Something For The Weekend (157)
England's patched-up millionaires take on Estonia this Saturday in a game which promises 90 minutes of shots-in for the nation's super-stars but might very well be listed under 'there are no easy games' come the final whistle.
As this is all about qualification and two-nil, looks like the minimum expectation, it should be just enough to justify an afternoon of dossing on the settee, while neglecting one's family responsibilities as grouchy wallet-bearer, in the muck and bullets on the retail front.
But England don't come with any guarantees and for those who would rather not forego an afternoon of pheromone immersion, outside the changing-rooms of their partner's High Street boutique of choice, they will be forgiven their absence. Some might even seek their football elsewhere, in the thud and blunder of the lower leagues.
Estonia are a nation of 1.3 million, which makes it about the size of Birmingham with a few of the larger satellites thrown in as make-weights and hopefully, they will stake their claim to world fame by following their relatives, the Finns, and reserve their flights of sporting fancy to events which involve ice, like rally driving and Slush Puppie slurping, rather than carve out a nil-niller against England and send dismay and panic through our ranks.
Even though England seem due one of those games, most Villa fans will be tuning in (or the digital equivalent), so they can sit and delight in the novelty of seeing a Villa player in an England shirt and no doubt sounding like the guy in Goodness Gracious Me!, but instead of yelling 'Indian' will be yelling 'Villan', every time he gets on the ball. Unless, that is, McClaren can think of a single reason not to play Barry, in the next twenty-four hours, which is not beyond possibility.
My advice would be to record it and then you can fully concentrate on watching every moment of Barry's performance without being distracted by any doubt or dread of the outcome. But assuming Owen's prosthetic truss functions okay, I don't think we need worry too much.
Its the game a few days later which promises to be the banana-skin, when England travel to Russia, who are not only slightly better than Estonia but will be laying down the green carpet rather than the red, too, in the form of a plastic pitch - not a welcoming sight for most professionals. Previous generations might have perfected their skills on bomb-sites and cobbled streets but these days.....you know the rest.
Funny enough, I immediately think of John Gregory when I think of plastic pitches, in his days at QPR under Venables. Back then, they seemed to be very conducive to the passing game (Gregory looked good - the posing git) but tended to produce more freakish bounces than Erica Roe on a pogo-stick.
They were a bit crap and gave the home team somewhat of an advantage I seem to remember but it is hard to refute Blatter's claim that allowing them will facilitate the development of the game in poorer nations, with harsh weather conditions, like Africa and presumably Scotland, (Dunfermline) where the row about the concession continues to blaze with some heat.
For those who like to see the odds tipped slightly in favour of the underdogs, it does seem like a welcome development and if the mega-rich clubs are not to be persuaded to redistribute the dosh a bit more generously, then the plastic pitch seems to provide a means of cutting costs and levelling things in another way, presuming of course that the big clubs continue their preference to play on grass. It seems likely that at some point high-tech will enable artificial pitches to be programmed to take on any characteristic required - City Ground or Plough Lane circa 1970's, say. Marvellous!
In the meantime, the emphasis has been placed, by the objectors, on the welfare of the players, which they say, are put at risk by playing on a carpet.
Here's what Keith Armstrong, boss of Finland's HJK Helsinki, says, on his club's conversion from grass: He says that their players abhor it. Their physiotherapists' opinions are that it could take four years off a player's career. We don't like it full stop. I think it's significant that no footballers like it. Nor do technical staff like it.
My own view would be that Wednesday's excursion onto the plastic pitch offers a fantastic opportunity for the England players, and the chance, by way of a bit of strategic body-surfing, for them to remove any embarrassing or unwanted tattoos from their bodies. As I seem to remember that a sliding-tackle on the carpet has the habit of removing skin faster than a mohel on overtime. Wags should watch with interest.
Rather more interesting is the turnaround of Scotland's fortunes. The transformation has been remarkable to say the least and is totally at odds with the acres of newsprint, which had all sorts of things to say about the systemic problems with the Scottish game. Suddenly the same players have started to pull up trees and nothing seems to have changed - same number of foreign players etc. This seems to prove that having good systems in place is all well and good but ultimately success on the pitch is dependent on the relationship between the players and manager, and their mutual ability to understand and inspire each other.
But the question which has bothered me the most these past couple of weeks, has been all about the pilot who got the sack for allowing Robbie Savage to sit on the flight deck of the plane he was flying. The question is whether, knowing what I know about Robbie, as seen on a football pitch, and having read the details of his infamous shit in the 'poogate' scandal, influences my opinion of the case.
I had to ask myself, whether the tale he used to negotiate his way onto the flight-deck, that he was trying to conquer his fear of flying, was true or not. Does the way a player behaves on a football pitch, offer any guide to how he will behave off it?
Its a tough question, so I'll say nothing.
But you tell him Big Mama: