Arrest that man.

Radiohead are maybe too bright, too cool, too thoughtful to do triumph. Certainly when I see them in Ippodromo delle Cascinee, Firenze that’s one of the thoughts I’m left with.

This not to say they were in any way a disappointment – quite the reverse. I’m psyching myself up here to make the argument that Radiohead (as Pil allegedly once did, with music) went right past triumph.

The venue, immediately west of the spectacular cultural honey-pot that is Duomo City/Uffizi City/Michelangelo’s David City was impressively good-natured, given the enormity of the gig. 55,000 (with all due respects) just for Radiohead. Some booze, some dope, some annoying pushers-towards-the-front but mainly an energy-flow entirely appropriate to the parkland, Arno-side setting.

Yes, the intelligentsia. And yes a mixed, international crowd. Mainly Italians – obviously – mainly disinterested in support James Blake.

I would have felt sorrier for JB but for the very personal feeling that he was dull: that if you’re ploughing the singery-songwritery soulful geezer with pleasantly diverting things to say furrow then you really better have some searingly beautiful or excitingly challenging things to say. Maybe especially if you actually sound a bit like you’re in love with the main act.

Folks around me passed the time in chatter, or by gently exercising limbs they knew would later be either active or aching or both; legs, feet.

James Blake was fine but I can’t imagine why anybody would want to see him/them live. Not outdoors, at a festival – not unless they wanted to sleep, or snooze, in the sun, before gathering for the pardee some time later. I repeat that I barely do mellowness and move on.

After one of those waits overflowing with incongruously malicious references to guitar roadies – surely for fuck’s sakes he’s tuned that seven times! – Radiohead. In Florence, in a balmy park.

Going to swerve the set-list (which I imagine will see them through Glasto and beyond?) because… why spoil things? Will, however, say that things open with two recent numbers, from the MoodMusicacious Moon-shaped Pool. The first challenge.

It’s low-key – or relatively – it’s quietly, authoritatively bold. They know and we know they could have Tuscany frothing if they’d opened with Creep! Radiohead choose their way differently.

It’s melodic and beautifully executed. Yorke is absurdly note-perfect, given the fact that the songs are simply bloody tough to sing – near impossible for us blokey mortals. Crucially (for me) there is nothing masturbatory-placatory or obvious about any of this. As the gig shimmers and gathers and places its prisms beneath our feet, we are not experiencing the soporific.

Instead we get a firework display. No – we get an expressive lightshow and a run of commanding, explosive anti-songs. We get proper Radiohead.

I expected this but somehow this is the principle expectation they exceed. They know that at any moment they can launch the event somewhere different, somewhere Rockier, more Triumphant. They eschew this option, magnificently.

Ok, we could argue that Radiohead don’t do hits; that their ‘anthems’ are hardly Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. This is true. But the running order of this gig – plus the reinvention of certain numbers, plus the commitment to the fiercely angular – marked out an extraordinary level of faith in what they do.

Radiohead do challenge. They annihilate the idea that music is ear-candy. They write intelligent noises but noises you’re gonna have to work at (listener). In Firenze they were soo-perlatively right on mission.

The players in the band – whom I’ve heard are so crazy into-it they’re almost completely barking – fabulously execute. The show is stunning, the racket intense, almost defiantly monotone at the mid-point, with spangly, ripped-up riffs and twiddles and demonic, headshaking vocals.

The crowd love it… but not in that normal, easy-ecstatic way. The response is muted, is subtler than yer average blowout. And then they (the band) stop.

There are (minor spoiler alert) two encores. Firstly a bunch of wonderful ‘songs’ then a break and then two or three(?) more.

Tonight there’s a stand-out, wonderful singalong moment but don’t expect too many fag-lighters (or iphones) illuminating the dumb adulation. There is no dumb adulation. There’s more a coming together as the band recognise that most of the audience get it, get off on that… and us punters give something back. Just not crazy whoops and fistpumps.

I love the guitar-playing in Radiohead. The way it bolts and flashes and twinkles but rarely simply grooves. Tonight this was (almost shockingly) only one of the stunning slabs building the noise.

Two drumkits, loopy, monumental bass and the dancetronic divertogizmos. All weaving and throbbing and denying the banal. Either winkling something out or blasting a hole or laying some magic, be-jewelled carpet.

Probably we have to acknowledge Yorke’s magnificent singing – though it doesn’t feel right to offer this absolute primacy.

Our Thom is looking slightly worryingly artsy – flamenco student? French poet? – what with that naff sub-pony barnet but… the boy comes through, bigtime. It can only be from him that the yearning and caring and hurt and political charge truly springs. And it does, powerfully, for hours.

Enough. Radiohead sound immaculate but they also have soul. We walk out through the park fired up and clear that a) music matters b) things can be rich and deep, and magical, without conciliating.

 

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Brighter and braver.

At least there was a little spite: we need that.  Glenda may have accused England of being ‘too lacksadaisical’ – rightly – after 15 minutes but there had already been some sense that, yaknow, this was England v Scotland.  There was more panic than savagery but it felt relatively spicyRelatively.

Scotland started brighter and braver.  My guess is that this was partly because Strachan’s simply entered shit-or-bust mode – his attacking line-up being more about his own mania than genuine consideration of English defensive weakness.  The Pinks (say what?!?) were nevertheless appropriately pumped… and swift… and (almost) incisive.

England, though, looked weak in defence.  Stones again tried hard to stroll but merely gave his colleagues either palpitations, or shocking passes, during an early period of Scots dominance.  For someone so brilliant, he was bloody awful – but he did recover at least some of that Coolly Ambling Geezer thing.

The single moment of quality in a first half largely characterised by clumsiness, abstractedness and weirdly open spaces in central midfield was a stunning goal by Sturridge.  Sturridge who had looked likely to disappear in the frenetic mediocrity all around.

The Liverpool man seems not to be one either for The Battle or the kind of Route One (Aerial) Scene this fixture seemed to be building – or un-building towards. But when England finally shifted the ball with purpose wide to the right then in, he stooped to flash a thrilling header home.

Neither Sturridge nor Rooney made a single other contribution of any significance in the half:  Sterling was mixed and wasteful but he was present in a way most were not.  Could just be me but the sight of Rose throwing himself to the floor in the opposition box late in that first period summed up something unsatisfactory about the general fare.  It was competitive but often almost shockingly amorphous.  Other than that gem – the goal.

After the break Scotland ran rings around England before being cruelly stung by Lallana’s flicked header.  Brown, Snodgrass, Griffiths and the willing but limited Fletcher – I say that principally in relation to his almost complete lack of goal threat, which again was notable tonight – were bypassing or bustling around England… but to no effect.  There were periods (early in both halves) where, had Scotland scored, the evening could really have turned traumatic for Mr Southgate.  England really could have got beat tonight.

Miraculously, the Auld Enemy failed to convert half a dozen clear cut chances.  Most of these were more about lack of awareness than misplaced shooting boots.  The lurid pink shirts seemed mysteriously elusive when colleagues broke into Hart’s danger zone: incredibly, almost, nobody played anybody in.  Strachan must have tempted to bring himself on in search of a composed final pass.

When England went 2-up, they probably deserved to be 2-1 down.  When Cahill (who like his central partner Stones had been everything from scarily bad to inconsistent) notched the third with a simple header, the game was up, smothered – along with natural justice.  England had been powerfully unconvincing in defence, strangely dysfunctional, sometimes absent in midfield and sporadically deadly up top. All of Stones, Cahill, Henderson, Dier, Rooney, Sterling and Sturridge plainly underachieved, yet the scoreboard read 3-0.

Henderson and Dier are limited and one-paced players with the limited remit of the deep-lying midfielder to protect them.  Yet too often the porous centre of the England defence was exposed, suggesting they either have inadequate noses for danger or, perhaps, too many instructions jangling round their craniums.  Surely their prime motive as soon as the ball is lost should be to deny space?  Keep it simple, keep your shape?

Rooney was again ineffective for the most part.  This may have been because (for me) Sturridge makes too few darting or threatening runs, shows too infrequently, particularly when games are tight and physical.  (He wins relatively few high balls too, incidentally – again reducing the possibility for drama/momentum/sudden goal threat.)  If nothing’s happening in front of you, you (as a midfielder) tend to pass without meaning or penetration – sideways.

This does not entirely account for Rooney or Henderson or Dier’s ordinariness tonight.  They need surely to mix the tempo and commit to runs, to add value to the possession they inevitably have?  Lallana did this stuff better – but then again he can sprint, and seems to like to sprint forward into space to receive or invite the pass.

A note on Sterling.  He was almost embarrassingly, distractedly, greedily, boyishly poor in the second half.  So poor words must be said.  It might be that he is something of a vulnerable soul, so Southgate or his successor might need to exercise some skill and sensitivity when dealing with this talented young man.  Either that or tell him to pass the fucking thing.

In which I *make judgements*…

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States is many things – feels like many things. Firstly it’s a disaster, in philosophical/symbolic/moral terms as well as with regard to what passes for American Policy, both within and outside the country.

There, that’s my colours nailed; my duff liberalism exposed.  Maybe you know the rest, in the way I know I’m right – we’re right – to make our case against.  Maybe it’s not wise to rub my certainties up against yours or his, or hers?  But given I’m too shocked and angry to waste energy on fencing around, here – with no apologies – is my case against.

The Trump campaign was a shameless appeal to the dumb machismo at the core of America (and, frighteningly, possibly everywhere else) which made it okay to holler prejudice as opposed to make arguments about policy.  Racism and misogyny in particular have been validated – made sound, acceptable and poison-free – through both a shockingly calculated Republican narrative and via Trump’s refreshingly non-groomed mouthings-off.  *Coughs, strikingly*.

They won by glorifying in the stupidity and prejudice of a whole lot of people; not (please note) just the allegedly dumb and downtrodden working or non-working classes, who a) blame immigrants for everything b) hate politicians.  In the same way that Farage in the UK tapped into something despite being a patently inadequate human, Trump – surely part dangerous clown, part ardent lap-dancing club regular? – won out by smearing innuendo and worse across anything that felt like an issue.  In doing so, he lurched all of us, everywhere further away from civilisation.

Yes, civilisation.  A word I think we should maybe look to claim back from pro-Western morons and well-meaning anthropologists alike.

(We know that the idea of that c-word has been hi-jacked and traduced too often but maybe we need it as a weapon against the tyranny of cynicism and xenophobia; and maybe if we can find a way to use it in the absolutely non-geographically or culturally specific sense then we can get past the problem?  Because we need to defend ideals and it should be possible to describe aspirations which are plainly good and true and common whatever your – or their, origins, yes?)  But we digress; let’s get to the bulletpoint; Trump is not a good man.

We don’t even need to have clarity on the various charges against him: Trump is not a good man because he doesn’t so much court trashy-but-serious enmities as wallow in them.  Everything is about the other – who can’t be trusted or tolerated.  This and the idea that government is necessarily bad.

We can point to ‘difficult times’ as a factor in this evil.  Economies stretched, jobs threatened.  Perfectly natural for people to be protectionist, right?  Wrong.  It is wrong to be hostile, or ungenerous – not natural.  We are no longer tribal beasts.  For all the evidence to the contrary it is incumbent upon us to be better than that, to oppose (in this case) the pornography that is Trumpdom and elsewhere the pornography that is religious zealotry or fanaticism.

Sure the Democrats might have picked a less divisive candidate and certainly one less steeped in the baggage of the Political Class.  Hilary Clinton – brilliant and committed though she may be – was arguably a softish target for those disaffected and disconnected by that link between money and family, politics and power.  Who knows where a more ordinary candidate might have gotten to?

This whole question infers a kind of intelligence and appreciation from the Great American Public that simply may not be there.  The Yanks have voted by instinct, with their guts.  There’s been a vacuum where the political debate might have been.  Hilary was beaten partly, no doubt, by personal dislike and sexism against her but mainly by rottenness – fear and loathing for The Other.  A different Democrat may have been subsumed beneath the same, amoral shitstorm.

So do we capitulate to this?  Do we mither about the role of Social Media in the criminal dumbness of things but then accept that t’internet, rather than facilitating an explosion in knowledge, has merely handed things on a plate to those who can bawl or troll loudest?  Do we wonder how the hell this election can happen when kids are taught about good citizenship and World Wars and what adherents to the great religions of the world actually study?  Do we, at any level, accept that sexism, racism and homophobia are acceptable – never mind legitimate levers towards the destiny of civilised nations?  NO WE DON’T.

We need to think a bit, for sure, longer-term about how people can be so uneducated that Trumpdom’s choices become attractive… when they are repulsive.  We need to be smarter and more engaged at a political level – here I mean everything from discussing things with friends and family to making minor stands or major stands on local or national issues.  In short, those of us who fall under the banner of humanist(?) progressives(?) need to stand up – be counted.

Donald Trump is indecent and malicious and creepy.  He is President.  His list of campaign promises (some of which I accept are likely to melt away in the reality of responsibility) reads like some weird fascist agenda.  Really.  (He will build a wall; he will kick foreigners out; he will make the nation great again.)   This is beyond divisive, beyond inflammatory.  This is beyond the pale.

