looked up at the rest of our section. Germans. They were courteous enough, even admitting without seeing a replay that THAT shot had clearly crossed the line, but it wasn't the atmosphere we'd imagined.


On the five-hour drive back to Joburg disbelief gave way to anger which gave way to sadness. England are not very good at football.

There's no doubt that some big players let themselves down and Capello was found short of a plan B (why was Gerrard never tried in the striker support role and Joe Cole never given a proper run-out on the left? Why did Heskey, and not Crouch, come on when we were desperate for goals yesterday?). But the bigger problems relate to the Premier League. Billionaire owners interested in instant success. Willing to pay more and more on wages to attract the world's brightest stars.

To assess what impact this is having, let's look at how many top English players Man. United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool have produced in the last five years? Uhm, none. It's like having an ageing population and a stagnant birth rate. I'm all for dropping Gerrard, Lampard, Terry and co. for the next international but who will replace them? Lee Cattermole? Fabrice Muamba? Come on.

Germany, meanwhile, with its fan-owned clubs, reasonable ticket prices and strong academies seem to have the right balance. I don't think this Germany team is that much more than a good unit, but young hungry players are coming through and there's genuine competition for the Bundesliga's top spots.

The new regulations imposing a minimum number of home-grown players will help. But we also need owners concerned in the long-term future of their clubs. It's not a money-making business, everyone knows that, but it shouldn't be a badge of honour either. Does the FA acknowledge this in its fit-and-proper-persons test? Of course not.

England will probably go back to a Keeganesque Mr Motivator manager. Someone like Harry Redknpapp would definitely give players confidence and they might feel more comfortable in their skin when they have the Three Lions on the chest.

But surely it's also time for a look in the mirror. One which was bandied about by every expert when England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 but was quickly forgotten with Capello's early success. It's time to tear down the wallpaper, see how deep the cracks are and knock down the house and start again if the foundations are too wobbly.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff,
    I am in Bangkok again, another job interview!
    Enjoy Spain vs Portugal tonight, and all the best to the other boys.