A View From the Chaise Longue – It’s Tears Again!

Posted on December 11, 2022

I met a couple of my son George’s friends in Winchester yesterday. On a busy and buoyant Christmas afternoon the temptation was there to hang about and watch the game. However, the chaise longue had served England well and to desert it now would surely mean defeat. That’s right, England’s fate rested on me staying loyal to a piece of furniture.

Uneasy Confidence

During the drive home, I felt an almost uneasy sense of confidence. Southgate is a calm man and that feeling becomes infectious. I didn’t feel the kind of helpless panic that has engulfed me since 1982 when England play critical games. That said, I haven’t been drinking heavily during games either. We all know what drink does. It dulls our front cortex and makes us irrational, elated in victory, utterly miserable in defeat, looking for someone to blame. Been there, got numerous T-Shirts.

The start of the game felt a little fractured. Both sides looked a bit nervous in possession but a threat going forward. France although not flowing, felt like a perpetual danger, occasionally sending my sphincter into overdrive. Then, the moment of controversy. A foul on Saka, followed by a flowing French counter-attack and a thumping strike. 1-0 and a wave of Conspiracy theories on Twitter.

VAR Injustice

Surely VAR would rule it out? They didn’t. Why not for Christ’s sake? Did Saka go down too easily? Was the referee too obsessed with the instructions to let games flow? Had Qatar given the VAR team 27 camels and the promise of 54 virgins when they die? Who knows but England were losing. They had to respond.

Then, another moment that had conspiracy theorists on the verge of masturbation. A mistimed hack on Harry Kane. Penalty, surely? VAR got on the case and gave nothing. It must be that they decided it was outside the area. I thought it was outside the area, but others say the foul continued into the area. England had to move on and crush any sense of injustice.

England Stay Calm

Whilst tempers frayed in pubs, bars and social media, England, to their credit stayed steady. This allowed them to get to half-time without the kind of further damage that could’ve killed them off. It offered the players time to regroup, put perceived injustice behind them and launch an offensive. It was a vibrant offensive too. England swarmed all over France and got their reward when the perpetually kicked Saka, went down in the box. Harry Kane. Mr Reliable Bang. 1-1.

At this point, I could only see one winner. France were like a boxer on the ropes waiting to be knocked out. England were the dominant force and it seemed a matter of time before they scored again. However, like a champion boxer on the ropes, France offered a late flurry. A fine save off of Giroud’s volley was the jab. The delicious Griezmann cross and a thumping header from the same player put England on the canvas.

A Gift Spurned

What a blow. All that work to put themselves in a winning position, undone by the kind of blow that only champions deliver. It was now a desperate situation with the clock ticking. But then, a lifeline. An inexplicable barge into the back of Mason Mount left VAR no choice but to gift England a penalty. Over to Harry Kane. Mr Reliable. Bang. Oh fuck. I can’t bring myself to describe Kane’s Waddlesque mental breakdown. No words will comfort him. It was a gift wrapped opportunity to take France all the way. A chance that had to be taken. It wasn’t.

So there it is. Champions find a way to win and France are seasoned champions. England played superbly in the second half but you have to seize the moment. Like all champions, France are at their most dangerous when you think you have got them. It was a French team without Kante, Benzema and Pogba and it was vulnerable. It was an opportunity missed.

Good by not yet Great

England are now a very good football team. To become a great one, they need land the blows when they are on top. With players such as Saka, Bellingham, Foden and Rice as its heartbeat, England have every chance to bounce back as winners. Yet, to be winners you also need luck and a referee who knows what he is doing.

One of the sensible comments I heard last night was about referees being instructed to allow games to flow. This has led to fouls being missed and that was certainly the case with the challenge on Saka. That said it doesn’t excuse the actions of those sat with a screen two foot from their faces, showing every angle of the foul. Their performance was more inexcusable than the man on the pitch.

Value in Defeat

England lost but the young players have, in a sense, started a path to become winners. They have learnt that to beat champions, you have to bury them. You can give them no second chances or a route to a devastating counter punch. France stayed in the game and found a way to win. England can learn from that and take comfort in the fact they are better than France in several other areas.

Of course, The referee didn’t help England but he didn’t smash a penalty over the bar either. As Rashford’s late free kick fizzed just over and the whistle blew, I couldn’t say much. I got up, looked down at the chaise longue and realised it wasn’t a lucky omen after all.

It was a bit daft to think otherwise.

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