“..Mr Nice….”

To say I am dissapointed with the Euro 2020 championships would be an understatement. It wasn’t only the end result or the mostly dull football in half filled stadiums, nor was it the constant politicising presence of the Oaf pounding the global reputation of this country to dust whilst squeezed into a shapless England top worn over his shirt. My dissapointment sits firmly at the feet and decision making of one lovely, cautious, nice man, the forever bearded, forever biege, Magic FM of football Gareth Southgate.

Now I’m sure he’s a lovely bloke, proper decent…. ‘nice’… Your Nan would love him.

He’s the Half a Lager shandy top, Prawn Cocktail, Steak (well done) Chips and Peas, Blackforest Gateaux, No cheeseboard, glass of water, No coffee (‘bit late and a bit tired’), bus home alone night out. He’s the no bunk up on the Tinder date (‘bit naughty’) PG Tips teabag 90 second brew cup of tea handed to you in a glass mug type of bloke loved by Mum’s and Dad’s who dust down an England football shirt once every 2 years when they hear “Three Lions” on the radio and then fill our pubs shouting things like ‘SHOOT!!’ when the player is 65 yards from goal. This is usually followed by ‘Why can’t he score?’

Southgate is more Bank Manager than Football Manager, he’s the deadly serious History teacher as opposed to the half pissed sweary Politics one you’ll remember 25 years after you leave school.

What he isn’t is ruthless which sadly for this country is exactly what we needed at 2004 hours on Sunday 11th July 2021 when Luke Shaw magnificently smashed in a volley breaching an Italian defence we thought we would struggle to break down. Instead of thinking ‘Blimey Charlie, what a start!!… A Brucie Bonus… Let’s rip them a new one’ Southgate appears to have ordered some kind of placid retreat.

I will come to that game later but it’s necessary that you understand where this is going so you can bale out if you don’t fancy it or wish to give him a remote cuddle while suggesting to me that ‘it’s only a game’.

This rant is not about the players, its about the tactics of a ‘Nice’ bloke that sadly left the greatest opportunity this country will ever have in its footballing life hanging in tattered rags.

The players are blameless because the modern player does what he is told. There are no Gascoigne’s, no Big Tone’s, no Hoddle’s, no Bergkamp’s, Cantona’s or even Beckham’s who would refuse to take it and grab the game and their team mates by the throat while saying “are we fuckin doing this or what?”. Those days, sadly, are over.

Now footballers are robotic racehorses, infinitly fitter but lacking a certain bite, a certain randomness for the ispirational. This became more evident during lockdown when you could hear coaches and Managers on the sidelines orchestrating things like a 15 year old with an Xbox controller. Today’s players don’t take the initiative because all they have heard from the sidelines for 18 months are the words of the coach literally telling them what to do and where to be and they have missed the encouragement or rage of the crowd which will fire them on for good or bad.

Lets go back to the beginning. Qualification.

After a ‘successful’ world cup campaign where England lost a semi final to Croatia after going one up early (sound familiar?) we began qualification against a group of nobodies where we scored 37 goals including 5 against the Czechs. We did lose one game, a dead rubber against the Czechs but by then it was ‘coming home’ large according to the press because we had we pissed it with Moldova, Bulgaria and Montenegro being put to the sword in emphatic ‘style’ albeit the style of a man who would say his favourite biscuit would be a ‘Malted Milk’ (plain, not the choclolate one….theat would be ‘madness’).

We jump forward now ignoring the pointless friendlies and Nations League to hit the Euro 2020 group straight between the eyes as we were pitted against the footballing Titans of Croatia (in decline), the Czech Republic. (crushed previously) and the Auld Enemy, The Scotch.

This group wasn’t difficult and if you believe it was then I would question your sanity. The main reason this should have been a breeze is because all the games were at home, at our stadium, at our training ground, at our well used National Team Hotel where the players would know the staff by name and close to our families. There were no fireworks in the middle of the night, no dodgy Lasagne’s, no prostitute tempations in the bar, no South American jewellers making false allegations against the skipper there was just England at home against fairly substandard opposition.

But what did we get? We got watered down Lambrini football with less cobblers that Theon Greyjoy (crowbarred Game of Thrones reference there). Home advantage was our Lionel Messi as 1966 and 1996 proved. Home advantage in any tournament is worth a goal a game in normal circumstances as the blood is up and the players ignite to appease a mostly drunken support baying for goals.

