Croatia 1 England 4 is not a where-were-you-when moment in quite the way that the Kennedy assassination was, or even Germany 1 England 5. But I have a slightly more interesting answer than eating a rusk, which is what I was doing when JFK was shot, and sitting with my mate Derek in my front room, which is where I watched Sven Goran Eriksson's team run riot in Munich. I spent Wednesday evening at a bar called 442, on Via Procaccini in Milan. The owner is Milanese, but the dozens of scarves pinned to the wall, Barnet FC rubbing fringes with FC Barcelona, proclaim his interest in the global game.
It was a great night. The three screens each showed a different World Cup qualifier – Croatia v England, France v Serbia and Italy v Georgia – and it was notable that the Italy match attracted by far the least interest from the punters, who were mostly French and English expatriates. Then there was my friend John, an expat from Edinburgh, who had to be satisfied with glimpses of Iceland v Scotland only during half-time in the other games. But he ended the evening as happy as everyone else, not only because of the priceless three points secured by George Burley's men in Reykjavik, but also because he is a massive fan of Italian football, and indeed Milan, and enjoyed the evidence that the former Milan manager Fabio Capello has ironed out some of the creases in England's game.
The following morning, the Gazzetta dello Sport was similarly keen to credit an Italian for England's display. The headline was "Inghilterra travolgente Ecco la lingua di Capello" – "Overwhelming England learn Capello's language" – a reference to the slight indignation felt in Italy at what is perceived to be sarcasm in the British media about Capello's stilted English. "The English have learnt Capello's language in only seven lessons," wrote the Gazzetta's man, Giancarlo Galavotti, referring to the coach's seven games in charge. He also suggested, whether tongue in cheek or with a shaky grasp of the British honours system I'm not sure, that if England continue playing like this, Capello might be in line for a visit to Buckingham Palace and an invitation to arise, Sir Fabio.
Elsewhere in Thursday's Gazzetta, there was a chirpy item about Gianfranco Zola's appointment at West Ham, and a report on Ireland's resolute performance in Montenegro, inspired of course by Italy's favourite footballing sage, Giovanni Trapattoni. In the bars of Milan, and doubtless Turin and Genoa and Rome, they laugh into their espressos at the notion that England's victory in Croatia reflects well on English football, or that Zola needs the West Ham job more than West Ham need Zola. They know which nation continues to wield the most influence over the beautiful game.
Ominous omen for white-knuckle ride at Valhalla
As a 15th birthday treat, we recently took my daughter and three of her mates to Blackpool Pleasure Beach. One of the rides we all went on was truly stomach-lurching; full of precipitous ups and downs through fire and ice, the air rent by terrible roars and excited screams. The ride is called Valhalla, just like the golf course in Louisville, Kentucky, at which the 37th Ryder Cup, a similar white-knuckle ride, begins next Friday.
Moral high ground not Murrayphobia marks the way ahead
Even by their own lofty standards, the phone-in contributors to Talksport played a blinder on Monday evening. With Andy Murray preparing to play Roger Federer in the final of the US Open, they queued up to explain that they were sitting at home in Barking and Billericay consulting their Swiss watches, eating cheese fondue followed by Swiss roll, and yodelling the missus to bring in some more Toblerone. One of them mused that in a perfect world, Federer would thrash Murray 6-0, 6-0, 6-0.
The young Scotsman's offence, of course, had been to wear a Paraguay football shirt during the last World Cup, and to remark that in the absence of Scotland he didn't care who won as long as it wasn't England. He later insisted that he had been joking, but for little Englanders, the damage was done.
Still, I mustn't be a hypocrite about this. Having lived in Scotland for four years and sometimes felt the full force of anti-English sentiment, I have myself railed at the chippy antagonism of those Scots who shout for England's opponents in any international sporting event, and have related before my encounter some years ago with a kilt-wearing Struan or Mungo in a Highlands pub, who eyed me warily when, trying to strike up casual conversation at the bar, I asked whether he had lived in such beautiful parts all his life. "No, I spent six years abroad," he growled. Oh really, whereabouts? He fixed me, from under a bushy ginger eyebrow, with a gimlet eye. "Have y'ever heard of a place called High Wycombe?"
There is no point in trying to chip away at such resolute Anglophobia, still less to rise to a wind-up merchant like Murray by wishing defeat on him. The answer is to support him volubly, to derive patriotic British pride from his increasing brilliance, and to leave the little Scotlanders with their Grampians, while we English assume the moral high ground.Reuse content