Something For The Weekend (288)
All I ever had were redemption songs!
This week the redemption song for all England fans was, 'We're Not Coming Home', an amusing reworking of that old favourite, forever associated with spectacular glory over the Dutch and tearful defeat at the hands of the pesky Germans and some ill-considered volunteering from our very own Gareth Southgate, in Euro 96.
Gareth found his redemption in a pizza advert and a better paid job away from Villa Park. The fans were left with their misery and that familiar bitter taste of defeat and betrayal.
In football the fans get sent to hell, while the players cheer themselves up by adding a new wing to their house in Alderley Edge.
And, after viewing Wayne Rooney's hapless performance against Algeria last week, when laughter seemed more appropriate than abuse, it was very chastening to click on Google Maps and take a peak at his monstrous mansion in Cheshire and then try and feel sorry for him for embarrassing himself and his country, while blaming the fans.
But most of us were grateful, because they usually break the news that England are just a bunch of over-hyped second-raters very slowly, instead of in one fell swoop. It was shocking and it was terrible but no one could deny that based on that evidence, we had been lied to.
Even so, as my maniac laughter echoed into the night, like some mad relative kept in the attic, in some gothic novel, I had to admit that I had contributed considerably to my own self-delusion. And, even with only a cursory glance at the FIFA world rankings, it showed the truth to be stark and the reality to be bold - cold reality and nothing else.
Those numbers say it all - England are only a few points better than the USA, which their match fully illustrated, and even Algeria who sit at 25th in the world, are only a couple of hundred points behind. The fact that Brazil (1st) and Spain (2nd) are twice as many points in front of England as Algeria are behind, told us everything we need to know and understand.
England sit firmly in the second rank of world football and that is all.
It should be no surprise then, that when the top England players are smuggled into worldwide advertising campaigns and are paraded along side Messi and Kaka, for a shed-load of dosh, that they might feel under pressure to prove they are worthy of such accolades and rewards, when they take to the pitch. It should be no surprise that it was the three world brands of Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard, who were the biggest let-downs against Algeria.
It should be no surprise that the players who had not taken the mega-bucks to participate in the fiction that England are world class, were England's better players on the night. Heskey was heroic, Barry battled and the rest did a decent job within their range of abilities. The only player with any reputation at all, for being world class, was Ashley Cole, who did a very fine job.
But England's pretenders were pathetic: they took the big money and in doing so, created their own pressure.
So there we were. Having perpetuated the lie that England are good enough to win it, they were in danger of not even completing the course in line with their usual handicap. The whole kit and caboodle of the
respectability of English football was left to rest upon a game with Slovenia, a nation with a population of two and a half million, and who actually prefer ice-hockey.
The group which looked like a shoo-in, when the draw was made, began to look like England's nemesis.
Luckily, Scotland came to the rescue and despite the usual suspects missing a hatful of chances, and Gareth Barry escaping the fate of forever being known, as the guy who blew it for the nation, England crossed the line in tearful relief and joy.
There was little doubt that James Milner was the man of the match, even if John Terry and Glen Johnson will be mentioned in dispatches, for saving Gareth Barry's blushes. Jimmy's wonderful cross, one of many which were not converted, was classic John Robertson, the Scottish chappie the whole of England should raise a glass to. John, as everyone knows, proved in his illustrious playing career, that a winger does not need to beat three players and do a dozen step-overs, to produce the goods, he only needs enough room to make the cross. This is exactly what Milner did when he produced the perfect ball for Defoe's defining moment and England's redemption.
England's goal was made possible on the Villa training-pitch, delivered by James Milner and dispatched by Jermain Defoe.
The only unfortunate part of England's win, was when Guy Mowbray, the BBC commentator, started wittering on about England winning the World Cup within seconds of Defoe scoring, after 22 minutes.
This amounted to such hubris and such crassly ridiculous bullshit, that if he had been in reach, I would have had to have beat him to death with the nearest blunt object. My plans for his microphone are best set aside for decency's sake.
He then repeated the crime every five minutes, for the remainder of the game, by telling the watching audience that England were going to win the group (which we know they didn't) and have an easy run to the final.
Hanging, is just too good for the likes of him.
Now we must face the Germans and contemplate all the suffering, which that traditionally involves - a game England need to win to prove that they are even in the top eight of world football.
There is a lot to be admired about this young German side and even if they don't quite look good enough to win the competition, they have several players who have caught the eye, not least Ozil (aged 21) and Muller (aged 20) in midfield.
In theory, England's golden generation, who now find themselves at the height of their powers and hardened by experience, should have more than enough to beat a team of kids. But obviously, discounting a miracle of 2001 proportions, it promises to be rather more difficult for England's thoroughbreds, than simply comparing individual players CV's might suggest.
Beckenbauer is sure making a lot of noise for a guy who sees a win as a formality, and it seems to be rather less than we expect from the Germans. But I suspect he is hoping to wind up the England players, so that they are rather more vehement than is wise, and they offer the Germans plenty of opportunities to do their dying-swan bit and get players sent-off. The Germans have never lacked ruthlessness when it comes to getting what they want and England have never lacked naiveté when handing it them on a plate.
No one can even come close to expressing how important it is for England to win. The whole national neurosis is tied up with the country's relationship with Germany, and the sickening failure of the country to do as well as Germany in the post-war years. We have become accustomed to being surprised when our country succeeds at anything, and being surprised when the Germans fail.
No one can deny that we tend to over-compensate by being everyone's poodle.
Beating the Germans will not put right our nation's serial industrial failure, or make our leaders any better than they are, or our society any fairer but it sure would make us feel better about those things.
And at least we would have a redemption song to sing in consolation.
To soothe the woes of this our broken nation.
Come on England - give us back our pride.