The Tide Whisperer – in Tenby.

The Tide Whisperer speaks of many things. It declaims them, from atop a scaffold, a harbour wall – or it signals them from the clifftop.

Mostly, it beams them in, in between those ears, through headphones offering both a private view and a rich, collective experience.

We’re in teams. We gather in the de Valence, in Tenby, on a coolish but viable September evening, passing racks of kit and rakes of guides or staff or stewards on the way in. I’m red.

In the hall, that scaffold supports an almost-anarchic electro-sculpture, alive with scenes around the town, the water, the world. There are presences – on the stage there’s a bloke who might be a fisherman, dragging for something. There’s a woman in shadow, or grief, or both. There’s a chair… and sand… and then a sitter.

Soon enough the screens will break through the chatter and the scaffold will host an entry, a monologue, a man opening the themes. Refuge; flux; the search for harbour. Then urgency, bombs, carnage: we’re driven out, in our teams, to the sea.

There’s a kind of prose-poem playing between those ears, an evocation of things remembered, things left. The ‘Tudor Streets’ walk with us, with the 30 or 40 reds as we carry that context with us to the beach. I wonder if we might have left our shoes and socks, as we traipse across that sand, past the golden cockle-women and the strewn chairs, to the waiting boat.

The sea, then. Central and essential to the piece. We join it for an hour, maybe, in transit or stalled, circling or encircled, at the mercy of – who knows? Pirates? Police? The evil whim of an indifferent or hostile world?

Two stories. That tragic woman – one of the Boat People – and a young, male Russian(?) who transgressed into loving another. Danger and escape, or not.

Sometimes we sit, ‘pointlessly’. Sometimes we ‘make good progress’ through the chop. Always the invitation – the compulsion – to listen and to feel the stories trawl through us. The headphones make us victims; there can be no distraction, no interaction; we can only immerse, not escape.

Ashore, that man from the scaffold is back, in the bandstand. He is Welsh, he is Corbyn-like, he is a refugee: he was Mayor!

We march on, down, again, inevitably, to the auditorium of the harbour, cobbles becoming sand once more. The three central characters and the swaying cockle-choir and the backdrop of the town await: a staging, a denouement between our ears. My friend Jane wept, almost uncontrollably.

So *things I liked*. The whole, the experience, the physical elements – from walkabout to water, to the inescapable word. (Different groups did different things: I’m glad we were mostly on that sea, in our coats, inside our headphones). Impossible not to be affected – subtly or profoundly – by the leaving, the returning, the rise and fall.

Personally though, I am left with a sense that maybe I/we might have been challenged more. Despite the scope of the piece – and the budget – this was traditional community theatre. (I know, I know – community theatre can be wonderful and revelatory, stay with me!)

The stack of tellys was okay but hardly original. I didn’t need the Guernica reference. I felt the character Pearl didn’t need that name. My comfort, in the face of these atrocities, remained relatively un-shredded. This could, of course be my own inadequacy but there’s an argument Tide Whisperer might have screamed or torn at us some more.

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The Man Who Missed That Pen.

I will be updating this post live. Foolishly. Ghoulishly, perhaps.

 

Call it pre-match nerves but I feel a preamble coming on. No – worse. A pre-ramble.

I think it’s a fact that most of us with any interest in Ingerland were a little disappointed when Southgate was appointed; we feared that traditional lack of bite, spark, genius amongst England Managers would go on. Simple. The bloke’s another Fairly Bland One, reassuringly measured, non-controversial, after the boorish moron Allardyce. That’s what we thought.

Today at fourish, interviewed by the accomplished Gabby nee Yorath of the Beeb, he again piled up the evidence of our chronic underestimation. Not just eloquent but witty. Not just calm and responsible and shrewd but streetwise and persuasive. Clever but humble in a particularly good way.

I still harbour concerns but in the rough and tumble of things – if, specifically Colombia duff up his Young Lions later – I will be writing to my MP to express furious injustice and note to the universe that ‘Southgate has holistically transformed the way of things around the national team: that indeed may be his signal achievement, whatever happens, results-wise’.

England, under Southgate’s direction, are simply way more intelligent. Or are they?

In the sense that Southgate is palpably operating at a high level of sensitivity and awareness in respect of man-management – yes. With regard to playing style – yes (probably).

The Gaffer absolutely gets that the massaging or manouvering of egos or frailties is as central here as anywhere. By that I mean in any team the leader must understand the blend, the chemistry… but then be able to intuit (or rally, or bully) towards effective action or choice beyond.

Some people get that, some don’t. Southgate is strong in this – stronger than noisier, more obviously ‘inspirational’ managers, perhaps? Increasingly, it seems possible that his apparently quiet way is a way to create something surprisingly mercurial; players playing beyond expectation.

So a positive view really might suggest that largely because of the exercise of these soft skills (and of course essentially good tactical knowledge) the Man Who Missed That Pen has steered a refreshingly enlightened course. This doesn’t change, if England lose tonight: neither do my concerns.

Despite Southgate’s excellence, I wonder if too many of his players might feel the heat, if not literally, then via that fearful blowtorch conjured through brutally-heightened exposure and (that word again) expectation. I have been both supportive and critical of Sterling and remain concerned about his capacity to drift or disengage from Big Challenges. Let’s start with him.

I understand the guy’s a talent but would I be offering him that lynchpin/unpicker/punisher number ten role? Probably not. He’s been too anaemic too often and despite his goals for City his finishing is often dispiritingly poor. If you were twisted enough to bet on somebody ‘disappearing’ then maybe it would be him.  (I hope I’m wrong on this and if so then this will be another triumph for Southgate-as-Quiet-Wizard).

Elsewhere, Lingard’s progress feels patchy and like Rashford’s his talent appears inconsistently expressed. Hope he and his United colleague (who we imagine will start as sub, yes?) can get their incisive, threatening heads on rather than those wasteful ones.

The main threat to England, though seems likely to be from carelessness or overplaying at the back. Stones, Maguire and Walker can look fabulous and imperious but all have an error in them. With that in mind, I’ll be kindof expecting Colombia to press crazy-high and hard, early on, to try to force a clanger. If England do concede – especially through a goalkeeping or defensive howler, then that enlightened culture is going to be tested… which is as it should be, eh?

Enough, for now. It’s 17.57 so I better start my own, intensive warm-up.

18.50. Southgate on ITV, now. Cool. Emphasises ‘mental resilience’. Prob’ly read the blog? Then bloody adverts.

18.55. Glenda as Chief Pundit? Na. Get him to chip the keeper,  or hitch his shorts up… but talk? Nah.

18.58. Anthems.  An away game, then, for England.

Time for a ridiculous prediction? I think England are 4-1 better than Colombia. But that’s ridiculous!

Last thought, pre-kick-off, looking at the team. Not great quality but the blend… hmmm.

19.02. Neither team pressing really high.

19.05 Chance for England. Free-kick in danger zone, followed by threatening cross but disappointing corner.

19.08. Early signs that Lingard looking brisk and sharp. But Alli may be doing that too-cool-for-his-own-good thing. Maybe.

19.15. Great full-back’s tackle from Trippier – comprehensively robs the winger. England on top but no chances so far.

19.15. Brilliant move from England. Trippier flies round on overlap and ver-ry nearly finds Kane at the far post. Can’t get over the header.

19.20. Decent game. England dominating, as expected, Lingard and Kane going well.

19.22. First half-chance (nearly) as the ball squirts across the England box, then wide. Falcao can’t capitalise and his left-midfielder blazes ludicrously over.

Colombia into the game. England happy to drop in to a 5-3-2 or 5-4-1 out of possession.

19.28. No sign of Alli in the game. Sterling quietish, too – or unable to make anything happen.

At that, he has his first decent run… but slightly wimps out on the shot or the killer pass.

19,32. Some girlie physicals from Cuadrado, on Maguire. This would be the Cuadrado who was an embarrassing failure in the Premiership – as was his team-mate, Falcao. Falcao at least looks like he wants to be involved, tonight.

19.35. Any momentum England had… now lost.

19.38. Clumsy challenge on Kane offers the England talisman a juicy 23 yarder. Around which, there are handbags.

Henderson, rather crassly provokes some physical contact with the head from from Barrios. The Liverpool man then does a Neymar, the lead commentator talks garbage… and Trippier – not Kane – doesn’t make anything of the opportunity. The game has become feisty and scrappy.

19.40-odd. Now expecting more a tense, messy 1-0 to somebody – or maybe 2-1. Can’t be certain if Dele Alli is still carrying a knock but either way you’d be tempted to hoik him at the half and prepare Rashford for the usual Sterling swap soon after. (Interesting test for Southgate’s positivity, that). The City man’s been unconvincing – ineffectual.

After a good start for England, the game reaches the half goalless and rather ugly. Opt not to listen to the over-hyped discussion about a potential red card. Cobblers; Henderson stoked it then faked it – can’t be more than a yellow for that!

Also… didn’t enjoy Maguire – who was close to the incident and therefore will have seen Henderson’s exaggeration as well as the defender’s lack of discipline – gesturing for VAR. Bit cheap, I thought.

Second Half.

First thought; really hope England don’t chicken out and ‘play patient’, in the expectation of a late goal or extra-time. Think they’re better playing with energy – think that instinctive, hearty stuff is contagious.

20.11. Lingard again lifts the pace and offers a threat. Almost.

20.14. Nice in-curling free-kick from Young nearly offers Maguire a free header… but no.

Then; MOMENT.

20.16. Kane is pretty much shafted by his marker (Sanchez) during yet another embarrassing fracas at a corner. Ref rightly gives a pen. It takes about an hour to placate the outraged Colombians before the England skipper nervelessly clips it home.

Real danger that England could get sucked into the anarchy, here. The Colombians are frankly out of order at almost every moment, early in this period. Henderson is foolishly booked, for responding. Daft.

20.23. With the overwhelmingly pro-Colombian crowd in a fury, their players join in. Falcao is prominent in some shocking and intimidating abuse of the referee. There appears no way that the South Americans can finish the game with eleven on the park..

There is almost no football, now – just spite. The experienced Young, fouled but hardly decapitated, has a long lie down to take the sting out of things.

20.30. Minor moment of casual petulance and frustration gets Lingard – England’s best forward player – booked. Then England gift one or two further, unecessary free-kicks away – but not in defensive positions. Stones, notably, remains staggering composed in possession; Maguire is not far behind on this; he also carries the ball forward with some purpose and offers a threat at the occasional set-piece.

20.36 means only about 15 minutes to see this out – if that’s to be England’s approach.

20.37. Lingard, breaking almost clear, throws away most of his brownie points by patently trying to draw a pen instead of smashing it past the keeper. Cynical and depressingly dumb. Could have won the game right there.

20.42. Dele is finally removed: 20 minutes late. Dier.

Oof. Walker offers Colombia their  best chance of the night. In space and with a decent angle, Cuadrado drives unimpressively over.

Things are urgent, suddenly for and from Colombia. Falcao leaps over Henderson to only head tamely. There is some angst but little in the way of real threat. The disappointing Sterling makes way for Vardy.

20.51 & we have five minutes extra. Feels like England should be okaaay… until Pickford has to pull off a worldie, for a corner.

MEGADRAMA though, as Mina, the centre-back nods it down-but-then-agonisingly-over Trippier… and into the net! 1-1. WOW.

Extra Time.

Firstly, there are now questions. About Lingard’s spurned opportunity; about whether Tripier misjudged the scoring header. Maybe too, about Southgate’s arguably reactive management. Alli was muted at best throughout – could’ve been hoiked way earlier. Sterling did okay but again lacked that killer instinct; I wouldn’t have started him.

21.03 it says on my ipad, as the whistle goes. Controversy immediately as Young (maybe more than his opponent) show the studs a little in a 50-50. Both inevitably roll about a bit.

Random thoughts: Henderson done little. Kane I think pretty ordinary in the second half. An almost complete lack of composure from nearly everybody on the park, now. Except Stones. Probably.

Dier’s come on and done nothing right – almost comically. Some signs maybe that Maguire’s legs have gone. A sense that Colombia are more likely.

Suddenly there’s no core to England. The central defenders can’t thread the ball into midfield – certainly not centrally. Rose is on for Young so England do now have pacy wing-backs but it’s Colombia who are playing with more verve and commitment, now. As the first half of extra time comes to a close, England look… if not gone… then up against it.

