Ah, Euro 2012. Just because I’ve not had the time to write about it, don’t for one moment think I’ve not been following it like a proper football fan. I’m football crazy. Although still desolate without the traditional Guardian booklet with which to guide myself through the jungle of new names and managers (and too late to pick up the recommended When Saturday Comes equivalent – in two years’ time I won’t be so tardy), I’ve seen the majority of the games, except when two are playing concurrently.
As is traditional, the tournament has increased my intake of beer. I suspect it’s the weather, too, but I can no more avoid falling into the cliché of a male football fan on the sofa with a glass of lager and a barrage of shouty advice for the players on the screen than I can avoid falling into the cliché of a Guardian reader going on about Grayson Perry. There is, as Perry indeed noted on his glorious C4 series about class, comfort in conformity. I have yet to watch any Euro 2012 in mixed company, and I run past pubs showing it, as I fear my deficiencies of contextual knowledge would expose me to ridicule. At home I’m safe.
I have no idea, for instance, who Wellbeck and Lescott and Milner and Young play for when they’re not playing for England. I’m pretty certain that Torres and Ronaldo play for English Premiership clubs, and I can make a stab at which ones, but in one way, it doesn’t matter. I’m watching Euro 2012 for its own merits. Wellbeck plays for England. Torres plays for Spain. That’s all that matters to me. While I have vertigo-inducing respect for those that follow league football and balance and reassess its administrative intricacies at all times, as I’ve said, I don’t have the spare brain power. For me, it’s like going on holiday once every two years. (Which is ironic, as I don’t go on actual holiday even that often.) I’ve just realised I don’t know Torres’ first name. Respect me!
This summer, I’m vacationing in Poland and Ukraine – unlike the cast-strapped BBC pundits, who are alone in Salford, acting like Star Wars characters against a constant green-screen. (If the BBC was allowed to lie like it used to in the good old days, it could easily drop in a Warsaw backdrop and make it look as if Gary and Alan and Alan and Alan were there.) So, we’re out of the group stage and facing the quarter finals. I find it difficult to believe that England won their group, and even more difficult to believe that the goal-line decision on Ukraine’s would-be equaliser actually went our way. (I mean, it was over the line, wasn’t it? I think it was the ITV commentator who adjudged it “karmic”, a sort of existential payback for all the times when such an anomaly went against England. I can live with that. It’s not an exact science, after all; it’s a load of overpaid, spitting male philanderers chucking themselves at each other, and without the balletic beauty of slow motion. Borderline things happen.)
Still, it’s a result for me personally, as I am attending a family function on Saturday night that would have been – shall we say – affected by a potential England quarter final at 7.45pm. As it stands, those who would not have been able to miss such a thing will presumably be persuaded to join the party while Spain play France, as thrilling as that would surely be.
It’s never a walk in the park following England’s progress through an international championship. They have a habit of displaying bursts of promise, and then urinating that promise up the wall at a later stage. To have held France to a 1-1 draw was a surprisingly positive start last Monday, and to have provided us with three goals against Sweden from three relatively new players (completely new to me, of course, in the case of Wellbeck and Carroll, although I remember Walcott – which we are childishly pronouncing in the Germanic way for no reason whatsoever in our house – when he was Sven’s wild card at World Cup 2006 when all the famous strikers were injured) was a treat beyond our expectations. It’s amazing to see any goals, especially when teams of lofty reputation like Sweden, Holland, Italy and Germany had been coming up with frustrating results like 1-1 and 1-0 in those early games.
I am a seasoned enough watcher of the sport to know that it’s not all about number of goals scored, and that a 0-0 draw can be thrilling, but at this level – as we veterans say – you expect such a lot. I was sad if not surprised to see the Republic of Ireland go out, although the team’s fans seemed a hell of a lot cheerier in defeat than Roy Keane did at any time back in the studio. (I don’t know that much about him except that he was a national hero, but he seems a right grump, totally immune to the Fantasy Football atmosphere Adrian Chiles is charged with whipping up by ITV.)
I don’t know which pundits I am allowed to like. I sense that Alan Hansen is widely derided, but I can’t let a consensus that has been decided while I was out of the room affect me. I don’t mind him and his pompous manner and propensity to be wrong. Lineker’s been working out too much in the gym and does not fit into his expensively fitted shirts around the shoulders and tops of his arms, which is a problem that needs addressing. On the other side, Chiles seems in his element, which you can’t take away from him, not after his unfortunate experiences on the rollercoaster of daytime; he just prefers the social company of men, clearly. I can’t understand Carragher. I think Andy Townsend is funny, whether he’s meant to be or not, and it took me a while to work out that he was referring to players as “wide men” and not “white men.” I’m sure he didn’t coin the phrase “skyed it” but he was the first commentator I heard say it, so I use it in his honour every time a player kicks a ball high over the top of the net. (Every two years, I dust down “he couldn’t get on the end of it”, “flick on”, “making chances”, and “they closed him down”, too. Such evocative language! Who wouldn’t be delighted by it?)
I have been fascinated to hear the chant of Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes every time a goal is scored. Does Jack White know about this? Does he get royalties? And is it actually being played out over the PA, or is it just in the gift of the crowd? (A helpful 6 Music listener emailed in and suggested it had begun in this country and has been exported. Is this so?)
See, I’m into it. It’s dominating my evenings and it’s causing me to leave the office early so that I can settle down in time for kick-off (or, in the case of ITV, about half an hour after kick-off, so that we can fast-forward through the adverts for betting shops – there are enough adverts during the games without being assailed by them at half time).
I can confidently say that part of me wishes Wayne Rooney hadn’t been played in the Ukraine match, even though he scored the decisive goal with his extended head. I think having an iconic, talismanic player on the squad can be detrimental to team solidarity. If England “expects” one man to shoulder the whole burden, it allows the others to defer. But look at Wellbeck, Carroll and Walcott (sub) against Sweden! Out of the shadow of Rooney, they bloomed – and it looked like Hodgson had moved the chess pieces around with skill, timing and foresight. Or at least, this is how it looked from my part-timer’s sofa. I am the armchair manager’s worst nightmare: the armchair manager who doesn’t even bother to turn up for work for two years at a time! Fear me!
Heavens, I’ve just written about 1,200 words on the football. Better get back to work, so that I can leave work and watch the football. I must admit, I have enjoyed watching Portugal, who have the most tattooed arms in the tournament now that Denmark and Ukraine are out, I think. Maybe there are a lot of tractors in Portugal.