So the Australians may have beaten us at cricket. And tennis. And now football. But I'll tell you one thing. Their fans – rubbish at chanting.
Ok. So the Australians may have beaten us at cricket. And tennis. And now football. But I'll tell you one thing. Their fans – rubbish at chanting.
As the green and gold Socceroos bounded towards victory on Wednesday night, their followers expressed themselves in a manner which I can only described as joyous. "Au-ssie! Au-ssie!" they shouted, over and over again, waving their soft toy kangaroos as if they were on a school outing. And as if that wasn't not enough, they then began a chant of "Advance, Australia". I was expecting "two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate?" any minute.
These so-called football supporters – they probably call themselves soccer supporters – clearly don't understand this great game of ours. Here, patently, was the opportunity to taunt some of their Oceania group rivals – "American Samoa, American Samoa, are you watching on the box?" (Unlikely, but that's not the point.) Or to have a go at the host nation – "Who are ya? Who are ya? Who are ya?" Instead – what? Blind affirmation.
They can't have been listening properly to the England supporters, who made much use of the "Who are ya?" line when the Australians made second-half substitutions. Although, come to think of it, the mockery didn't work too well right then, as the visitors had never had any great pretensions as a footballing nation and yet they were still...
Anyway, to return to the main topic. The Australian fans went about their night's work at Upton Park with a child-like enthusiasm that was not the sort of thing you expect to witness in a football stadium. It was a spectacle which I, for one, found unedifying.
And, while we're at it, let's just correct an error that got bandied about in the aftermath of this match. Australia did not win. Australia did not properly win. Because senior England might've come back after half-time to score at least three goals. Maybe four. And junior England didn't lose to the visitors either. They drew the second half 1-1. So, although the final scoreline was England 1 Australia 3, I prefer to regard the result as 3-1 on aggregate for Australia against England Select. As Sven Goran Eriksson quite rightly pointed out afterwards, even though the Australians scored more goals than England, England were still better than them. At the end of the day, you can't get away from simple facts like that.
Having clarified the position, however, it may be worth giving thought to some modifications which would offer Eriksson greater leeway in future friendly matches as he struggles to further England's cause while mollifying the clubs who are so reluctant to risk over-tiring their already busy players.
Surely it is not beyond Fifa to sanction new rules for friendly games, which would allow the England manager to bring players on and off the field in the manner of tag wrestling? Thus, if a player is obviously struggling – just imagine that Gary Neville has forgotten about marking, or Rio Ferdinand trips himself up trying to be too clever, or David James finds corners simply too much to bear – they would be able to race to the touchline, exchange a swift high-five with an incoming team-mate and settle safely on the bench without doing any further damage.
In this way, 30, 40, 50 players could be accommodated within one match. And although Premiership managers may be alarmed at the number of their personnel who would be required on international nights, they would have the reassurance of knowing that none of their men would have to play for more than 10 minutes in total.
Eriksson's recently-voiced suggestion that "time-outs'' could be introduced for England games also offers advantageous possibilities. On Wednesday night, for instance, he could have called a "time-out" whenever the ball reached Australia's Harry Kewell. When play resumed, the home side would have been able to nullify the threat offered by the Leeds midfielder through the simple expedient of surrounding him with all 10 outfield players.
Of course, there was a far simpler tactic that could have been employed, and it was one strongly hinted at in the match programme by a man who enjoyed many successful outings at Upton Park during his playing career – Geoff Hurst. In an article outlining a scheme which offered delivery of 500 footballs to local schools for every goal the home team scored against Antipodean opponents, the former West Ham and England forward concluded: "Let's hope for an avalanche of goals tonight."
If England had only produced that avalanche early on, they could have relaxed for the rest of the game in the knowledge that victory was secure and offered their younger players an ideal opportunity to take their first steps in international football. But then, hindsight is a wonderful thing.