The Colombian huddle is characterised by positive energy – belief, maybe?

21.23 and the first chance falls clumsily to Vardy. His left-foot volley wouldn’t have counted – he’s off. Soon after he gets a second chance… but fluffs it, rather, disappointingly.

For some time, Henderson and Lingard have gone missing – or at least ceased to be influential. *Except* Lingard runs on and on, almost profiting after a good move from the right.

Rashford is on. Dier misses a golden chance, heading poorly, wildly over when absolutely unmarked, eight yards out. Ouch.

I had a feeling England might win it 4-1. Because of Lingard and Kane. Now, we have penalties.

Normally I’d wander off, disinterested at this point. So I will… after one more thought.

Southgate’s done well; he just doesn’t have the players. Except that just maybe, he does – the right complement of players. Young’s obduracy for Sterling’s relative frailty? Lingard’s running for Henderson’s one-pacedness? Kane’s killer-striker thing, absent elsewhere. This is Southgate’s team: could it yet be his triumph?

 

 

Three Lions Meltdown… averted!

So England win. Probably Southgate deserved that. But there are *things*…

  • Sterling. We have to take care around Sterling, because the poor lad has had so much flak and much of it has had a racial component. I’m pretty clear that my long-held view that he’s a good player but has serially lacked the presence/confidence/bottle to take on the no. 10 role for England is not partial – it’s simply a football judgement. He was obviously weak again tonight. He will likely stay in the side because of a reasonable(?) level of loyalty from Southgate and because England won: he’s a lucky man in that respect.
  • Henderson was heroic in that workmanlike way that average international players can be. He was available, he nosed the ball around, fair play to him ; that stuff demands courage. But let’s again say the obvious: whilst he is pickable (because any side needs balance) he should not be England’s go to man to break team’s down or create an irresistible surge. He’s not good enough for that.
  • Kane nicked two goals, both half-decent finishes but for me his overall contribution was below par. Not enough physical presence, not enough movement and shocking that he didn’t rip the ball out of Ashley Young’s hands for that free-kick on the edge of the box. That moment was made for a captain, centre-forward and budding icon and Southgate should be having a quiet word about it. Kane should be winning more balls in the air, too – particularly hoofs down the park from Pickford. A) This is part of a centre-forward’s job. B) Given the generally poor standard of international defences, imagine the carnage that the occasional well-directed flick-on (to Lingard or Rashford) might cause.
  • Lingard played in occasional bursts but again missed presentable chances. In that way he resembles Rashford, whom we all like (right?) but who shares that tendency for wastefulness. The two are useful and sometimes electrifying but they are both still playing too fitfully – too much like teenagers – to be in the starting eleven together: unfortunately.
  • Alli may have been crocked from the outset – although this would seem to be an un-Southgatelike possibility – but he started brightly before disappearing, alongside Kane. He is a talent but another one who is burning waaay too sporadically. I quite like his spiteful streak, though not his propensity for raw cheating, which is at a more grubbily cynical level than Sterling’s weirdly childlike tumbles. (Not that Alli cheated tonight; he simply ghosted out of it.)
  • Stones and Maguire were untroubled generally (though not flawless) but it was the Burnley man who was a worthwhile protagonist going forward.
  • The keeper looked settled enough, though he was almost completely untested.
  • At full-back, Young played at his usual predictable pace, delaying throw-ins, setpieces and the flow of England’s game. (He is fortunate indeed to be in the side – presumably this is courtesy of his ’reliability’, experience and physical resilience). Trippier, on the right was excellent – or excellently positive. Keen, sharpish, urgent, bolder than anyone; unfortunately for him, playing at a higher tempo than his comrades seemed prepared to join with. He may destroy feeble Panama on his own.
  • England started hugely encouragingly but did drop into standard tournament mode briefly in the second half; self-pitying, directionless, unwilling or able to raise a response to opponents sniffing a Three Lions Meltdown. Maybe they were even a little lucky to get the win, so late, so simply, from such a defendable dead-ball situation?
  • But Kane’s finish – from Maguire’s lusty header – was both instinctive and skilful… and surely deserved, overall.

Levels of Hurt.

Bale’s two interventions. Ramos. Karius. Salah. Wow.  The word is probably ‘dramatic’.

Dramatic but cruel? Dramatic and relatively just? Depends where you’re at. As a neutral, the result felt a tad generous to the slightly haughty Spain-based gentlemen but they were (in some sense) classier and more comfortable on the night. Predictably.

Modric was absurdly unhurried as usual; Marcello – without engaging annoyingly flamboyant mode – was cool. The Liverpool midfield were not; most of the Red Men, were not.

For much of the game, Milner and Wijnaldum and Henderson fluffed things or threaded passes straight to the opposition. Both the Englishmen did that thing where they make the case against themselves, as top international players. They looked bloody ordinary – and one-paced.

Wijnaldum was mostly worse than that, for the first hour plus,  but almost looked to have settled, arguably unhelpfully, by about the eightieth minute.

The passing out from defence was similarly twitching between the poles of freneticism and wastefulness. Klopp seemed generally impassive on the sidelines but the disappointment at the level of sheer nervousness and consequent lack of fluency and fire must have hurt him. Not much worse than not turning up for a massive, massive game.

By my reckoning only Mane and Robertson did themselves justice – certainly in terms of forward, or forward-thinking play.

Sure we can credit Modric (mainly) for the suppression of the Liverpool Way, but I can’t be the only one who (whilst acknowledging Real’s impressive ease) also feels they might really have been vulnerable to the kind of exhilirating rampage Klopp’s team have been serving up all year.

Instead Ramos and Morcello and co went relatively untested.

Of course it’s easy to be critical after the event but I did wonder during the game why the Liverpool coaches were not more animated and maybe proactive. (Presumably Klopp tried to light a bonfire at halftime, rather than counselling calm and measured improvement?)

If Klopp was content to concede possession and look to counter-attack – that’s maybe only to be expected, right? – then okaaaay, except that conceding possession against the most successful team in European Cup/Champions League history will surely invite trouble in the end? Plus – in my view critically – Liverpool have thrived via a pacy, open matrix rather than an italianate(?) deliberately staccato slow-then-alarmingly-quick approach.

Firmino wants to flick things and move; Mane wants to run, Salah wants to turn and race. Much of this starts from halfway and/or springs from periods of pressure,  from within the energy and context of an athletic, confident, free-running team. In my view that kind of team might be more of a threat to Ramos’s relative lack of legs, Morcello’s arrogance etc etc.

In short I think Klopp missed a trick – or his players were too awestruck to express their natural way. That’s a tad frustrating.

The genuinely sad and inevitably damaging removal of Salah was of course a factor – though already Liverpool’s performance seemed both muted and on balance likely to stay that way. The dancing Egyptian might plainly have unzipped the Madrid backline at any moment and the watching world was robbed of much of that frisson.

In terms of Match-winning Moments, let’s concentrate on Bale’s extraordinary overhead. Throw in the fact that it was *more possible* for a left-footer to do what he did than a right… and we are still left with something impossible. Impossible and magnificent and staggeringly, wonderfully worthy. And how hilarious that all of us thought immediately of Ronaldo’s ego flinching at the sight?

The other Madrid goals were clangers off-the-scale: mortifying to watch. Paul Hayward has rightly led the calls for understanding of the possible dangers around these freakish and traumatic moments. Let’s just add that maybe we all have a kind of duty of care to Karius and then move on, hoping that he can, with help and support,  gather himself and respond.

Madrid are champions and they deserve it. They may be fortunate though, that the real Liverpool did not show up; that Liverpool might have hurt them.

Twickenham.

Wales is foaming. The seas are stormy and the pubs, too. Faces are redder.

There’s expectation – because. There’s most of the Scarlets. There’s a dangerous surge.

I can tell you almost nobody in Wales has done that thing where you set aside the fervour of the moment and calmly assess where you’re at. The relative brilliance of last week’s canter past the woeful Scots has barely been picked over – or at least the perspective view has remained obscured, in the excitement.

Instead, there’s that red, misty, arms-wide-open longing. Because it’s Twickenham.