I can understand an element of trepedation against Croatia (11th in the world at the time). You always want a good start and they were runners up in the last world cup however they were well known to be on the down slope with a few of their players gone through age. I can forgive caution in the opening 20 minutes of the first game of a campaign but any professional player would normally have gauged the level of ability of the oppostion after that time and so should be rejigging the tactical approach. Problem is, as I said above, the modern player is a instruction based machine and so they stuck to a dull plan of a 1-0 win which makes ‘the plan’ the problem.

A painfully dull start but the result is acceptable given it’s the opening game but the signs of ‘The Fear’ were there and football is supposed to be fearless especially when at home.

Then came Scotland who were 48th in the world at the time of playing and have only beaten England nine times at Wembley in their history with the last time being 1991 when, ironically, they lost the overall tie as we beat them at home.

In the run up the press tried to big up the Scotch for a number of unclear reasons but mostly because they send loads of ticketless fans down for a day out in London. This approach is much like the love for the Irish who swarm in, get trollied and leave us all smiling.

Cue ‘Braveheart’ imagery and footage of busted crossbars from 1977 which was their 7th win at Wembley in Jubilee year meaning to any slightly over refreshed Scotsman that the Queen had been personally beaten much the same as they were defacto World Champions when they won 3-2 in 1967. Every Englishman is aware that this is the Scotch World Cup final and so they will piss blood trying to beat us but they are rubbish and should be treated as merely ‘plucky’ with limited ability and that only only takes you so far.

England on the other hand were widely regarded as having one of the tournaments best attacks with options in every position. In contrast Scotland had a striker of stunning ineptitude but with outstanding footballers hair and a Man United midfielder playing as a makeshift centre back.

Scotland played like a 70’s Brazil on the night compared to our timid, limp, safety first approach. Southgate appeared to have decided that the twin threats of Che Adams and Lyndon Dykes (Australian) were going to cause us trouble so we would need to defend deep and hope we could hold out for a draw. In what now appears to have been a Southgate tactical masterclass we stifled the Jocks long enough for anyone with a modicum of footballing understanding to have successfully smashed up their house to the required levels in abject frustration. Southgate had delivered. A draw against a team of dustbins. It could go down as the single greatest dissapointment of my England watching years and it killed off nearly all enthusiasm I had for this event and the side.

The last group game was against the Czechs (43rd in the world) and the easy slayers of Scotland which was something we failed to acheive.

Up front they had the chiselled beauty of Schick who was on fire and due to the huge threat of this goalscoring Titan Southgate decided that it was probably a great idea to score early and then bore the marrow out of an excitement starved coutry as you don’t want to overdo it now do you? I mean it’s not like we’ve all been locked up for 18 months bored to tears during a pandemic. He probably thought he was doing the nation a favour to be honest, had we been anything other than a plate of turds the excitement might have become overpowering. God Bless that beareded horse face freak.

The Czech game was irrelevant anyway, another Czech dead rubber, due to the fact that we had already qualified with an impressive played 2, Won 1, Drew 1, record where we had scored one goal. This game merely cemented our place at footballs top table by adding another glorious goal to our fear indicing reputation just in time to meet Zee Chermans in the last 16, a game sure to get the Nation on it’s feet and the Press suitable frothing at the mouth.

Germany (13th in the world) rocked up at Wembley with their fearsome reputation in tatters and with an arse sniffing manager seeing out his tenure by reinstalling all the old men into his side for some classic tournament football.

I never thought we would really lose to Germany as they are pretty much a busted flush however for 75 minutes we did what we mostly do against them….. struggle. If Pickford hadn’t saved a Havertz shot we’d have been losing but you ride your luck and with 15 to go we sprang into life and killed them off either side of a Muller miss which you wouldn’t have been criticised in betting your house on him scoring.

Germany bested, demons slain, 15 minutes of form acheived after 345 minutes of utter gash. No matter, the Quarter finals against super fit Ukraine beckoned but this time we would need to travel to Rome to acheive it. The nation took a deep breathe….How could those fuckers at UEFA do this to us? We invented the game (we didn’t), The home of football is Wembley (it really is), how dare they expect us to travel to the beautiful historic city of Rome in the summer with heat ripping us from the rain at the teat of football in the London Borough of Brent famous for fuck all bar a football stadium….WE ARE ENGLAND!!… IT’S COMING HOME!!! blah blah blah….

