“If you wanted to add to the vast fund of ill will existing in the world at the moment, you could hardly do it better than by a series of football matches between Jews and Arabs, Germans and Czechs, Indians and British, Russians and Poles, and Italians and Jugoslavs, each match to be watched by a mixed audience of 100,000 spectators.” – George Orwell.
Orwell had something there – apart from the 100,000 attending, of course. But the England vs Scotland (ITV) last Friday was a bloodless affair – there were none of the anticipated ankle-crunching tackles or flailing blows, none of the screams of anguish or fatal red cards. In fact, early on it looked a bit balletic – especially when they showed in slo-mo England’s John Stones rise like a ballerina to head the ball against the woodwork. England’s Phil Foden with his suddenly-blond hair also added a touch of show business: “There’s a real confidence, a flourish about Phil Foden!” the commentator told us”. [Pause] “There has to be with that haircut.”
Half-time punditry was equally tame. Roy Keane did his angry headmaster thing: “England are lacking in urgency – not good enough! Not good enough!” Ally McCoist was a bag of nerves in the commentary box: “Ah’d forgotten how this kind of game destroys yir emotions!”. And when his co-commentator mentioned that one of the English players was working with a psychologist to improve his performance, McCoist muttered “Ah need ‘is numbah’.
It was a game of little quality: “England are bereft of imagination right now” the commentator declared. No they’re not – they’re lacking in a player who can put the ball in the net.
In the end, Scotland won a glorious 0-0 draw, and it was just the way we in Ireland used feel as Jack Charlton led us to another neck-and-neck victory. Post-match, the camera roamed around the ground and picked up a Scottish supporter holding a placard: “We’re here for the biggest comeback since Lazarus”. Scotland didn’t come back, but just drawing had a miraculous quality.
English people are bemused at the way all of Scotland, Wales, Ireland cheer their lungs out in support of any team playing England. We don’t really hate you, England: we just want to wipe that look of entitlement off your gob. As Eric Cantona, with a raised Gallic eyebrow said in an ad at half-time: “Just a game?” Nailed it, Eric.