If the presence of the North Atlantic Ocean comforts us Brits, or anything about this extraordinary and concerning American Dream makes us Brits feel in any way superior then we better look out.  There’s nowhere to hide from this.  The Global Village is real – even when played out in cyberspace.

Not only do we rely on the U.S. to patrol the planet militarily, but on philosophical/symbolic/cultural matters, we have shared arteries.  We have our own politics but they are mediated around western possibilities.

Traditionally, this has meant relative freedom, relative tolerance.  America has raced ahead in the negative re-calibration of all that; meaning it’s just a little easier, a little more do-able, for some noisy or dangerously insular or aggressive or nationalistic hoodlum (or billionaire) to jump up on a tank or a pedestal and shoot his mouth off… and get hollers of support.

He might do this and claim to be fighting back against the Political Class – for you, the Forgotten Ones.  He probably will tell you he’s out to save your job, keep those others off/out/away.  He might look like a bloke you could share a pint with. Just be careful.

A loaded gun won’t set you free.

There’s something about the moment that brings Joy Division to mind. It might be autumn; or the desperate cynicism around politics and society; the suspicion that something’s falling away – something profound, like goodness, maybe?

Lots of things feel hollowed-out or skein-like or like some web you want to wipe away… and the things that often mitigate against all that – arty stuff? Sporty stuff? – are kinda being psychologically outgunned, or disproportionately swallowed under by the Looming Dark.

Blimey. It’s come to something when a wee something on Utd City starts out like that. But, laughably or not, it does feel like legitimate context, because Mourinho, because Crass World Pressure, because Rooney, because there are stats all over indicting Guardiola(!), because The Death of Caring is upon us.

We don’t care about big things like human decency so why would we care about footie? Football doesn’t care about us, so why we would we bother back? What further proof could we need that the world is bollocksed when it *does appear credible* that Wayne from Toxteth, the last of the street footballers, might be off to China to rot in his armed apartment? How much  more can our idealism be snuffed out, when it’s so dead?

Something about Manchester United used to speak against this. Something in their redness, their pace, their invincible energy.

We all know half the world needs to hate them but even some of those guys felt the surge when a bloke name of Best ran with it. Then Bryan Robson and Cantona and Kanchelskis and Giggs. Charging. More out of instinct than instruction, more in joy than in calculation. This went right past tribalism: it was received as brilliance – something to be aspired to – okaay, maybe as well as hated.

Now, amongst other things, we have a manager who lives joylessly – ‘disastrously’ he calls it – in a posh hotel. And he daren’t go out. Throughout the Premier League we have poisonous rather than inspirational expectation and a kind of moronic appeasement to yet dumber, broadly ever more unaware players and agents. (Of course there are honourable exceptions but players generally must take a lump of blame for the utter separation between themselves and the fans).

Players seem greedy, lazy, arrogant and more-or-less dishonest. More interested in getting their opposite number red-carded than scoring. More interested in drawing a pen than scoring. Staggeringly unaware of how ordinary they actually are. Staggeringly not bothered.

This is somewhere between a cruel view and an average view of football’s things, I think. Maybe I should add that I grew up in a football family and that my grandfather was an MU player before injury cut short his career. So I’m not entirely an outsider, railing with neither authority nor understanding. I get football: I do not enjoy drifting from it.

On Mourinho I’m more dispassionate than most, being clear that he has been a great of the modern era but not hugely enamoured of his playing style. I think the possibility he may have wanted to be at United ‘all along’ is mildly fascinating and that *whatever happens* he must get three years, if he wishes it that way. However, whilst accepting that despite the obscene transfer spending before he arrived, there were faaar too many players at the club simply unworthy of the shirt, I am shall we say concerned(?) that he has not yet addressed that fundamental imbalance: more – that he may not have improved it.

The very crudest view would suggest that if you have a practically unlimited budget you should be able to straighten things out. Crude but trueish. And Mourinho may. He may, though, need more time than many of the proponents of that view might imagine, or allow.

It’s absolutely right that we plebs holler for some accountability or value – Pogba cost how much?!? – we’re entitled. We aren’t responsible for the monstrous salaries so we feel we have moral superiority over and above the usual shareholder/propper-upper stuff. This judgemental fervour is surely both contagious and dangerous – hiking up passions from the reasonable to the wild.

In this context it’s asking a bundle but us fans might still need to consider our contributions – vocal or otherwise. We need to think about how essential it is that players feel good, in a role, in an environment.

Bringing us back – in the United case – to Mourinho. The manager is the environment. His job is to select, after providing some tactical input and (mainly) creating an understanding; a zone of comfort in which players (sorry but this is still the best phrase) express themselves.

Mourinho has traditionally found a way – often magnificently, through sheer force of personality and brilliant proactivity – to win through, here. Sometimes via adversarial routes, sometimes by getting players (and fans) to love him. Intriguingly, right now, the universe is for the first time doubting his virility. It’s threatening to de-Specialise him. Tonight, against City, becomes a meaningful test.

Or it would if (sor-ree sponsors!) this cup meant anything. We saw from Liverpool Tottenham that it’s become a reserve team fixture. Plus, in this case, a bit of family malice. They’re’ll be a lot of hot air but this result does not matter: performances will.

Haven’t seen the line-ups yet (6.20pm) but hoping on the one hand for Mourinho to think more Fenerbache than Liverpool and unleash – or at least offer the possibility for – some Manchester United football. For me this means no Fellaini. (Fellaini goes, from Old Trafford, along with Memphis and Rojo and the others on your list, right?)

Longer term, there’s a slate to wipe clean. Ibra was always a short-term fix, the Rooney Question needs to be addressed and half the defence needs shipping out again. I think Shaw – if he can ever stay fit – is a player and Bailly was looking good but I am not convinced Smalling, however much this goes against the grain of contemporary thinking, is good enough for a proper, elite-level MU. Sorry but I’m just not.

Whilst we’re into the radical sweeps I’d like Mata and Herrera to get a generous run together. If this squeezes out Lingard for now, fair enough. Pogba stays in there. Rashford plays often – rotating with Martial and Ibrahimovic. Crucially, they are freed up, to dash, to charge, to play without fear – because they are Manchester United.

And now, as we fizz or freeze… kick-off.

Bye then!

Is this the end, then, for the Ordinary Bloke as gaffer? Has the fallout from Entrapmentgate steered football further from the working man than ever? And is that more meaningful and painful than the other stuff about morals and money?

Possibly not. But in doing a favour for a friend of thirty years and then falling into the most obvious of pits-with-tarpaulins-slung-over, Mr Allardyce has undermined your chances (Dave) and yours (Derek, Bazza, Brian, Jim) of rising to high office. Which you might think is gutting.

So who’s to blame then? Slimy undercover journo’s or a clumsy or naive or disturbingly shifty bloke with a napkin (apparently, fitfully) on his head? Or… is that the question?

And how did it come to this? Meaning either how the hell did that bloke become England Manager anyway or how come this paper did this entrapment thing? Both almost equally weird. Throw in the assumption of dentist’s-chairloads of booze, cartoon-character machismo and gert big wedges of money and you really do have a scene we can moralise over, luxuriate in – a scene for our times.

Tough enough already to avoid the view of top-level footie as near criminally grotesque: this latest episode doesn’t so much reinforce that impression as plonk a shiny silver flag on top and krank upp the klaxons. No wonder The Simpsons has been so widely referenced in the reactions; this is Maximum DOH, people!

And yet it maybe does feel unfair. Not just in the possibility that Allardyce has been exposed more for a fool than a criminal but in terms of the influence on this case of the scale of contempt around the game itself – contempt which I am certainly guilty of contributing towards.

Sure other sports lack the garish weight of football’s tackiness – though many clearly share some of its depressing shades. The environment is such that disproportion thrives and fair judgement may be elusive – through that context of diving foreigners and blinged-up lifestyles. How then, can we reconcile the feeling that ‘developments’ following Big Sam’s meeting feel uniquely football and symbolically rotten, with more focussed appreciation of the actual events?

Maybe there can be no event without that baggage? So that appalled but unsurprised, we may not have the heart to search for detail: we may not ‘need to.’ This is all crushingly obvious, after all.

It’s a crappy and predictable do, this, maybe more so because of Big Sam’s crassness but esssentially because this is just how football is. Football is guilty; that’s how most of us feel. Said this plenty times myself, over recent years. Football is guilty.

Can we bothered to go past that? (Is that the question?) Or does that obviousness, that donkey-centre-halfness imply guilt and is that game over?

If we were getting real in a faintly ‘legal’ or philosophical kindofaway we might seek out what it was exactly, that took the England Gaffer into the Plainly Unacceptable Yonder? That may be a pertinent question but it is one which I, for one, disillusioned, can barely be arsed to ask.