‘Knock out’ football is odd and can throw up all kinds of anomalies as Iceland proved previously, but Ukraine (23rd in the world) were never really beating us after we got a goal. I never doubted this as a victory and anything other than a few goals would have been a disgrace so credit where it is due, this was a wholly professional performance albeit against a team which should be pretty much slaughtered by a team of our potential. Tactics spot on, performance spot on with an early strike to settle the nerves and a quick double after the break. The momentum was beginning to build because that is what it is about at tournaments, don’t spill your spongle too early but improve game on game looking for the peak at the correct time.

Much like Ukraine I was fully confident in beating Denmark (12th in the World) as they weren’t particularly special and were really driving on following the shocking collapse and heart attack of their most gifted player. This was all ‘for Christian’ which was wholly acceptable but that only takes you so far and I felt we had too much for them even after they took the lead with a decent free kick beating our too short keeper in the middle of the goal.

We bounced back and took control never really looking threatened and by the time we won a very soft Sunday league penalty which translates as a nailed on professional one, our superior fitness had worn down the Danes who were now out on their feet. ‘Game Management’ then kicked in and we comfortably controlled it until the final whistle.

So there we were, 90 minutes away from glory on our own pitch, in our own country with our own fans in the ground against Italy (10th in the world) a team who should have been buried fairly early on against Spain but had been the masters of momentum build. Nothing to really fear there on paper with old men all over the shop and a fairly dull attack and an ethos that they would almost certainly ‘park the bus’.

The four days before the final would be tense and nerve racking but in the cold light of day this was perfectly winnable and deep down we knew it…. we all knew it…

….And then, at 1900 hours on 11th July 2021 the team sheet was released and anyone with a smidgen of football knowledge realised that Southgate had not only bottled it but had announced to then opposition that he had not only shat his beige, elastic waisted sensible trousers but absolutely obliterated his M&S left side dressing sensible Y fronts in the process. It was a car crash down there with mess seeping through the zip, over the waistband and through the belt holes….. total Caramac carnage….

Of the 11 players started the match wearing the Three Roaring Lions on their shirt, 7 were born into defending. If you added in Mason Mount, a great player normally with attacking intent at club level but used as a nippy toe-in ball winner for England you had 8 defensive minded players starting the most important England football match since 1966….at Home, on our pitch in front of our pissed up filth. It was a borderline surrender…..to the Italiano’s…

It was at this point that the drinking really kicked into gear for me but my phoned ‘pinged’ with a message from ‘Our man formerly from Hong Kong’ who like me had realised that Southgate had offered formal surrender terms in the shape of a team sheet. The stroker had fully reverted to the tactics of the group stage at exactly the wrong moment killing any form and momentum created in two and a bit football matches. I felt sick.

By the time the game got underway I was nicely alight and had optimistically convinced myself that in finals anything could happen and we could wing this which for me meant we might fluke it and actually win.

How desperate is that by the way? At home, thinking we could wing it with a defensive team in a final. Rarely does anyone do this. The stakes are high and to win a football match at some point you’ll need to put the ball in the net unless yout strategy is to win on penalties from minute one. That has happened many moons back when Red Star Belgrade bored the bollocks off everyone by stifling out a fantastic Marseille team for 120 minutes live across European TV screens to deliberately eek it out on penalties much to the outrage of anyone who loved the game. It’s a high risk approach which can collapse on a mistake, a set piece, a match time penalty, a linesman error or an own goal….risky and so desperate and a sign of a team will limited confidence from the manager.

Then within 2 minutes we were winning.

A fantastic goal from all angles. Team play, cross, finish, slick Italian keeper rigid, totally bamboozled a glorious sight. The italian mystique of impenetrability had been smashed by the boot of a rotund left back ambling into their penalty area to ‘thunderbastard’ a controlled volley past the tournaments best keeper.

It. Was. On.

All we had to do was push, push, push with the upper hand for 20 to 25 minutes to force a second. Two goals and the Italians were finished because we were never letting two in to this side.

Well…. it was on for about 10 minutes where we had a little go and then retreated to the safety of our own half for the next 65 minutes before the Italians scored a scrappy goal after a truly world class save from Pickford which was lost in the explosion of a victory balloon over the country going ‘pop’.

At this point we were cattled and no spidercam footage of an team huddle was going to change that. If you have drilled into the side the mindset that one goal is enough they probably aren’t going to spark into an attacking threat after 70 or 100 minutes…. it’s over and so you better hope no one misses a penalty.

