Something For The Weekend (191)
As the European Championships open proceedings in Austria and Switzerland, I can't help but think that it has all the promise of that famous Swiss dish - the fondue. For those unfamiliar with the dish, and I suspect younger generations might not tend to put the required kit on their wedding-list these days, it is the sort of dinner which relies upon a multiplicity of accompaniments, rather more work than I prefer at mealtimes, and more cheese than an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. And, just like the ALW musical, there is no guarantee of satisfaction by the end of it, especially if you go for the bourguignon option.
Certainly, after the American-sized portions of the spicy meat and potatoes of the Premiership, its going to seem a bit insubstantial, for football's gourmands and gundyguts. If you start to add in Switzerland and Austria's dinky stadiums, with the sort of miniscule crowd-capacity which might embarrass an ambitious Coca-Cola Championship club, the whole thing seems to take on Lilliputian proportions.
Obviously, England and the English will be missed, even though the Schweizers are more used to the sandals-with-socks variety of our happy breed, rather than the tattooed representatives of our ongoing urban experimentations.
Personally, the only thing I miss about England not being there, is all the flag-flying, which has lately become the tradition before these tournaments, and even if our hapless team is not there, I still miss the big build-up, with its party atmosphere, those posters of players who never made the squad and supermarkets actually begging me to buy their patriotic beer and Twiglets.
I won't miss watching England though, as I have grown to associate those miserable occasions with a sense of betrayal, which arises from the fraudulent misrepresentation of their prospects by the big fat fibbers of the collective punditry. Even if I know that these muppets are probably only responding to the demands of those nutty patriots, who insist that if you say this country is the best, often enough, it will suddenly become true, I still feel cheated.
Sadly, England's failure to win the European Championships is a bigger indictment of the failings of English football, than any number of ignominious World Cup exits. No real minnow has ever won the World Cup in modern times but what with Denmark, a country with a population less than Greater London and Greece (11m), no such impediment seems to exist in the European tournament. Now it only
needs Portugal to win it, for England to be left as the only country of substantial size, which might fancy itself as able to kick a ball in a straight-line, who have never won the damn thing. Even with all the
advantages of being hosts in 1996, and with Shearer, Sheringham and Gascoigne in their pomp; England still managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
But like the rest of the panoply of glaring failings, which add irony to our Nation's tendency to strut upon the world stage, I think I can learn to live with it.
So, watching the tournament, and I hope not to miss too many games, will be an innocent pleasure, which will have the added interest of watching Martin O'Neill, as he does his special brand of slightly spaced-out punditry for the BBC.
There's no doubt that he will get hammered by Hansen and co, as to whether Barry is off to Liverpool or not, and I suspect he will continue to delay his reply until he thinks the Villa fans have had enough time to come to terms with the loss and accept it. But the craic will be fierce.
As ever, I will watch our very own enigma Mart with rapt fascination and I fully expect him to arrive in the studio, after tackling some huge Coupe Matterhorn (a Coupe is a sort of Swiss knickerbocker glory), with a dab of cream on the end of his nose and start quoting from The Return Of The Native, to explain why the Czech 4-4-2 is really a Christmas tree, while Shearer flicks snot balls at him, from under the table. The only thing that is going to spoil the fun is the absence of Ian Wright, who does passion and enthusiasm better than anyone else in the business. Its just a pity that he went off in a huff because no one would treat him like he is Isaiah Berlin, or something. For some, being loved is not enough - (Gareth?).
But I suspect most Villa fans would prefer Martin O'Neill not to be spending his precious time offering opinion or adding colour, for the delectation of a television audience, and would rather have him exercise his talents in beguiling the several players Villa so desperately need, into his anorexic squad. What with the increasing doubt about Barry (or is it now certainty?) and the squad looking not quite fit for the purpose of tackling a long European campaign, right now, the fans can't help but feel a little anxious. It really is a test of one's confidence in Martin, to take it for granted that he will be able to sign enough players in the few weeks leading up to their Inter Toto games. The cynics think not - the dreamers bite their lips and just hope.
In the meantime, the fans must face the torture of Tantalus, over the three weeks of the tournament, as they drool over various players, who they can be absolutely certain won't be coming to Villa - Martin just doesn't work like that. O'Neill just doesn't do impulse-purchases, or at least, not until he has run out of both time and options. Gladly, there is going to be plenty of football to take our minds off such things, and it is time to lie back and not think of England.
Herr Kellner! Does that come with chips?