We knew he was going to miss. Yes, we all did. Admit it.
It wasn’t actually his fault, of course.”Glorious” failure is hard-coded into the DNA of the England national football team. Just once, on that July day in 1966, did the chemistry go haywire for 120 minutes, leading to England actually winning something. But even then it was the red shirts, the “Russian” linesman (he was actually from Azerbaijan) and, naturally, West Ham United (who supplied the lethal goalscorers and the inspirational captain) that the nation had to thank for overcoming the pirennial foe, or at least the “West” version of Germany. Anyway, I digress.
Yes, Gareth Southgate, we knew you were going to miss. But we forgave you. We didn’t know you were going to “capitalise” shortly afterwards by way of a pizza advert, a public-relations decision that, shall we say, left something to be desired. But again we forgave you. Anyway, both errors were quite easily forgiveable, at least in comparison to being the man responsible for Andreas Moller swanning around Wembley as if he owned the gaff, preening and posing like a narcissistic peacock, on that fateful summer evening in 1996. If only Paul Ince, the self-styled “Guv’nor”, had found the gumption to take that penalty, rather than sitting in the centre-circle like a big girl’s blouse. What might have been? Sorry, I’m digressing again.
What I mean to say is that Southgate should be knighted. Not for his 57 England caps, not for his goal against Luxembourg in 1998, not even for his historic management reign at Middlesbrough (yes, I’ve been drinking). No, I salute him for this:
Wednesday 7th March 2012. ITV has just broadcast Barcelona v Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League. Barcelona just edge it, 7-1. Lionel Messi has scored five of their goals, which is why his transfer value is higher than the annual budget of many African countries. (Oh, and Greece too). In the studio, morose, crumpled, and looking a bit like a recently bereaved turbot, the former Head of Shite Entertainment at the BBC, Mr Adrian Chiles, wonders aloud whether Messi could “do it” for Stoke.
And Southgate, without actually saying it in so many words, tells him to stop being so idiotic, so one-eyed, so drunk on the endless and unrelenting Sky Sports hype, the nonsense, the cliches, the witless tub-thumping and the overblown myths of the “best league in the world”. To forget New Order and “World in Motion” in 1990.To remember that yes, for a couple of weeks in 1996 football did “come home”, but that the trophy left home shortly afterwards, caught a flight from Heathrow, and took-up a four-year residency in Berlin. To forget the 5-1 win in Munich in the qualifying campaign for World Cup 2002, which ended with England’s captain jumping over the ball (to avoid being tackled!) and the Germans in yet another final.
OK, maybe he didn’t actually say all of that, but in my head he most definitely did. And for that I salute him.
“Ah, Muhammad Ali…wonderful boxer, but could he have handled himself against my mate Dave after six pints of Stella down the local”?
“Jack Nicklaus…very good player, but what would he have made of my local municipal”?
“Jonah Lomu…he wouldn’t have got past me, I played 2nd row once (when dinosaurs roamed the Earth) “.
All of the above are more sensible questions/statements than Chiles’ rubbish, for which he gets paid incredible amounts. I was waiting for “Messi…he’d struggle at Blackburn on a wet Wednesday in January” (as if it never rains in Buenos Aires or Barcelona), but unfortunately it never came.
He may well say it was all tongue-in-cheek. People often do when they realise they’ve let themselves down and said something daft. Maybe it was. Sadly, there are people out there who no doubt thought it a valid question. These are the people who said that Gianfranco Zola was a bit of an Italian “Fancy Dan” before he came to England. That’s the same Zola who is now officially Chelsea’s greatest-ever player. These are the people who bellowed “Hit him Ricky” as Manchester’s “Hit Man” entered the ring against Floyd Mayweather, a man who was surely about to have some good old-fashioned English manners beaten into him. That same Mayweather reduced Hatton to a bloodied pulp in less than ten rounds of his Saturday night masterclass. Had they bothered to watch some Mayweather videos on YouTube, they might have realised that the admirable Hatton was in way,way over his head.
But they live on the hype and the “build-up” to events, spoon-fed straight to them by those with vested interests in “the product”. Nothing and no-one is valid, worthy of any regard, or considered as possibly being quite good at something until they “prove” themselves on these shores or, at least, against an Englishman. So Chiles just had to mention Stoke, the apparent standard-bearer for the in-yer-face, they-don’t-like-it-up-em, bulldog spirit. Forget that they can’t trap a bag of sand. Forget that they kick it further than most people go on holiday. The stout English yeoman is to be admired for his enthusiasm and for his “passion”, the regular currency of the phone-in “fan” who went to Stamford Bridge once in 1973 and is now a world authority on all things Chelsea.
So I salute you, Mr Southgate, for your erudite dismissal of the dismal witterings of the even more dismal anchor-man (the “w” is silent), a man who should surely be known as “Piles Chiles” (because suffering from that affliction is as painful as watching the gormless goon stutter his way through another link). And I forgive you, Gareth, for that dreadful miss, for Moller’s dreadful prancing, for the dreadful advert and for dreadful Middlesbrough. But, the next time you find yourself in the same TV studio as that tedious Brummie bore, I really must insist that you take a more direct approach. Perhaps you could imagine that he’s Andreas Moller and, as they say, “stick the nut on him”?
I, for one, would forgive you.