Saturday 10 July 2010
Brian Viner: Gouda vs beaches: it's time to decide which side we're on
The Last Word
On the whole, columnists shouldn't revisit their own work, least of all to congratulate themselves.
Nor should they make bold predictions. In August 2007, fed up with the way the English football season had become one long Groundhog Day, with the same clubs winning the same trophies every year, I undertook to lead a naked conga round Soho Square if none of the so-called Big Four reached the FA Cup final. Somewhat unexpectedly, the big match the following May was contested between Portsmouth and Cardiff City, and that week a rival newspaper very thoughtfully published a reminder of my promise, calling on me to honour it. All I can say is that it's cold in Soho Square at 4am, even with three tramps bringing up the rear.
Anyway, you'll forgive me if, having got that one so badly wrong, I preen a little when I get one right. On 12 June on this page I wrote the following about the World Cup: "As for the tangential matter of who is actually going to win the thing, I see that none of the experts agree with me that the Netherlands represent the best value at 10-1." The Oranje haven't won it yet, of course, but since Mr Ladbroke took my bet on a 1-2 each-way basis, halving the odds for second place, I'm quids-in whatever happens.
Nonetheless, it is for mainly pecuniary reasons that I will be shouting strongly for the Dutch tomorrow evening, and why those of you who backed Spain will be doing the opposite. My two sons will be on opposing sides, too, one having drawn the Dutch in the family sweepstake, the other the Spanish. A small financial interest is still the best way for neutrals to decide which team to support in the World Cup final.
There are other ways, though, and we English need to consider what they are because neutrality seems to be our lot. One is a slightly forced partisanship, depending on what domestic club you support and whether it has any connections with the finalists. As an Everton fan, this again leads me to the Netherlands, whose defender John Heitinga is set to become the first man to represent the Toffees in the World Cup final since Ray Wilson in 1966. By the same logic, Liverpool fans will perhaps be split (Kuyt, Torres), but supporters of Arsenal will doubtless be rooting for Cesc Fabregas and Spain.
For those who consider themselves purists, the business of which team to support in the final is determined simply, by the footballing merits of the two sides. In this regard it's hard to argue against the Spanish, who might have shown only fleeting glimpses of their wonderful abilities in this World Cup, but at their formidable best unquestionably play more attractive football than the Dutch, and everyone else for that matter. Not that Holland don't have their own entertainers, in the likes of Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, but a victory for Spain tomorrow would be a victory for the Beautiful Game.
On the other hand, and this debate has more hands than your average psychic octopus, there is the question of sentiment. Those of us old enough to remember the World Cup final of 1978, and more especially that of 1974, know that it will represent the cruellest of blows to the Dutch to be losing finalists again; indeed, no nation has ever lost three times in the World Cup final without having also won the thing. It isn't easy to see in the team of Mark van Bommel the legacy of Cruyff, Neeskens and the Total Football philosophy of legendary coach Rinus Michels, but it's lovely to think of old Rinus looking down from the celestial dugout, watching the World Cup being carried high back to the Low Countries.
Beyond that, there are any number of more whimsical reasons to support either Holland or Spain tomorrow. The great holiday you had on the Costa Brava? The bastard who pickpocketed you in Barcelona? Your abiding fondness for Gouda? The taxi driver who ripped you off in Amsterdam? Whatever, I can practically guarantee that you'll enjoy the match more if you're rooting for one team over the other. Alternatively, of course, we can all throw our patriotic support behind Howard Webb from Rotherham, the referee.
From long-on I'd say Freddie looks ready
Last Sunday, Andrew Flintoff played his first innings since last summer's conclusive Ashes Test, and I was privileged to watch it not from beyond the boundary, but from long-on.
It was a charity match in aid of Help For Heroes, organised by a friend of mine, the Mail on Sunday's cricket correspondent, Peter Hayter, and it took place on the wonderful private cricket ground of a stately pile in Shropshire. Flintoff was completely brilliant all day, spending hours and hours signing autographs, and when finally he came in to bat he paid the bowler the great compliment of taking him seriously, hitting the ball hard but along the ground and straight to cover: no run. It was a poignant moment, because the bowler was a soldier with a prosthetic leg.
Meanwhile, in the outfield, long-on was praying hard that he wouldn't have to deal with a Flintoff piledriver. Happily, when it came, it sailed over his head, over the ropes, and practically over the border into Wales.
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