Sucking heartily on life's half-time oranges

Sunday, 24 June 2012

EUROTASTICS 4! England v Italy

Lawks. My hair is standing on end, my stomach is in turmoil, my hands are raw, my head hurts, and I've made the room smell weird. It's not bird 'flu, I've just watched England get knocked out of an international tournament again!

Kicking off with a near-smasheroo from the Italians, and then a slight fumble-o-rama from Glen Johnson, the first half was pretty marvellous, especially that purple patch from 5 to 25 minutes, or should I say white patch. It was lovely to watch the boys fluttering around like wood white butterflies, with a light touch on the ball. But just like those wood whites, whose population on our soil is declining fast, England's performance faded throughout the second half, just clinging on for dear darned life by the end of extra time.
By the time there was a shot of the subs, I was GRATEFUL to see Andy Carroll on the touchline, though of course his small bag of party tricks (1: standing 2: leaning 3: heading, very well 4: flattening Italians) were only beneficial for so long. I thought we defended quite fearlessly and brilliantly - how else didn't the Italians score with all those ludicrous chances? Terry and Lescott fended off the terrifying Balotelli, who with his current haircut is basically a human circular saw, and who would bolt from his line like a glistening, hotly steaming horse, nostrils flaring alarmingly. But defending is only half the battle, and elsewhere we were giving away balls like sweets at a children's party. Hodgson looked more and more spooked by the second, and Wayne's magic was not quite there, though that overhead kick at the end of 90 minutes was heart-stopping. The brass section sounded increasingly like party blowers in the cold light of morning after the night before.

Penalties, though of course nerve-wracking, felt different this time. It had been such an Italy-heavy match that (at least as a spectator...), it REALLY didn't matter if we got knocked out. Not like 1990, or 1996, or 2006. It's weird to say it, but I felt quite RELIEVED when that last penalty went in. We clapped Italy, who obviously deserved to win by several country miles; it would have been embarrassing for England, bless their hearts, to go onto the semis to be pulverised by the Germans. Now I can just ENJOY it (and recover my health).

ENGLISH HERO: Joe Hart, just utterly unflappable, and often caught grinning at madly tense moments, like he was just enjoying himself hugely. I liked his yoga lion face in the penalties. Surely our captain for the next tournament?
IRRITANT: Mark Lawrenson, who is becoming more and more like the embittered uncle at your Christmas party, full of barbed, mildly bigoted remarks and general idiocy. 'Or you can tweet', he sneered, 'if you're sad', to some remark about how to stay in touch with the Euros, possibly insulting hundreds of thousands of viewers. Obviously he's not the sort of man to do anything as pathetic as use Twitter, do yoga (like Shay Given) or use hair product (like Wayne Rooney), as he reminds us from time to time on screen, with his mean, drooping fizzog. Promote Martin Keown, quick!

HOMOEROTICA: Balotelli, advancing, and Hart, walking backwards, eyes locked, faint smiles playing upon on their lips, as they headed for the goalmouth for the first penalty. HIGHLY SEXUALLY CHARGED! Also, Balotelli getting his magnificent thighs massaged by two supplicant physios before penalties. HEAVENS.

SHIRTWATCH: A quiet night, but Alan Shearer snuck in a curious double-layered collar.

ADVICE OF THE NIGHT no. 1: 'get one of the strikers to sit on him!' - Alan Shearer, urgently, on how to cope with Pirlo. Think you would have needed the whole team to flatten him like a pea under a mattress-pile of players, subs and coaching staff. Or just Andy Carroll, of course.

ADVICE OF THE NIGHT no. 2: 'We've GOT to get hold of that football!' - Shearer again, futilely.

TATTOO OF THE MATCH: Diamante. Like a load of 90's rave stickers have melted onto his right arm. DREADFUL.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

EUROTASTICS 3! England v Ukraine

Phew. Well. There we are. Usually the reaction to going out of a tournament rather than going onto the quarter-finals, this was the array of utterances at the final whistle of tonight's saggy balloon of a match. Despite Adrian Chiles' best efforts to sell ITV as the home of thrills-a-minute England games, much tonight's experience was a bit like going to Legoland on a wet October half-term.

Up north for some workshops and gigs, I watched the first half with my singing compadre Sarah in the pub garden of a York suburb, ready for a rampant match bathed in glorious post-Olympic torchy sunshine. The screen was way too small and the crowd rather too muted to give it some lairy atmosphere, so after a first half in which the pub's barbecue was the only thing that sizzled, we dashed back home for comfy sofas, the company of sleepy in-laws and some restrained shouting at the telly. I really can't think of much to report: Rooney's sweet celebration in honour of Andy Carroll's hair product (castor oil? It's the only explanation); Terry's miraculous scoop-out in Ukraine's non-goal, with the fifth official failing to see that it was over the line despite being practically IN THE GOALMOUTH; Scotty Parker taking balls in the face and ear with nary a hint of recognition or anguish (my HERO!); a wondrous save by our surest player, Joe Hart. Obviously it was nice for Rooney to score, even in a no-brainer like the Ukraine triple deflection he got, and I so WANT him to be crowned Wayne the Lionheart, Lord And Ruler Of Our Noble Land, but there was much less of that spark tonight. Pfftth.

CLICHE OF THE DAY: Interviews with players are always such tedium; with media training probably injected into their very veins every morning, perhaps forced to watch archive interviews 'A Clockwork Orange'-style with their eyes pinned open, every damn interview always comes back to Cliche Corner. Even Steve Gerrard's 3-minute embarrassed shrug of a post-match interview still managed to contain the phrases 'we take each game as it comes'; 'you need a bit of luck along the way'. One day, a player's dull eyes will flicker, arise out of the fug of media doping and say 'You know what? You're right. My goal was fucking GENIUS! I'M a genius! I'm the best one in this team and they ALL know it! Oh yeah, and of course Spain are better than Italy.'

TATTOO OF THE DAY: Well-meaningly earnest, punctuation-lacking scrolls on Joleon Lescott's torso. The one on his chest reads 'Don't listen to one who has known me because to have known me would mean there is a new me'. Which isn't as bad as 'Roses are red/violets are blue/I play for England/Whoop doop de doo', but only by a whisker.

HAIR DISASTER OF THE DAY: It looks like someone has draped a beaver's tail over Ashley Cole's cranium. Davy Crockett gone all wrong.

SHIRTWATCH: Gareth Southgate sported very good socks and shoes this evening. It's all about the details in men's fashion, and Gareth KNOWS it.

ADORABLES: Sarah deemed Scott Parker 'well fit' (to which he would have swept her off her feet, done a bit of swing dancing with her before taking her on a cheeky loop de loop in his Spitfire, had he heard), although she also thought Andy Carroll had something about him, which obviously means her judgement is suspect. The only thing about him worth knowing is to make sure you don't go for a ball near him, because you will be crushed by his lumbering barn-door weight. Oof.

Friday, 15 June 2012

EUROTASTICS 2! England v Sweden

Yeah, it was never in doubt! Easy! Well, apart from the fairly turgid first half and hapless defending of much of the second, obviously...
I watched this one with another high-rise view, this time from the east of the city in Mile End, surrounded by shouty boys, beer and pizza, taking advantage of James and Steve's ginormo telly turned up to, as Steve put it, 'pub volume', for extra atmosphere, y'know. It was fun to hear the argy-bargy of the chaps, and their takes on various players (Andy Carroll: 'Rollie-Smoking Binman'; Oxlade-Chamberlain: 'sounds like a posh sausage'; John Terry: hhm, probably not for Fever Bitch readers' delicate eyes...), and the wild lurching from gallows humour to delirious optimism. 
The England boys seemed to revert mostly back to their lumpen selves for much of the game, apart from Carroll's big moment, tearing apart his shirt to reveal some sort of superhero logo as he leapt 50 metres into the air to head the ball in off his oily mane. Elsewhere, there was some rocky stuff from Cole and Gerrard, and some flashes of nonsense from John Terry, who also ran like, well, ME (NB this is not a compliment. I run like a GIRL). Out with the old, in with the new, I say: let's slough off all that dead meat! It was all about our young whippersnappers, with Walcott's wonder-goal and fizzing runs, and early '90s House Party-era throwback Danny Welbeck with his bonkers blind-twist-backheel number, like some brilliant renegade move from Strictly Come Dancing.
TATTOO OF THE MATCH: Andy Carroll's back. And not in a good way. Like he accidentally wandered into the hut of a fairground cod-mystic fortune-teller who got happy with the felt-tips. Just horrific.
ADVICE OF THE DAY: 'Put Ashley Young in the wall, doing nothing; just being a wall!' Lee Dixon, exasperated

SHIRT-WATCH: the two most articulate pundits at the Beeb this evening were the ones shouting to make themselves heard on the touchline with Gabby. David James looked like a systems analyst from Caterham on night out uptown, with a noisy striped number; Martin Keown, astonishingly, is ageing well, especially with those tight trousers, decent haircut and jaunty hand on hip. Perky!

