Last night… I played 10 for San Marino.

A game against San Marino. I wouldn’t mind. Reckon I’d pretty much hold my own, even now. But… get thinking. That how galling is it that only an accident of birth denies me – and most of my mates, come to that – 75 international caps? Proper velvetty jobs. With gold braid tassles on, ideally luridly initialled S.M. like some kinky souvenir to a Dutch weekend. There, casually winking at all-comers from the glass cabinet thingy next to the flying ducks. Caps by the absolute lorry-load – mine! – caps that I could throw around the bedroom in a naked romp with luscious hairdressers from Talinn or Lubjanka. (Cos I’d probably take them to away matches… yeh, I would… in a suitcase full of sex toys and vodka! The caps, I mean, not the…) Euro Qualifiers be like being a proper star. Heh-hee-eyy!!

My nephew lives in Hong Kong, by the way. Citizen. Got all this stuff on a plate. So yeh… posh, posh hotels all over. Prague – fancy Prague – or Istanbul. And fifty caps anyways, at least I reckon – for them. San Marino. For me. Qualified? Check. Got boots? Check. You’re in. Could have cruised round no problem – with all that time to play! – and gotten rave reviews from Glenn Hoddle whilst we got stuffed by Malta or the mighty Faroes.

Mum, dad, what were you playing at? It’s just cruel. I don’t believe it.

Last night though – England. A coach ride through sparkling London to a Stadium That Gives You Some Kindof Chance, looking at it. Wembley. Upliftingly equivocal, one might say. (If one was educated – like a surprising percentage of our side, in fact; them having proper jobs and lives and stuff).

England’s Lionless den. A place you might expect to go on and put up a good show. And maybe get some mild but generous encouragement from the home crowd. Between tutts. Sure Cleverley’s gonna be reasonably busy and quick – against our lot, who isn’t? – but with the two young fliers both starting there’ll be space and time to play. They’re not looking to close me down; they don’t wanna do that. They want to fly down the sides with the ball ten yards in front. Then trip over it.

Round Rooney there will be an opening. He’ll flip in and out of The Hole and win the match for them – fair enough – but he will shin a couple of passes pinged at him from Baines or Jagielka – and I will be able to get on the ball. It’s up to me then. It’s not like they’ve got anyone’s gonna tackle me. They/we don’t do that anyway in internationals. Wish Terry was playin’ actually – him and Lescott. Fancy a run at them. Jagielka’s quick and Cahill… there are time’s when Cahill looks class. Expect him to score too.

We look like we’ll line up pretty much 5-5-0. Meaning I’ve got to break out from just beyond our box and score. Which might be okay if I was Gareth Bale. I’m more of an Iniesta/Wilkins combo meself. So I may have to shoot in desperation from the halfway line and hope for a Seaman moment. (Do think Hart has those moments.) Or I might curl a free-kick if we ever get in range. I’d like to offer our fans hope of some incredible win but this implies actually scoring and … I’m not sure if we’ll actually get within forty yards. Still, remember the Alamo – was it the Alamo? – and er… all that.

We are boosted by the knowledge that England are often crap. With a tendency to go glassy-eyed and irresponsible when things don’t go their way. So we’re looking to block and press and frustrate. Only. And never even worry about breaking out. And leave the rest to bad passes from Walker or Jagielka and poor movement or nervy touch from Welbeck and those flyers. We’ll scurry out at Rooney obviously but we don’t expect to stop him completely. Especially when we’re completely knackered – ten minutes in (ha ha.) What’s that line about blankets? Oh yeh – we wanna throw a blanket over the midfield. A duvet, in fact.

Hodgson – fair play – has picked a young side and one filled with stuff that’s either gonna get called ‘promise’ or ‘inexperience,’ depending on the result. We know he’s thinking ’bout keeping pace on the ball, with sharp passes – forward passes – the order of the day. Will they stick? Who knows. Wellbeck sometimes lets you have one and Oxlade-Oosit. If they start flicking casually at it, mind, we’ll have the ball more than them. Then I’ll either dawdle round the centre-circle or try and lob Hart. If they don’t press me I might do a Peter Barnes – remember that one? Siddonit.