And that’s where we ended up. Not with two strikers on against too aging booked Itallian central defenders or with an aerial bombardment or Sterling and the thick ponce Greaslish running at the heart of the Italian defence, we went for a penalty shoot out and this was never more proven than when The Southgate decide to add two players specifically for penalties in national Hero ‘Rash’ and £90m Sancho.

I will never blame a player for a miss in a penalty shoot out, I will in a game but not in a shoot out. In a shoot you will inevitably have a few players that have never taken one. In a game you have your main man who picks up the ball telling everyone else to ‘fuck right off’. There is no argument whether he may have missed before or not because he is the penalty taker. I always watch penalties, I never walk out. Football is a game of error and you must see and take those errors like a true fan of the game and not by smashing up a pub or italian restaurant or a Fiat 500.

We knew Kane would score as he is quality. I knew Maguire would score because he was undoubtedly going to smash the pattern off the ball as he’s a centre half with limited ego. Pickford would need to assit us and he did. The problem was the technique of the penalties that were missed. All four, if you include the Italian one, were shuffle-shuffle-tippytoe place it after ‘giving it the eyes’. This has always fucked me off.

In recent years Abumayang did it in the last minute of a North London derby and we all went mental due to its lameness. Do your job mate, this ain’t about your haircut or your tattoos…. it’s fan based…

As a kid you are told to take a nice run up and hit it hard and low or high but always with power as its a 24 foot by 8 foot high hole and the bloke with the gloves can’t really move. Power usually wins, power and accuracy nearly always wins. Being smart looks good but this wasn’t the time to be smart it’s a time to be a professional footballer regardless of age and stick the ball in the net from 12 yards. It certainly isn’t the time to try and kid or embarrass the 6’5″ best goalkeeper in the tournament who only really has to go the right way to almost catch your weak effort.

When it ended I sat there. I wasn’t raging, I wasn’t crying, I was fairly numb. The greatest opportunity this country will ever see where they have faced literally no one of note all the way through from qualifying to the final at home had ended in failure due to a lack of ruthlessness and cobblers.

A mate of mine who I respect suggested I should be happy that Southgate had given me a final for the first time in my lifetime. I obviously pointed out that this was in the palm of our hand and the fact that it’s been 55 years since the last won shows you how rare they are. You cannot miss opportunities like that and to think that we will make it a third tournament of at least a semi final but this time in the deserts of Qatar seems fanciful. It will kick in for the rest of the nation pretty soon I reckon. Never happen again because after all the stadium break ins and the racism and the pissed blokes smashing up central London, we are never seeing another major international tournament in a thousand years.

Like I said above to me the players were blameless. These are modern players, automatons, by the numbers, ‘Yes Gaffer, Yes Gaffer’…. that is what they do, they do as they are told. They are also a lovely bunch of young men and good role models to the youth of this country so at leaset we saw something great out of it.

There are few nice winners in sport in general, in football there are less. Mourinho, Ferguson, Wenger ruthlessley efficient and never worrying about who they were playing. When Wenger started worrying about the oppo he was finished. Theses examples had the amatuer footballers mentality of ‘Let them worry about us, we won’t worry about them…. we do what we do’. Of course that is the simplistic view but Southgate worried about everything and it killed him in the end. We had a great attacking team and his own, well known caution stifled it at the key moment and I doubt I’ll ever get over it.

If I had my way there would be no more contracts for this ‘Nice Guy’.

A failed Semi final and a lost final at home tell me that no reward should be given to him but the FA will see something easy in keeping him on. He’s wholesome, bland, beige, cheap, the company man who isn’t having a frantic one with the CEO’s secretary in the store cupboard or pillfering funds into his own account. The non-football people who crop up like drinkers at Christmas and Paddy’s day filling pubs with single order beers glogging the system for us professionals loved him and won’t lie awake at night toiling over it. The amount of people telling me they ‘did well’, and were a ‘credit’ or ‘next time we’ll do it’ haven’t got a clue. This is failure, not abject failure but failure none the less and he should be replaced sharpish.

Southgate was cool under the microscope of the media post match. He’s a professional if nothing else. ‘This is on me’ he said. Yep…. it fuckin’ is mate. Unforgivable…

Second place, first loser….

One thought on ““..Mr Nice….”

  1. Tick box culture . It’s a shame

    Like

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