A big cheer/ raspberry/ yawn for our lads

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The Independent Online

I was determined to bring you a report on the historic England v France match in Euro 2004, and therefore commissioned our indomitable soccer specialist Rene McGrit to bring his very own expertise to the subject.

I was determined to bring you a report on the historic England v France match in Euro 2004, and therefore commissioned our indomitable soccer specialist Rene McGrit to bring his very own expertise to the subject.

What I had forgotten, of course, was that the match was taking place at night, long after this column has to be written and filed, so I had to ask Rene to pen his report before the result was known, indeed, long before the match started.

To cover every eventuality, Rene had to call on very special skills indeed. I hope you will agree that it is a piece of football reporting such as you do not see every day.

 

And so (writes Rene McGrit, our hard-bitten yet sensitive, battle-hardened but perpetually enthusiastic award-winning football scribe), the crunch encounter between the cavaliers of England and the musketeers produced the result that we had all craved for/feared in our heart of hearts/been resigned to in advance. (Note to readers: please delete as necessary, in case of win, draw or loss.)

A whole country was gutted/delirious/indifferent. Ten days in which the flag of St George had seemed to flutter from every family saloon on the motorway, and every 4 by 4 vehicle clogging the lanes of England, had culminated in 90 minutes of disappointment/triumph/tedium. No wonder that the crowds in every town and city, having joined together in the local bar or pub to see the game on TV, had danced in the streets/shrugged fatalistically and ordered another pint/wrecked the place and gone home at half-time.

This was an English triumph/catastrophe/ stalemate, of course. North of the border, where the Scots have yet again failed to qualify, and indeed west of the border, where the Welsh were so unlucky to not get to the finals after their opening victory against Italy, the mood was quite different. An English victory brings no comfort to the Celts, whereas when the Saxons stumble, the hearts of the Scots and Welsh sing louder, so last night's result was predictably greeted in Celtic parts with a resounding cheer/raspberry/yawn.

And yet the game itself brought no great surprises. We knew all along that it was going to be English endeavour, with a bit of flair, against French flair, with a bit of endeavour, and so, by and large, it proved. People had predicted a savage war or at the very least a brutal exchange of personal hostilities; their expectations were fully confounded/totally justified/only half fulfilled. Skill there was in plenty; courage in full measure; errors and spills, too; but what nobody had expected was for there to be so many goals/dreadful misses/pitch invasions/a freak cloudburst which washed out the game, necessitating a replay, you never know, stranger things have happened, thought I'd put that in just in case ...

This morning, Sven Goran Eriksson must be a happy man/a frustrated man/in hiding somewhere. He has always come in for criticism for chopping and changing too much, but who could have expected that he would use no substitutes at all/replace the whole team at half-time with his ex-girlfriends/bring himself on in the second half, wearing a number 23 shirt and his reading glasses? Whatever he was thinking, it certainly worked/backfired/led to his sacking two minutes after the game. One thing is for sure; when Eriksson returns to England, he will be a hero/dead man/in disguise.

And yet it could all have been so different. If it had not been for that Beckham missed penalty/fatal French injury/helicopter crashing on the pitch, who knows how the game might have ended? But as history shows, the result of the opening match does not always affect the final outcome, and final victory is still well within the grasp of France/England/every team in the tournament. The message for all of us is: Come on lads!/Allez, messieurs!/Switch off your TV sets, for God's sake, and get a good book and relax in the sunshine!

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