Wales apparently believes – again. Based around a new, Scarlets-inspired attacking game (plus Gatland’s rather more grounded philosophical buttressing), the historically oppressed are roaring. The ether here is flooded with that extraordinary mixture of faith, hope and bitterness that accompanies The England Game… and no other. Kindof hilariously and kindof rightly, given the surreally weighty meanings around the fixture, Wales believes a validatory win is within their grasp.

After the Scotland game, guess what? I didn’t. I admired a fine performance, in a rather second tier contest. It felt like about the eighth best team in the world playing – and comprehensively beating – the twelfth: or something. (I know this is innaccurate but that’s how it felt).

Coming into today, I expect a stronger England team – a team legitimately in the top 2 or 3 in the world – to beat a relatively unproven Welsh side. Quite likely, to beat them with something to spare.

Let’s see.

England score, early, following a superb but rather simple counter via the boot of Farrell. Then Launchbury, after a barrage from England’s Beefy Boys, finds a magnificent, soft offload to put May in again. After 20, England are 12-0 up.

Before the sense takes hold that this may be drifting early towards a disappointingly routine home win, Wales strike back.

They are denied a try – somewhat contentiously – as bodies dive in, hands stretching for the ball. Minutes later, Patchell strokes over a pen to get Wales on the board. Importantly now, the game *as it were*, is plainly, visibly a contest.

In difficult conditions – because coldish, because saturated – England have pressed the Limited Game Plan button. They know they are more physical; they expect to prevail in an arm-wrestle. But as the half draws to a close (and tempers fray, a little) Wales are looking like a Gatland team of old: in a word, durable. Davies is content to kick into row Z to finish the half, rather than probe (or risk) again. 12-3.

During the half-time analysis, the try-that-never-was doesn’t so much feature, as begin the swell to mythic dimensions. Laws have been changed, we’re told. Not much consolation for the many who will see Anscombe’s hand on that ball before Joseph’s every night for the next thirty, forty, fifty years. In short, in Cardiff, that’s given.

England start the second half with a prolonged encampment around forty yards from the Wales line – which suits them nicely enough. But it’s a frankly dullish match, now.

Shingler – a tremendous alround athlete – wakes the game up with an outrageous charge into space. Sadly, he can’t find a pass when Farrell comes in to smother, fancying instead a rather ambitious spot of footie. It doesn’t work but it’s a rare moment of free-running enterprise.

The weather is playing a part, as is the occasion, but there is no sense that a Mighty England is being brought down to the level of the Plucky Outsiders. Twickenham is quiet because this is a poor spectacle, an even game, yes, between two unremarkable teams in unhelpful weather.

England only rarely recycle with any pace or intent. Care – and he is not alone in this – shovels passes or floats short ones rather than gets things fizzing. It’s too safe.

If anything Wales do look freer. Without, understandably, finding full-on Scarlets mode, they find a little flow. Sure, they have to chase the game but all credit to them. Both sides have periods of possession but line-breaks are few. Anscombe, replacing Patchell at pivot, lifts the level of dynamism and the level of threat. Marginally.

It may be significant that the play of the day was Underhill’s stunning tackle on Williams as the Wales centre slid for the line. Extraordinary that after a lung-bursting sprint back to cover, Underhill conjures a movement that turns the man over to prevent placement of the ball.

As the second period plays out, England do make the obligatory changes, feeling for rather than chasing opportunities. Wigglesworth initially looks to have a brief to sharpen things up, but bodies seek contact rather than look for width.

We can’t know if Eddie Jones counselled aggressively for conservatism… but it looked that way. Denying Wales opportunities, in the wind and rain, was less risky than expansive rugby, so that’s the way it went.

Last fifteen and Wales seem impressively unintimidated by the onus to attack: why would they be, in this new era? However, because England remain watchful and doughty and organised, points are hard to come by. Anscombe slots a penalty in the 76th, after an encouraging attack and you can feel the red sleeves being rolled up around Wales but Gatland’s men cannot add to this total. It finishes 12-6.

A win that England will settle for. Devoid of style points – for which the Welsh will of course curse them – but continuing their march to European dominance. Uncle Eddie’s Boys were merely workmanlike – and he will know that. They did not, as I had expected, look more powerful or more accomplished than the opposition.

Meanwhile in Wales, the sense of a universal conspiracy gathers again. Sleep well, TMO.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.