CRAP ARTY JOKE OF THE DAY: (a riff on an excellent Twitter joke from this evening) That Roy Hodgson's a marvel. Not only does he read books but he employs authors as well. Who'd have thought a controversialist author, post-colonialist poet and magic realist avant la lettre would all score! God bless Houellebecq, Walcott and  Carroll!
ADORABLES: Quite liked Mellberg's beard. Hearty and Swedish, like a herring fisherman from Smaland.
ROY HODGSON EXPRESSION-WATCH: Much nail-biting and wishing he could hide his face in a copy of Beware of Pity. But also clapping!

Monday, 11 June 2012

EUROTASTICS! England v France

The first England match! Brilliant. No London pub full of steaming, beery men for me; I decided to enjoy the first one in solo slumber slumber party fashion, complete with blueberry facemask, chocolate and nail-painting, at home in my living room. Up here on the 5th floor in Camberwell, you could see the city's grimness in full force, and the weather surely reflected the nation's mizzly feelings in the run-up to the game. None of that usual blazing sunshine and raging optimism. That said, it seemed a pretty promising line-up for England - as promising as you could muster from our diluted team; Roy Hodgson had probably considered bringing along a couple of cardboard cut-outs along on the plane to pop on the pitch just in case.

Of course, the 'low expectations' shtick was only kept up for about 10 minutes. Once Ashley Young broke free for the first attempt towards goal, I swear I could hear the whole country thinking 'we can do it! We can get a goal, in this match and the next and get through to the quarters and WIN THE WHOLE BLOODY THING!', and people turning to each other in pubs and saying 'I knew Hodgson was the right choice. I mean, he reads books, for goodness' sakes! BOOKS!' We just can't help ourselves.

But bless their hearts, England truly did keep those spirits toasty during the whole game, with plenty of feisty play, gutsy defending (Scott Parker winning the award for Best Gung-Ho Lunging - tally ho, Scotty!), and nice work from the likes of Milner and Little Oxtail-Chamberlain. Lescott proved the worth of his bafflingly high hairline on 29 minutes with a lovely header off that polished pate, before Nasri got one back for the French, making them hover, sleek and sharkish around the goal for a bit. It was a cheering game, especially after those very 'meh' friendlies: good-humoured and civilised, at least until the East European temperatures started making the oldies sag. In the second half, there was a short spell of genuinely good passing from England, almost to chicken tikka standards, or whatever they call it. Hur. It got a bit nervy towards the end, but was really rather fun, and I got to clap and shout my best managerial advice to my heart's content without anyone sniggering at me. Even ITV didn't do badly, bar their crap curry house-style scoreboard graphics: I actually found the punditry and engaged discourse of Jamie Carragher (chewing on his Scouse consonants as if they were gobstoppers) and Patrick Viera quite refreshing after the boorishness of the Beeb's boys all year. Anyway, to Friday: onwards and upwards, chaps!

TATTOO OF THE MATCH: Glen Johnson's sleeve.

USELESS COMMENT OF THE DAY: 'EXCELLENT feet' - Andy Townsend, earnestly, on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

CLICHE-WATCH: 'Keep calm and carry on'! Clive Tyldesley, chirpily.

SHIRT-WATCH: Carragher: middling; Viera: safe, classic; Southgate: disastrous 1980s cityboy

CRAP ARTY JOKE OF THE DAY: What sentence can you usefully say at both Wigmore Hall and the Donbass Arena, especially if you have a lisp? 'I enjoyed the beautiful Arabesques of Debuchy.'
ADORABLES: The newbies, Oxtail and Henderson, the latter rocking a wholesome Gary Barlow look. Scott Parker's noble retro countenance is struggling in that ghastly heat.
ROY HODGSON EXPRESSION-WATCH: He cracked a smile in the post-match interview! A SMILE!