Individuals-wise, Walcott is easy enough to stop; ya get inside ‘is shorts. He’ll only play the first half before he gets ‘withdrawn’ – cruel word, that one – then maybe Lennon. Who also won’t want to get too involved. We won’t let them get round the sides much so they’ll have to thread it through us. Not sure they can do that. No I seriously don’t see why we can’t keep it down to about four.

Right, must go. Il Duce wants a word. Vamos, boys!

Fear not, friends, for this is the way…

Those of you familiar with that parallel universe inhabited and perhaps even created by yours (f) truly – the vinnymeister – will no doubt appreciate the challenges presented thissaway by ‘covering’ the Spain/Italy final. Whether you will sympathise may be another matter. Put simply, my tendency for foamy action-painting-writing may, with each reminiscence of each threaded pass or nuanced offering, backwash the hell out of whatever was/is reported/intended. Leading to fruiticious anarchy of the most aromatic or indulged sort. I care not; it is my intention to reflect the death-defying poetry of these hypnotically controlling romantics, these brave revolutionaries, these um… Spaniards.

Thus, in psycho-purist good faith…and having denied myself the right to instantaneously orgasmic response… an appreciation.

In their pirouetting and their brimful/loveful dance towards Sunday’s very special victory, Spain have simply changed the football world; for the better. Breathe it in.  In restating and even re-imagining, re-validating their own brilliant and joyous conceptions of footie trust and belief and execution, the diddy, ticky-tacky ones have not so much entertained us as bathed us lucky lucky punters in their elixir.

Such was the lushness, the irresistibly elevating nature of this seminal game of togger. Whether or when the question was meekly or impudently asked – by innocent or heathen or centre-forward-obsessed reactionary – the Spanish, gathering us all up, strode to the mount to deliver their loved-up sermon; in repudiation of the necrophiliac 4-4-2; in glorious praise of liberated though team-hung expression.

Fear not, friends, for this is the way. Gaze or gawp upon it and repent. (Roy).

Well, it had something of the #biblical about it, eh? That utter and almost otherworldly grace; that resonance; that hayzooss gorblimey darting to the heart. Spain – to borrow James Blood Ulmer’s description of an inspired pil – went right past football.

Right past it and into something lovely and rather deep as well as bewildering; something that we surely need to both appreciate and in some measure try to understand, methinks – we Brits in particular.

So, what did they do?

  • They wee-weed purringly, ecstatically over notions of mediocrity
  • They championed skill over hardness
  • They beautifully extended the possibilities of the beautiful game

But what does that mean?

  • That small can be beautiful/effective/strong
  • That intelligence trumps mere effort
  • That they understand and we don’t.

I am clear that Spain’s triumph was a triumph for the game in the sense that they really have taken us somewhere better. In terms of what we might call/are calling inevitably culture. Previous truly great footballing sides – whether Brazilian, Dutch or possibly French – may or may not be meaningfully compared but my suspicion is that what Spain have over all of them is the quality, the depth of their understanding and belief in their own way. Plus a purity from first to last; in comfort and ‘under pressure’; from nominal centre half to False 9 – an unshakeably pure faith in passing and moving and threading and darting a way through, without compromise. In a carousel of triangles of awareness. Options, always-available options, improving or momentum-changing, arising from good, purposeful, communal work.

There is unquestionably a moral dimension to this – listen to them talk. Humbly, generally but always in the certain knowledge of this daft-wondrous footie righteousness, this faith in the power of their skills being evidentially more powerful than fifty yard passes; more certain.

So, what we get is a line-up of New Age Total Footballers. No strikers; because they believe that Fabregas or Silva or Alonso or Iniesta can finish and that they are manifestly better and more influential and more threatening than the current Torres. (And there is no Villa.) And acute or focussed surges from midfield are then the key to unlocking the modern defence.

In fact these uber-hombres believe that they have 10 likely goal-scorers on the park, not one or two. The fluency and the rotation and the efficacy of their alleged midfield – numbering what, 6? – making a mockery of dumb crusty Brits bemoaning Spain’s lack of a Jackie Milburn. Spain (not entirely incidentally Cindy) won the final 4-0, with no forwards but a forward threat that Italy, that great bastion of streetwise defending could not cope with!

Yet Spain have been labelled boring. This is just lazy. There are times when they may not be as exciting as a rampant Brazilian side in mid salsa down the pitch (last seen 15 years ago?) but… come on… boring?

Okay, feasible to remain unmoved by the playing of percentages as the ball is shuffled (occasionally) blandly around… but don’t please go mistaking their ball-retention as boring when it surely reflects the patient ticking of a brilliant mind. Something sensational and inventive will happen – with or without David Villa or Fernando Torres at its thrilling peak. That 4-0 – these 3 tournaments! – annihilate the arguments; both in terms of what is right and what is beautiful; Spain win. Where does that leave us?

Not all England players are as bad as might be apparent to the average Ukrainian onlooker at his or her home tournament. But as a squad, as a ‘nation’, England strode idiotically and embarrassingly backwards yet again. They may have discovered some team spirit but this was not reflected in teamwork; or certainly not in what we might call linking, or interplay, of which there was catastrophically little.

I watched every minute of England’s games and can barely recall anything resembling joined up footie. Even Gerrard, who carried his side with some honour in three of the games, achieved very little constructively. More typical was the contribution of Parker – whom I rate – but whose passing was either lame or non-existent for virtually the entire period. It is barely credible that a footballing nation of any stature could again produce such a void where football should be. Except that we do precisely that at every tournament we attend; one reason I came to resent this latest shambles.

Hodgson may yet do okay but it is not too early to challenge some of the central tenets of his footballing philosophy – a philosophy itself in need of arguably seriously independent review following the exhibition by Spain – the revelations from Spain – in Euro 2012. We might understand a manager with only a matter of a few weeks in charge of a group of generally mediocre players ‘needing’ to play safe -circle those metaphorically predictable wagons – avoiding ‘disaster’ being the immediate objective of this ungenerous worldview.  People, there has to be more.

In a Group Stage that was both absurd and utterly predictable England were close to appalling but won their group. For twenty minutes they made a decent contribution to a quarter-final against a workmanlike Italian side but then were soundly beaten before deservedly losing on penalties. Some folks talked of positives at the time of the Group Stage win but meaningful assessments became largely swamped by penno-trauma. We need to get past this.

The new England boss went for a caricature of English ‘dependability’ from the outset. The kind of 2 Banks of 4 that might launch now a thousand aching post-modern odes to Imperial Delusion. In one sense, it kinda worked – that Group win. In another it was like some deeply cartoonlike or ironic thing whereby slumbering giant fails to notice diddymen tying up gargantuan laces before then entering Giant Sportsday. Cue resounding kerrlummpp… and giant returning to slumber.

Except maybe the giant link flatters England these days. But there was something of a return to a fall from grace, or at least a further falling away and behind in that ultimately, predictably sterile 2 banks of 4.

Given the obvious and appealing supremacy now of what I once coined ‘twinkle over clonk’ and the need for a tectonic shift in emphasis in what remains the English national game, we may need to look carefully at whether Hodgson is really the man to preside over England FC. He may be some kind of a sophisticate – possibly – but the former Fulham man seems unlikely to lead us so necessarily and so dramatically forward after his initial and emphatic steps back.

A memory alights; that Brian Clough once said something typically acerbic, throwaway and profound about raising the skill level when competition was at its most pressured peak. In other words, you stoo-pid pee-ple… skill will out.

Fruitcake is not the only fruit; (cake).

Mixed feelings aboundeth; should I go or stay/stick or twist/put up/shut up/disengage for the good of… something? Nah. Too much to be said and shared and okay, argued about. So let’s return to England. Please.