Except I have. I know I’ve been prejudiced against Big Sam so I’ve thought a lit-tle more. Read stuff… before returning to my instinct that he’s too dumb-blokey to inhabit the role and that this probably matters enough. Or carries over into the You’re Nailed column, thus nailing him.

So – Telegraph. Allardyce. Two fascinatingly different arms of the Footie Psychomonolith. The latter we imagine boozy and sweated-up, the former more inclined to feint, to weave,  to cheat out a weakness.  Because this was a kinda pugilistic occasion – or became so.

Look until a complete transcription of the two(?) meetings becomes available, we’re speculating and/or lumping in our opinions, high or low. Meaning I can find it in my heart to forgive myself, for assuming the daft bugger got a bit flash, bit tempted and told The Telegraph (asitappened) just enough of what they wanted to hear.

Beyond.

Let’s remember Wales’s victory over Belgium for the twenty minute period after Nainngolan smashed in that drive. When rather than capitulating or panicking, Coleman’s side played some of their best football of the tournament. They passed and moved  – and with both wingbacks pressing high up the park wherever possible – they played.

This was beyond. Beyond the reasonable and the likely and quite possibly beyond even the expectations of their myopically magnificent supporters. And yet it was foreseeable.

Wales – the team with arguably only three genuine international players – doing an Italy or a Spain or a Croatia. Playing confident, skilled, rhythmic football in a tournament; going right past doggedness and defiance into mature, composed, attacking tournament football. For the manager and the fans this was a dream, yes – but it was also a culmination, or (as this story is not yet done) a consequence.

This team had (has!) a pattern they understood, not just the much-vaunted and essential togetherness but a pattern. This fella Coleman (that many of us have never rated, hugely, that has shown no real signs of the genius and understanding that we now have to credit him with) has drilled and instilled something authentically kosher into his posse. Wales know what they’re doing – with and without the ball.

This isn’t to say that they don’t have the occasional lapse. There were horrendous moments when defenders both central and wide simply did not know where their oppo’s were: even the towering and inspiring Williams was guilty of this. Similarly the concession of four rank yellows for offences that were criminally unnecessary smacks more than a little of non-elite awarenesses. So there is very much that possibility that they may get found out.

I may divert briefly  here. Because I have a wild theory that often, actually, international football is not played at a hugely high standard.

This is no way to either undermine or demystify the achievement of Wales (or previously Denmark or Greece) or anybody else. Clearly much of the romance of the Euros or the World Cup is about precisely this roaring after opportunities. I love that. But in this tournament, for example, I may argue that only Germany are playing all over at such a patently higher level than (say) Wales that we might expect them to confound even the wonder that is Welsh togetherness and organisation. Consequently – now – Wales are, as Coleman has been at pains to emphasise ‘really here to compete’. Legitimately and with real hope.

That hope re-doubled last night in Lille. With the result, and with the manner in which Coleman’s team applied themselves.

Broadly, the triumph of last night was about Wales’s comfort within their plan. They read the moment, gathered and they flowed forward.

All this is general. The 5-3-2 system morphing into a 3-5-2 in possession, with Bale allowed or expected to roam (and then race forward). The stout narrowness in defence, challenging the Belgians to conjure something extraordinarily laser-like from out wide. The conviction that neither Hazard nor anyone else can score from the wing. The epic numbers of shutouts and blocks in central positions.

Simple but clearly beyond execution for the England’s of this world – and yes that IS relevant to the Welsh psyche, it being powerfully valedictory for Dai and Gareth and Lleuci that England’s weakness contrasts so gloriously sharply with Welsh tightness and brotherhood.

Lukaku R and de Bruyne were marginalised: more importantly perhaps, so was the skipper, Hazard. As the second half wore on, so the overwhelmingly more gifted and favoured Belgians slid from view – or were ushered from the scene, dispirited. That thing where folks *cannot believe* we’re gonna get beat by…. kicked in. Fellaini inevitably had a clear, headed chance but yet again the Manchester United anti-cult doinked it emphatically wide. It felt increasingly fated – whatever that means.

Maybe we should note that the first half was pret-ty close to a great game game of footie. And that both sides must take some credit for an open, entertaining 45. Coleman again must be applauded for clearly instructing his wing-backs to get high up the park from the start; many might have been more cautious against a side heavily loaded with attacking threats.

In truth I rate this recognition from Coleman that a) Belgium might be exposed by both the real and psychological threat of positivity from deep on the Welsh flanks and b) his *actual commitment* to set up that way as his greatest achievement so far. An obvious alternative from Wales might have been to be essentially defensive but allow Bale to raid and Ramsey to gallop in occasional support.

Wales were braver than that. More confident and competent than that.

For all the brilliance and powerfully unifying success of the #togetherstronger campaign, maybe its whiff of minnow-ness, of underdog-ness undervalues the Welsh achievement here. Wales (particularly last night, particularly when under pressure) have come out and played.

We have to talk about the goals. Goals do everything from pay the rent to raise the roof to change everything.

Belgium’s stunning early strike felt like an affirmation of quality and a potentially ‘deadly’ thrust into Welsh hearts. This was bested, however, by subsequent, outrageous interventions.

William’s committed header (and celebration in response) was a magical, sub-Tardellian moment – a gift to us all. The skipper and stopper-supreme (okaay, English-born but come o-on) has epitomised something wonderfully blokey and genuine and Welsh in this Big Red Adventure. If you failed to find his post-nod charge to the gaffer and the support team uplifting you must be reading this from inside a coffin.

For Robson-Kanu (of all people?) to cap even that with a Cruyffian swivel and prompt despatch confirmed, surely that something major was in the offing – like Judgement Day, for example. The out-of-contract striker is something of a cult figure precisely because of his membership of the Endearingly Honest No-Hoper School of Forwards, so this further moment was one further, improbable step beyond.

But not the final one. When Vokes raced on to flick a near-post header across the keeper (and therefore disturb another prejudice about him too, being a non-striking striker) the thing – the universe, the laws of everything – seemed gloriously done in or over or something. Something mad and beautiful. Wales were there and it really was beyond, mun.

Icons as themselves.

The names are icons in themselves. Carter, Nonu, McCaw; plus that icon-let (iconlite?) Beauden Barrett. Try keeping them out of any report or reflection on this superb final.

One name that’s odds-on to be missing though, is that of Matt Giteau, the Australian centre-playmaker, who was cruelly and arguably significantly lost to this showpiece twenty-odd minutes in.

Early doors at a roused but curiously multi-national Twickers belonged to Nonu – Giteau’s opposite number – the specimen centre yet again epitomizing the ideal of a space-seeking, rhythmic, intelligent force of nature as he tore forward into the Wallabies 22. Then, as McCaw led his magnificent monsters to scary levels of dominance, Carter sat back and prompted.

In fact he did more than that. Dan Carter orchestrated; he *intervened*; he wound the entire game round his finger and played yoyo with it – and I don’t mean like you and me would. He pyoinged and pyoinged so beautifully and successfully that it was absurd.

Absurd in particular that he could caress the ball so freely and immaculately and sweetly from the tee, in the World Cup Final, with a universe of expectation allegedly bearing down. Ludicrous.

Ludicrous that he could channel Liam Brady circa the maestro-Italiano Years whilst smoothing the ball through the posts, unfailingly. Every blog or column will be full of clunky linkages to Carter’s collection of superhero costumes; I will stop just short… but still observe that his performance was something pret-ty damn close to a marvel.

He struck the ball from the tee with the kind of grace that made Jonny Wilkinson’s punchier, thuddier, stunnier style seem kinda coarse. Either that or he so seduced me that I am unable to uncouple the peerless All Black from some erm… superhero of my own imagining. In short Carter (whilst all the time playing within himself, playing controlling rather than mesmeric rugby) gave one of the great championship-winning performances. Then he clattered into onrushing Aussie forwards, heaving them back’ards notably on more than one occasion,

Beauden Barrett makes the first paragraph here chiefly on account of his decisive, breakaway try, scored late on. He sniffed out an opening as the desperate Wallabies pressed, played a decent bitta footie and collected a doll of a bounce before diving over.

In a sense that could have been anybody wearing black, such is the breadth of their dynamism. True Mealamu is less likely to sprint clear but the relentless, all-court threat that is the All Black fifteen tends to make these things happen; as a team, they capitalize.

Australia, having manfully stormed back towards parity in the match, were simply punished when they themselves were on the offensive. As so often, the game’s opening out led to a ruthless counter from New Zealand.

I’m guessing these fine and hugely watchable Wallabies, as silver-medalists, will not be comforted by the fact of their emphatically positive showing in this tournament.

Only in their annihilation of France (and arguably their brutally composed victory over the Boks) did the All Blacks suggest they might find a decisively higher level than their tremendous rivals from the southern oceans but ‘getting close’ ain’t gonna be enough for Cheika or his players.

Fardy, Pocock and Hooper have deservedly been right up there as the darlings or running dogs of the competition. Today they had their moments but were ineffectual compared to previous outings. The AB’s simply kept the ball alive so often and shifted the focus of attack so constantly that to some extent the breakdown was less present as a feature (or potential source of issue) in the contest.

When Pocock looked to be threatening ball mid-way into the first half, New Zealand engaged carousel mode and the ball was everywhere but on the deck with a Wallaby back-row all over it. Australia were consequently simply outplayed.

Wonderful miscalculation of family taxi-duties meant that after screeching to an inspired halt, I watched the impressive and (certainly early-on) wholesale subjugation of the Wallabies principal weapon in my favourite hostelry in West Wales. Here things were even-handed, even to the extent that our National Treasure (the ref) was mildly scalded for alleged transgressions against fair-play and rectitude – a forward pass here, a missed pen there.

You may have to take my word for it that I was amongst folks who get rugby; in a deepish, visceral and somehow hearty way as well as being able to decipher its codes. However, as the AB’s streaked clear, points-wise, that ole chestnut Underdog Syndrome seeped into the boozer’s consciousness.

The game ‘definitely need’ an Aus try. Carter had ‘been the difference’ but ‘something needed to turn’. It did with a second or two’s indiscipline…and a yellow for AB’s full-back Smith..

After (no doubt) a few galvanizing words from their profoundly influential coach, Australia had set about recovering the frankly unpromising 16-3 deficit after half-time. The bald truth may be that their recovery was more about the AB’s reduction in staff for ten minutes than their own resurgence – although plainly one was predicated on t’other – but something stronger than mere sympathy invites respect for the Wallaby comeback.

Pocock and Kuridrani’s tries around the hour were maybe moments for sure – they hiked the twitchy fibres of all of us, bringing the scores back to 21-17 – but ultimately and rightly they were a challenge to which Carter and then Barrett responded.

The All Black kingpin/pivot/superhero drove over a longish range drop-goal – beautifully, yet again – to do the appropriate statement-making thing. Then as we entered Absolutely Shit-or-Bustville, Barrett robbed his try. And the headlines went Back To Black.

The pub applauded. A single Kiwi stood up and we unanimously wished him well(cryptically, by jeering ‘good-naturedly’) and turned back to our pints and our analysis. Who knows how much of the following we actually said but it feels like we came out with stuff like this…

You might fear or think or figure that an event as prolonged as a World Cup, with its inevitable and essentially regulated slabbettes of drama might stall at some period, or might fail to build.

A Group Stage then a knockout that simply has to be spread to allow bruises to heal, lungs to recover. People – nations! – leaving, extinguished. A week, between the semi and the final. More shuffling home; home to Buenos Aires or Jo’burg or Matlock. Cruel, debilitating, necessary non-activity. Surely this is going to mean some sense of pause or gather, or that loss of momentum which often undermines the Grand Event will intervene, like some superfluous usherette?

Nope; not here. Or okay hardly – hardly here.

This #RWC2015 has fair bundled along; seamless and typically smiley; pleasingly controversy-lite. Populated by powerful wedges of expressive, engaging sport. Simply a bloody pleasure from first to last, despite the loss of hosts England and later demi-hosts Wales. Despite that possibility for epic-scale (Northern?) stomping off in a huff.

The sport’s been too good for Brian from Barnsley or Geoff from Gloucester to skidaddle. Most of us in the ranks of The Defeated got immediately sucked back into it by the brilliance of some foreign geezer – some bloke from Japan or Argentina, quite possibly. (Incidentally, Cindy, how fabulous is it that plenty of Brits, pre and post the elimination of ‘our teams’, have been cheering on the Pumas in this? Sport transcending? Yes indeedie!)

So without actually being in one of the Fan Zones we’ve still been doing congas or necking cocktails (metaphorically speaking) with folks from all over. Captured. We really should all be thankful for all that; thankful to the players, coaches, organizers, stewards and everybody else who’s yaknow, ever met them.

I’m not thinking it’s dumb patriotism that drives me to say that I think the UK – with the obvious caveats re the rip-off hoteliers etc – has done a top job hosting this pardee – as it did with the 2012 Olympics. It’s entirely ENTIRELY fitting, therefore, that a truly great Rugby World Cup was collected by Mr McCaw… and lifted aloft by Messrs Nonu/Mealamu/Smith etc , etc, etc.

So hey thank you, fellas. Thank you, truly, for showing us how it’s done.