I’m backing England

Here kicks off sport review NZ’s Germany 06 coverage. I’m going to be providing some New Zealand perspective on the world’s biggest sporting event. Mostly from the couch. After some (pretty minor) soul searching, I will hereby be backing England in this World Cup. Here’s why.

I started off supporting England when I began taking a proper interest in Spurs in 1993 or thereabouts. It went hand in hand for me – I knew the players, the All Whites were pretty crap, so why not? It just felt right. I got a copy of the Italia ’90 semi final on VHS and watched it a lot.

It really kicked off with Euro 96 – Terry Venables had the coaching job, and put Teddy Sheringham, Darren Anderton and Nick Barmby in the team. Gazza was back, Wembley was bathed in sunshine, they had grey shirts, I had a Sky decoder – what could possibly go wrong?

“You look like you’re going to vomit” said my then-girlfriend when Southgate missed his penalty. Some welcome.

Then came France ’98. By now I was living in London, and had seen England lose to Chile at the old Wembley stadium with my brother and a couple of mates, a game notable only for the England debut of M. Owen. I warmed up with the rest of the boys from the office at a Southwalk pub, laughing at Scotland losing to Brazil. “This is brilliant” I thought – World Cup football in the same timezone! And booze!

England had three pool games to negociate, but no-one seemed too worried, all eyes were on the Argentina match. I watched from the floor of a Wapping pub in front of a big screen. It’s safe to say that by kick off, I’d had a few, my office went to a wine bar for someone’s birthday, so we could all get pissed beforehand, they were bloody considerate those guys. I remember Owen’s goal alright, and I remember leaping to my feet to celebrate (pre-Judas) Sol Campbell’s goal, only to be ruled out by Alan ‘bloody’ Shearer’s thoughtless elbow on an Argie defender. I remember using some very bad language on my stagger to the tube station afterward, and can only apologise to anyone Argentinean who may have heard it.

Then God Hoddle shot his mouth off and England got Keegan. I loved his Newcastle side like everyone else, but always thought he was a bit of a Muppet. By Euro 2000 I was living in Dublin and took my life in my hands cheering Shearer’s goal vs Germany in a Leopardstown pub – that didn’t go down to well with the locals (“It’s OK, we’re Kiwis” “Ye’re feckin eeejits”). England were a bit shit, of course, and this was the beginning of the end, Keegan was apparently great at ‘geeing the lads up’, but was utterly, cruelly clueless tactically.

I packed it in when they lost to Germany at Wembley’s last match in the worst performance and Keegan resigned immediately afterwards. “I don’t need this shit” I thought. “I’ve got enough bloody teams to worry about without these guys”. I watched Beckham beat Greece on his own impassively. I laughed at Seaman’s ponytail and Sven’s inability to keep it in his trousers. I tried backing Italy (The Sopranos) and Brazil (Ronaldo) in Japan/Sth Korea 02, but didn’t get tooooo worked up. Everyone loves Brazil deep down anyway. I watched Rooney go off injured and England going out of Euro 04 and felt a twinge of… something.

Now I’m back, chastened. The time is right, England can play some nice football. There’s loads of Spurs players in the team and squad. They’ve got a great chance of winning it, and they’ll have me yelling for them. I only hope they’ve been practicing penalties.


I still kind of want a Russian billionaire for Spurs

Or do I? Abramovich may be football’s version of a fairy godmother, but how would you feel if your team was cast as the bad guy against Barcelona – a team that plays outstanding attacking football? I’d almost support Barca over my own team. Chelsea will win the league, but they’re doing it in such a joyless, dull manner, broken up only by whinging and diving that everyone enjoyed watching Barca beat them with a side dish of schadenfreude.

At least when Man Utd (the last team it was fun to hate) were winning everything you could appreciate their football. Mourinho had the chance to build one of the great entertaining sides with all that cash (kind of like Barca, in fact), but he went with the one-nils instead. I hope him and all these fans who’ve come from nowhere are really enjoying it.