England the non-footie or anti-footie footie team; the Quarter Finalists(!) the redoubtable heroes, the cursed-blessed former Show Ponies now Honest Workhorses. ‘S about them again. And you – precious, brilliant or psychologically semi-detached you – you wot I heard holding court or fumbling with nerves or ranting with sweet delusion on that there phone-in – you… need to wind yer neck and listen. And then start shouting again; that’s fine. (#yourturn. That’s fine.)

Ahem. (In through nose/out through mouth… And GO!!)

The fruitcake-in-a-barrel torrent ricocheting down the plum duff river of our sporty-consciousness (5 Live/the back pages/the TV coverage) is a moody but eloquently kaleidoscopic wonder, is it not? Part home-cooked cobblers, part luminescent hope of the most exotic kind. Full of angular detritus, lobbed groundbait, eels. Right now there’s no escaping the whirl of it; the eddying and sometimes edifying snaffles of glorious opinion. Deranged or inspired, upon football generally or specifically Hodgson United – that all-new all-old construct seeping through the Euro2102 fixture list in a style offering encouragement both to the suicidally purist(ic) and the naively gaye. How one match – let’s say England v Ukraine – could be the source of so much impassioned verbage of such contrary or counter-attacking nature is… is absolutely bloody amazing, actually.

I’ve written caustically about my fear and loathing for the trend now being set by Roy and his Roverlets. The essence of it – the 2 crushing banks of 4, the absence of anything approaching that which many of us identify (without a smidge of pomp) as ‘football’ – feeling offensively reactionary to me at least. A sadly convincing photofit of/for the criminal Brit-footie-cultural inadequacies around and against which a consensus had formed moons ago. (Because we all know it’s utterly inferior to the genuinely richer and more beautiful ‘continental’ game, right? Even if we continue to make the argument that there is a place for English virtues). Spain/half of Europe (by the looks of this tournament) have played/are playing far better footie than our lot; but was this the case even before Roy got his hands on Stevie G’s rampaging instincts?

Yes!

Here I pause to differentiate between this aforementioned, elevated and now unarguably successful quality – in the example of Spanish Tippy Tappy Genius – and quality in terms of excitement.

Often ‘British’ football is of course packed with incident in a way that makes its Spanish or Italian counterparts seem frankly pallid. But this is another matter – so move on…

And yet… hold on there matey; isn’t it true that Gerrard has been by some distance England’s best player in Euro2012 thus far, thereby undermining opposition to his reinvention as an enforcing hod-carrier rather than flamboyant er… expressionist stonemason? Hasn’t that, that one instance within the reconstruction of an England side been an unqualified success?

Quite possibly. Except that this tightening of understandings and opportunities for the Liverpool man has been symbolic of the more damaging straight-jacketing (as opposed to mere ‘organising’) of his manifestly less able colleagues. I repeat my assertion that England have unsurprisingly played absolutely no football worthy of the name because of the rigidity and cynicism even of their system as well as because the players have been poor in everything but team shape and graft.

Roy Hodgson has gathered his forces swiftly together and this is clearly some achievement. They do appear to be listening to him and to be working for a shared purpose, with some conviction, in a way that sports journo’s on the spot respect and admire. (I do have a theory that because of this there is something of a softening in general critique of RH’s tactical stuff but perhaps this is the Morrissey in me breaking out?) But hasn’t the argument for retreating to ‘English’ virtues long been lost – or more precisely, is it not abundantly clear that skill/composure/comfort in possession are not only essential for betterment but integral to definitions of success?

What winning means and constitutes is always a fabulous wormy can of; but this campaign has for me a slightly depressing undertow – the unsettling feel of deceptively and shlocktastically crude bawling from the England FC touchline – even if expressed by the crypto-urbane, linguistically enhanced Mr Hodgson. The demands being for a stranglehold, for an avoidance of freedom, for a Parkeresque scurry and a prod towards safety. Then a retreat to the dullest kind of ‘stall-setting’ this particular euromarket has witnessed. Such a demand, such a coarse bellow for not losing, not losing at any cost, with no other notion of progress than getting through – even with an ordinary England Squad – rubs up against heartfelt footietruths as well as the very notion of the beautiful game itself. Hence my (laughably haughty?) concerns.

