Football: Ince to be brought to book?

Andrew Longmore reads a new chapter in England's sorry story

AFTER THE vanity, publish the horror fiction. The Terrible Night England Began to Believe Their Own Publicity. It is still too early to write the epilogue to England's chances of qualifying for the European Championship in the summer of 2000 - one down, seven episodes to go - but the next few chapters need to be a lot racier than this one if the ending is to be suitably romantic.

The pre-match billboards advertised the battle of the strikers, Shearer v Owen. But the images conjured from a sunlit evening in Stockholm reflected not the golden goal of St Etienne, but the Swedes and Turnips of Graham Taylor's vegetable past. An equaliser deflected into the net via Tony Adams's left arm and David Seaman's prostrate stomach, the winner, a bobble off the knee of Paul Scholes; England reversed the trend by turning from kings to cabbages. The one thread stretching between St Etienne and Stockholm was mathematical. England ended both games with 10 men. For David Beckham read Paul Ince. Rightly expelled for two yellow cards, the Liverpool midfielder is becoming an increasing liability for his country.

That Scholes should be found so deep in retreat said much for the speed with which England, supposedly the wiser side after the experiences of France, hit the panic button. Rather than reading the next instalment of the coach's World Cup Diary or their centre-half's compelling life story, the England side should confine their bedside reading to the FA Book of Defending; 4-4-2 or 3-5-2, formations are irrelevant in the midst of rampant incompetence.

Not far away, the strike force designated by the assembled script writers to settle their personal issue must have wondered whether they had wandered into an episode of the X Files. The speculation centred as much on Alan Shearer's reaction to the rise of his partner as the extraordinary unconditional adulation accorded Michael Owen from the normally unassuming Swedes. Presumably, we will have to wait for the book to discover the innermost thoughts of Shearer. His demeanour in a spiky press conference earlier last week as question after question was directed at the little boy beside him suggested a man consigned to unwanted shadows. What was it Oscar Wilde said about publicity? The only thing worse than having it was not having it. The truth of that aphorism slowly dawned on the England captain last week.

It is a measure of Owen's instant celebrity that the sleep of the Swedish defenders had been disturbed not by the physical presence of Shearer but the elusiveness of England's Peter Pan. Shearer had wisely kept his counsel, trusting his eloquence to his boots. Yet anonymity, relative though it may be, is a priceless asset for a striker too. Shearer, desperately short of goals for club and country, knew he could profit from the defenders' divided attentions. In less time than it took to read the front cover, Shearer had opened his European Championship account. And if there was a touch of good fortune about his free-kick - not least that he profited from the absence of the usual dead-ball specialist, Beckham - then the celebrations had the question "who's the No 1 striker now?" written all over them.

For the first half, there was only one striker in the game and he was not christened Michael. The first imprint Owen left was on the ankles of the Swedish left-back, a tackle which would have brought him an immediate red card had it been committed on French soil a month and a half earlier. This is the other side of Owen, not so much Michaelmania as manic Michael, a scythe not dissimilar to the tackle on Ronny Johnsen which brought a red card and the people's vote as the second worst crime in the Premier League last season. The one glimpse of his more notable talent came with a delicate chip over the goalkeeper, exquisitely struck from an acute angle, but from an offside position.

Not until the second half did he get the time and space to run at the Swedish defence. The slamming of the door will become a familiar sound to him, now that defenders have satellite-beamed proof of the dangers of youth. Sweden worked on the lines of supply and kept Owen with his back to goal as often as possible. Inexperience, and a worrying injury to Darren Anderton, did the rest. Owen and Shearer are still a fledgling pairing. Too much of their time was spent outside hailing distance. The understanding will emerge; the future of England and, quite possibly, their coach rests on it. But, for the moment, no one will want to buy the paperback rights.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - North West London, £35-40k

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant (ACCA / CIMA, ...

Recruitment Genius: Female Care Team

£11 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A 10 year old girl who has profound an...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Manchester - Urgent Requirement!

£30000 - £35000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Development Manager ...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore