A Case For Defence as Poppy Fever Subsides

Posted on November 14, 2011

Sometimes I wonder what I am going to to write about, then, suddenly, there are almost too many things to cram in to what is supposed to be a topical blog, so I have to trim it down to highlights. This week-end had so much going on it is hard to know where to start, but I think I will begin with the unlikely defeat of the World and European football champions (Spain) by a limited but spirited England side who I have learned to irrationally hate in recent years, such has been the crass hype and expectation put upon them by the Murdoch media, dodgy agents and the players themselves. A list of most hated footballers will always include John Terry (JT) Steven Gerrard (Stevie G) and Frank Lampard (Lamps) but they are just a few high profile figures amongst many others who enjoy inflated status without any substance on the international stage.

This is the first England game I have watched for some time and I have to admit that I was salivating at the prospect of watching a technically gifted Spanish side rubbing English noses in to the Wembley dirt. My only disappointment was the absence of JT from the side, robbing me of the joy of seeing him humiliated by the intricate movements of Silva, Iniesta, Xavi and Villa. The game featured players who over the years have apparently not been fit to lace the boots of Stevie G, JT and Rio, players called Parker, Jagielka and Lescott were all taking their places alongside the youth of Jones and Walcott. This team (apart from Lamps) was barely recognisable from the one that performed so brilliantly at the 2010 World Cup, heroically drawing with the USA and Algeria and putting Slovenia to the sword before a gallant 4-1 battering by the young Germans.

It soon became apparent that the England manager Fabio Cappello had set up his 9-0-1 formation solely to avoid humiliation and in the hope a lucky break might just result in an unlikely victory. To begin with, I found myself tutting and grunting at this abject lack of ambition, but as the game progressed I started to perversely enjoy the growing frustration of the Spanish as Lescott, Jagielka, Jones and the brilliant Parker repelled them and forced them to play their possession game deeper and deeper without any penetration. It really was intriguing stuff. England then shocked everyone shortly after half-time with a simple goal forcing the visibly shaken Spanish to up their level further, but by now Parker was totally resolute and Jagielka and Lescott had grown so much in confidence that they were determined not to concede at any cost and rarely looked like doing so. I have to say they were both excellent and stoical to last second.

Stoical England: Parker and Jones keep an eye on Silva

The final result will have ramifications for the Spanish as a bit like Arsenal in recent seasons, if they are disrupted by high energy, deep concentration and commitment, they have a problem. They will face this “negativity” time and time again at Euro 2012 from better teams than England and they now must evolve accordingly. The so called purists will criticise England and anyone else who dares to become Spanish spoilers, but from a purely personal point of view (and I don’t think I am the only one) I really enjoyed Saturday’s game, just like I enjoyed Inter Milan defeating Barca a few years back in similar circumstances. There is something really compelling about backs to the wall defence in the face of a superior opponent and I find that just as exciting as seeing the aristocrats bemusing the opposition with intricate passing and movement. Undoubtedly, somewhere in the tabloid press England were described as showing a spirit of Dunkirk which was so fitting of an occasion where shirts, boots, advertising hoardings and scoreboards were bedecked with poppies that I am now sick of the fucking sight of.

On Thursday I wrote that I was concerned about the Poppy being a media tool, I didn’t want to offend I was just convinced that the whole occasion was becoming like Christmas rather than remembrance of tragic losses of the past. I read various newspapers over the weekend at coffee shops, other people houses and a couple I bought myself, and I was quite relieved to see that many journalists shared my opinion about the crass behaviour of politicians, the FA and FIFA. I also learnt a lot from unlikely sources including my least favorite newspaper (The Mail) that contained two brilliant articles by Des Kelly and the historian Max Hastings, whilst The Independent columns by James Lawton and James Corrigan were equally as good, Corrigan going as far to say that FIFA should have responded to a request from David Cameron for England to have Poppies on their shirts by saying “Is that the same Mr Cameron who is sanctioning the redundancies of 16,000 wounded soldiers?”

The Poppy Boot: I thought this was a sick joke

Did you know (you do now) that this is the first time in 93 years of November internationals that England have worn embroidered poppies on their shirts since the idea of this flower as a remembrance symbol was stolen from the French who stole it from the Americans after World War I. That means for 93 years English footballers have been unpatriotic thoughtless Bastards. Footballing greats like Billy Wright, Bobby Moore, Nobby Stiles, Stanley Mathews, Bobby Charlton, Kevin Keegan, Gary Lineker and Carlton Palmer all had the unpatriotic audacity not to wear a poppy. That is tantamount to treason, they should be stripped of their international caps and deported to the colonies. Whilst the Poppy frenzy can only be good for the publicity of the Royal British Legion, the righteous behaviour of Prince William and David Cameron stinks of hypocrisy and the jingoistic nature of some political and media commentators is an embarrassment to behold. Sky TV having cameras trawling Premier League training pitches as players stopped their sprint tests and practice matches to observe the silence on Friday was totally bizarre and Corrigan rightly wrote “what next a new programme called “Silence of the Day?” The Nike football boot with a poppy conveniently just above the logo was exploitation of the highest order, something that I initially thought was a sick joke, sadly it wasn’t.

War is war and sport is sport, but in a tub thumping American way it is a money making convenience for media and advertising gurus’s to merge the two together and watch the frenzy unfold in to glorious opportunism.

As my friend John said:

“What next? Will we be sending each other Poppy cards and buying our kids Remembrance Day presents?”

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