Maybe I’ve just been bad at keeping some perspective; maybe I’ve been cutting when I should have been fairer. However, this is the prerogative of the fan – and believe it or not – I am clear that I remain a football fan and that everything I ever write – scathing or soaring – is contingent upon an absolute belief in the power and the beauty even of this daft game. I do therefore contend that I still have the optimist’s argument here.

Hey look at what strikes me. The Parker-Gerrard axis has been key to England’s topping of their group. I like both. But Parker has been by his standards – by any standards – disappointingly sloppy in possession. In fact the entire team’s capacity to fail to execute simple passes in any sequence has in truth been pretty alarming. Like Parker, like Young, like Rooney was against Ukraine; virtually all of them – wasteful. Sadly, the raw talent of Oxlade-Chamberlain was clearly made vulnerable too by the occasion; his very few opportunities being characterised by schoolboy fumbles – much like his predecessor in the role of Crowd-Stirrer, Master Walcott. Wellbeck worked the unforgiving solo striker thing rather well; on occasion he was coolly intelligent as well as generous with his workrate. Would that he would have consistently held the ball up/treasured it. Like the internationals do.

Details. Hodgson will look long and hard at the facts and figures and mileages and percentages and he will judge – long after this event. For now he says the right thing. I have no personal animosity towards him or any of his players (though I accept in fanlike fury I have discharged abuse) and I fully understand his regression to that which he thinks they know. I do however, take issue on a fundamental level with his alleged ‘philosophy’ – if this is it. For this, for me, really is close to embarrassingly dumb. Win or lose against the Italians.

A joyful-lethal instinct?

Para one – where our scribe yet again froths foamaciously about hearty and enriching nonsenses…

Bright Young Things quite rightly draw our attention and sometimes our love. For one thing it’s kinda fashionable to associate yourself with something that dashes or darts, or expresses something profoundly exciting in its rawness. For another, real talent – the expression of sport-glorious proto-genius – does light us all up, yes?

(False) para two – where things get unusually but temporarily focussed…

Take that boy Oxlade-Chamberlain. In a matrix of relative dullards and rammed Ikea-crafted pegs in predictably worn oaken holes he almost shineth. There is, with him (alone?) the wonderful possibility for something un-James Milner; meaning that, AOC has what JM, in his current maturity(?) almost completely lacks – a subversive whiff of impending inspiration, or the god-given wherewithal to stumble in glorious haste upon it. Possibly accidentally.

A post, then…

And possibly unfortunate or plain daft to make comparisons between these two Wingmen – the City man being essentially now an extension of the shape of things rather than a protagonist in his own right, the young gunner an occasionally unwieldy and at ‘this level’ naive unzipper of the crisp files of technocoachdom. Guess who I like most, out the two?

Oxy boy, of course. With his extravagant pace and directness and sometimes unplayable verve.

Even a fairly unschooled and dispassionate understanding of footballstuff assumes/evokes/infers some appreciation of the sportslife-enhancing boogie that naturals such as he hipswingingly perform. Naturals, when in the full flow of their electrifying ease, can utterly expose the stodgy, the ordinary and sometimes even the good. Because there is no answer to the kind of movement and joyful-lethal instinct they express. No answer – not even from top-draw defenders – not when the sap of confidence is risen and the ball is possessed so by the will and the spirit of that liberated charge. And yet…

England and Sweden has just finished. And the Boy Wunda didn’t feature, other than in the role of timewasterupper, as the ticks and tocks were being counted out. (Perhaps predictably, he fluffed his only meaningful opportunity, when failing weakly to control a through-ball; if confident, he might have taken the ball easily into his stride and lashed it gleefully home like some kid in a park. But he didn’t.)