The beautiful game

A good mate of mine is a Liverpool fan, and I was dead jealous of their Champions League win, not just of the trophy and bragging rights, but ‘cos he got to start drinking at 6.30am, be well gone by ten and asleep on the couch at 2. Glorious. But to balance things nicely, he is currently losing wads of cash in a silly bet he made about ‘Pool’s and Spurs’ relative league positions this year (not with me BTW).

Liverpool fully deserved their win, they made their luck and turned the game on its head after an absolute towelling in the first half. Stevie G deserves the lion’s share of credit, but everyone played their part (with the possible exception of H Kewell – who went on to star in the OTHER penalty drama of the year). I’m sure glad I’m not a Liverpool fan – I found the tension pretty goddamn full on as an innocent bystander – if that was my team I don’t think I’d have coped.

El Beatle

RIP Georgie Best, undoubtedly the best UK footballer ever.
I’m too young (and too living in New Zealand) to have ever seen him play live, but you can’t be a football fan and not be in awe of what he had.

It’s sad his potential was never really fulfilled, he had an OUTRAGEOUS talent, we should be talking about him the same breath as Pele, Maradonna and Cruyft. Considering he was around in the same era as Nobby Stiles, Jack Charlton, and Norman Hunter, all very British players, Best seems almost South American for his love of dribbling and outrageous tricks. Like kicking the ball out of Gordon Banks’ hands to score (boooooo to the ref who disallowed it).

A very intelligent man, who was aware of what he had and was capable of, it’s a tragedy he began drinking to cope with carrying United after their sixties stars began leaving. I’m not interested in the drinking and womanising, and prefer to remember the footballer who was happiest on the pitch. A 16 year old homesick Belfast boy turning up in Manchester, hoping to conquer the world – and who almost did.


Fergie’s fledglings – where are they now?

Living in London during the 1999 treble season for Manchester United with a rabid red and a sky decoder, I watched most of the games shown on the way to the treble. The team was built on Fergusson’s youth FA Cup winning team of Giggs, Beckham, Scholes, and the Nevilles, along with the awesome spine of Schmicheal, Staam and Keane, who made the journeymen Johnson, Cole and Yorke’s jobs a lot easier. There were some classic moments and matches, such as the comeback in Turin, Giggs’ goal against Arsenal, and of course the Nou Camp. This article looks at why the wonder boys seem almost all washed up, and why they only won one European crown (which has always been Fergie’s greatest ambition). Still, even the most ardent member of the anti – united brigade (and it’s a big brigade) have to admit the ’99 team was a bit special.


Tottenham’s brave new world

Vive le revolution. The new regime of Santini, Arnesen and Jol promises much, but Tottenham fans are all too used to fresh starts and false dawns. There were promising signs when the first signings were defensive midfielders, something the team has cried out for too many years, but then the transfers largely dried up. Arnesen is renowned as a talent spotter and a couple of youngsters have been added, but presumably they won’t go into the first team for some time. The side looks alarmingly similar to the underachiving model of last year, so the pressure will be on Santini right from the start. Missing out on Davids was a blow, a couple of big names in midfield and defence would have had us breathing a little easier.

It seems we have to be patient again, and put our faith in three men new to the premiership. Their credentials are impressive, but it seems there are a number of factors that need to gel for improvement to come about. Spurs fans just want for the team to rise above the midtable position we’ve been occupying for a number of years, show some fight and just maybe to show the style and flair we miss so much.


Transfer merry-go-round

Keep up to date with all the transfers from the Premier League over the (UK) summer. My pal Andrew says that Birmingham City have made the best signings and are the ones to watch this year, but I can’t see it. Chelsea have done well so far, but I still have the feeling it’s all going to turn to custard. Arsenal have been quite quiet, too – it’ll be a huge blow to them if Viera goes to Madrid, and we know how these sagas usually end, don’t we (see Beckham, D & Ronaldo)? Jaques Santini is quietly putting the Tottenham revolution in the water and seeing how it floats.