Sport on TV: They thought it was all over – for speechless Motty, it may be
Sunday 25 November 2007
England's travelling fans have been accused of many things, from thuggery to stupidity and back again. The latest is that they are "fair weather" fans, booing manager Steve McClaren vociferously after a goalless first half in Andorra. As the rain lashed down at their spanking new home last week, it was fair to call them foul weather fans too.
McClaren was embroiled beneath his umbrella. Has there ever been a more pathetic sight in the history of football management? Where was the passion, the indignation? Or even the mistresses, the amusing accent? Was he sheltering from the downpour, or avoiding any bricks hurled from the stands?
The crowd was supposed to act as "the 12th man", according to McClaren, as if they were an essential part of the game plan. Given the injuries to his squad, they should have been playing up front – or maybe in goal. At least 90,000 people might have managed to keep Niko Kranjcar's long-range shot out of the net.
Beseeching the public seemed like a desperate attempt by McClaren to woo his detractors – or was the 12th man in fact only one supporter, his mum perhaps? But maybe it was a coded message sent to the real 12th man, a superhero ready to be called on in times of crisis. Send out the Becks Signal, perhaps a Prada logo emblazoned in the night sky above the great Wembley arch.
Meanwhile, England's 13th man, sitting in his armchair, might have been pressing the red button to try to find the Andorra versus Russia match, if not mistaking it for the panic button. BBC Radio Five Live revealed there's a campsite right next to the Andorran pitch which was starting to sound rather attractive.
Back in the 'Match of the Day' studio, had you ever heard such doom and gloom? Even from Lineker and Hansen, the Steptoe and Son of Macca's rag-and-bone outfit? "Abject", "truly abysmal", "catastrophe of catastrophes", "a pub team could do better than this", "definitely a low point in English history".
John Motson, who may have commentated on his last competitive England match – his contract was due to run out after Euro 2008 – mourned: "This is a roller-coaster ride of the sort I've never experienced before." And this from the man who told us how hard it was as a callow youth to talk to Sir Alf Ramsey after England failed to qualify for the '74 World Cup.
Après le deluge, as the clock ticked down like an instrument of doom, the advertising hoardings all around Wembley asked: "Got the skills? FA.com." They were wasting no time in seeking a new manager. Motson was reduced to imploring Mark Lawrenson, "Say something, Mark, say something". "I can't."
So the BBC's love-hate relationship with England in competitive home games ended abruptly for the next five years, ITV and Setanta having secured the rights until 2012. A shame, given the spanking new stadium. It will be a long road back down Wembley Way.
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