And this is why I have been clear that despite the uplifting frisson/the succulence around his potential, Hodgson was quite right not to pick Oxlade-Chamberlain in the starting 11; sadly. Like Walcott – more of him very soon, for obvious reasons – the Arsenal fledgling divebombs still too often and too crassly for top level international football; or, er… for England. The fact that this is clearly a matter of confidence deficit rather than talent deficit may be used against the Manager/Mr G Neville Esquire (arguably) once the side shuffle homewards.

Not that this fixture came near that aforementioned higher category of sport. As many of us expected, it was poor; poor but hugely enlivened by goals – good goals even, from England. And that other juvenile – Master Walcott – was central to the England ‘recovery’. Much of what I have said or suggested about AOC applies to TW. Except that Theo has skilfully played himself out of contention for the first team over a fairly long period of time now… allowing AOC to get a sniff of that right-wing birth now occupied by Milner. Theo, for me, has failed to grow up on the pitch; staying cute’n cuddly in an oh let’s make allowances kindofaway when we needed his pace to grow a beard or something. Seriously Theo, we have had to conclude that you should be better than this by now.  And maybe… so should AOC?

Perhaps it’s a very deep one this. The question whether we should, as a nation now freed-up by the general revelation that We’re Shit And We Know We Are, experiment/and/or encourage our imperfect but exciting youffs? But is it worth bringing them on? Are they – these specific flawed gemlets – worth it? Can we bear all this cringing (our cringing) as they scurry down obvious blind-alleys or commit heinous sins of wastefulness in possession? Do the shocking miscontrols send you slightly nauseous like they do me? Ought we in a fit of wage-conscious pique to pitchfork them or flay them in the streets? Or give them a restorative Horlicks and tuck them up with a Mwa on their startled brows? These suddenly feel like matters of philosophical import rather than mere team selection, do they not? And remember we are relatively unshackled in this, because we ARE shit, yes?

That was the overwhelming conclusion, surely from the Sweden game? They were awful and we were like some some Scarfeian satire, some throwback to days when Jackie Charlton bawled at kids to ‘show me some aggression’. Terry could barely jog, but ‘fought through it’; Gerard again played so far within his gifts I imagine he used Lucas on a bad day as his role-model; Young broke his record for most wasteful moments and Johnson may need to be dope-tested again. BUT… the score was 3-2 in favour of the blues/skyblues/Oxford/Cambridge/whoeverthatwasexactly representing some mythical ‘us.’ And we need to rally round and be grateful.

There are – there always are – mitigating circumstances and I will almost certainly not, therefore, abuse the management team. Hodgson – an honourable man and a solid, perhaps even quasi-sophisticated coach – has barely got to know his charges. His choice (I assume?) of Gary Neville most of us approve of and his squad for the most part picked itself. Extraordinarily, these guys are pretty close to our best available. The particular crushingly naff 4-4-2 – awaiting or in the process of righteous deconstruction as I write – is Hodgson’s own and we can actually see why he’s done that thing. (Because we’re crap.) There’s a tournament to avoid utter humiliation in. (Un)fair enough.

The individuals involved in tonight’s Sunday League knockabout may have some kaleidoscopic sense of the paucity of their encounter but I fear are so depressingly-convincingly up their own botties that even the filmically pregnant pauses during conversations with friends – the thin ‘you’re doin’ great, mate(s)’ – may not pierce the squad bubble, let alone emerge on the flipchart of their team consciousness.

Almost no football was played tonight. But England, mighty England bore on.

A Tale of One City?

Big day for Liverpool Managers, eh? Firstly Roy Hodgson – the appallingly treated ex of the Anfield club – releases a doughtily, relatively predictable England squad; next #kingkenny goes. Perversely, perhaps, I’m more interested in the latter, it being appeallingly clear – so far – of anything smacking of crassness.

This is weirdly both a pleasant surprise and a disappointment of the most nigglingly perverse kind, as the last period of Dalglish’s reign has been characterised by a unique(?) tartness the situation now suddenly lacks; because both the owners side and the profoundly bitter Scot himself have apparently played an anticipation-crushingly dignified blinder. It’s as though a whole lotta calm, whackhh has been twinkled over the scenario by some unlikely, mediating scouse angel. Hence my personal feeling of non-closure – for which I shall naturally seek expensive therapy.

 

The statements of course may mean nothing. They are likely to have been prepared under legal advice via the scrutiny of wiser men than the chief protagonists themselves in a room no-one has farted in for 40 years; a room where miraculously pristine glasses of carbonated water appear, unbeckoned at 8.55am and at hourly intervals before being transmogrified into Sauvignon Blanc of a pretty high order come 5.30. That is, somewhere fascinatingly or even fascistically devoid of traces of humanity; or ordered, depending on your proximity to a cupboard full of suits.

Dalglish, having been summoned to Boston when many were expecting him to jet off for a yoga/golf retreat in Birkdale, has been sacked. Whether this was the politely agreed termination of his contract – which seems kinda likely to me – or the converse fraught celtic arse-flap through a defiantly departing kilt we may never know. Dalglish I think mainly saves his hatred and contempt for journalists, so he may have taken a well-argued dismissal with the good grace we are led to believe was mutually exchanged.

I know my sharp view of Dalglish tramples close to sensitivities on all manner of genuinely precious things; life and death things. I am conscious that many Liverpudlians raised Kenny to sainthood during his magnificent and heartfelt joining with families and all concerned, touched or traumatised by the Hillsborough disaster. (I wasn’t there and I can therefore not judge the degree to which Kenny helped). It may even be right that am disqualified from commenting on either that terrible issue or Dalglish the man in the wake of it. What I would say is that believe it or not, I respected Dalglish the player for his rich gifts but have come to dislike what has felt to me like a developing and unhealthy myopia and sourness in the later man. (Which may, of course, be a natural result of bearing such close witness to such tragedy). I think it is both right and probably ‘good’ for Liverpool FC that he has gone, and gone in a dignified way.

That other fellah Hodgson has also been thrust into my defiantly un-hoovered living room today, as always with the slight air of someone quietly battling insidious anal penetration by caterpillars through constant refocusing or adjustment of key muscles up and down the body. He therefore displays the gait of a man in danger of expressing untoward or explosive reaction. This is countered by concerted efforts to talk well and properly, presumably on the grounds that any minute he might scream AHH BOLLOCKKSS WORMMMSS hysterically mid-sentence. Roy talks with great effort and clarity and authority in a manner I imagine the England Football Team in their post-training soporific arrogance might listen to for all of 30 seconds. Hence – wisely – he appointed Gary Neville, who has silverfish but no caterpillars.

Hodgson’s England squad has drawn interest mainly due to the omission of Rio Ferdinand, Manchester United’s medium-loquacious centre-half (i.e. wordy on twitter) and the retention of John Terry and The Astonishingly Unproductive One – Stewart Downing, of Liverpool. Ferdinand is unfortunate in the sense that he is quality; in a markedly pedestrian group he might have been the gazelle. Or he might if he could run. The truth is he has been medium-crocked for some years and despite his real ability to read the game and caress the ball better than most of his rivals, he is patently not fit for top-of-the-range tournament football; regrettably.

John Terry is if not sub judice exactly, under a cloud and therefore lucky to be considered. His chief remaining asset – his durability, his toughness – may be a liability under cross-examination from quick-witted foreign flyers but unsurprisingly he is there for exactly that near-caricature Engerland Through and Through Thing. Fitness-wise, he certainly cannot sprint and therefore may be as big a gamble as Rio might have been; indeed the crux may be that Hodgson dare not take them both and thinks Ferdinand more damaged. All this leaves personal/political issues aside; I make the confident assumption that Hodgson has and will be utterly honourable in this regard. (Bless him). I also suspect that novelty value – and the Neville appointment – will provide Hodgson with an opportunity he may not have had if his tenure had ‘given him time’ to mould his own squad. My guess is that given such time (and minus that Neville) Hodgson would have been subjected to indifference at best from the majority of players and diabolical treatment from the press; pronto.

This is because he is old-school and methodical and on the grindingly elucidating side of articulate rather than inspired; or inspiring; or young; or hep to the funky ipod beat man. Roy is good, don’t get me wrong… but like most of us he is particularly good when people are prepared to listen. At Liverpool, they certainly weren’t.

Where that has left his relationship with his chosen skipper, S Gerrard Esquire, is an interesting point; one of many we are likely to remain unenlightened upon. As with the Dalglish sacking, as with anything; things are wrapped in so much packaging these days.

Oh England my lionheart?

I may junk this first sentence because you may not get how treble-edgedly smart it is – how both insinuatingly and philosopho-buntingly alive it is – despite appearances. Let’s try…

It’s a big week for England.

So big it needs exposure; like some craggy castle or monkish retreat now unveiled as home to bulging but youthful talents previously hushed by authoritarian loonies. Like Capello; or Johnson; or Margaret Thatcher – Boadicea! So big because two magisterial rivals come to call, bringing again their frankly superior entourage of exotic skills. Wales and Holland; the passionate and the cool. Welsh brio again soon to be anthemically lit by amply-lunged, prop-proportioned women in red; Dutch ease fanned by a sea of orange madmen in Wember-ley.

A zenith of sports-cultural counter-activity approacheth, or so it feels, as “Gwlad” rehearses itself in the dingle-dell that is the red soul of Wales and the misleadingly understated Nederlandpeeps fold their tangoesque flags. Buildup of a particularly rich, vocal and simmeringly intense quality is building up. In Wales a low appreciative hum has begun to throb as news of the return of Warburton and Wynne-Jones and Lydiate has slid ominously around. You don’t need to know the Welsh for “kop that bach” to sense the tectonically impressive confidence around the confrontation with Lancaster’s undemonstrative charges. No arrogance yet, but a belief amongst the star-hung valleys that Wales rugby – with the stamp of world-wide approval – has a real current supremacy throughout these allegedly United Kingdoms.

And Holland, who despite their comparatively low ebb, are expected to carouse serenely around the very emblem of ‘our patch’ like the special edition Martin Dobsons or Alan Hudsons we know them to be. Sometimes almost cruelly or arrogantly brilliant, Dutch sides have a habit of quietly handing out a lesson or twelve in the art of composure and ball retention. Admittedly this does not always end in victory but typically it does end in the revelation of inadequacy amongst their English oppo’s. Such is the potential for embarrassment against this particularly Dutch capacity to bypass traditional (anglo-saxon?) confrontation (er… by passing) that I am clear Stu Pearce’s selection of tumbling youth is made in full consciousness of the likely outcome of a ‘full-strength side’ competing. They’d get quietly outplayed, probably, as usual.

Cynical? Perhaps. But the selection of a slack handful of worthy young’uns removes fears of more than one variety. In truth I expect the starting line-up for England to look… how can I put it…? Unreckless. In a squad looking frankly short of top talent – remember the Terrys’, the Ferdinands, the Lampards, for all their diverse frailties did have international quality – a 4-4-1-1 of Hart/Richards,Jones,Smalling, Cole/Milner, Parker, Gerrard, Young/Rooney/Sturridge or pretty similar might be our strongest available. Expect run-outs or more from Cleverley and Wellbeck as additional elements of youff-encouragement. The chronic shortage of goal-keeping back-up remains an issue, as do the centre-half slots and arguably the striker(s). Can we swap a right back with somebody, I wonder?

But let’s not kid ourselves. The rugby is infinitely more tantalising a prospect. Stuart (Clive Woodward School of Smart Blandness?) Lancaster has done a decent-plus job of bringing England round from their World Cup hangover. He sits somewhere between articulate Yorkie schoolteacher and Rugby Bore in a way that worries me slightly; like Woodward he might seem inadequate and slightly out of time if England lose anywhere badly. Currently – as they have managed to win bravely but fairly badly in Italy and in Scotland – he remains untested in that respect. (A diversionary footnote here; did anyone else who saw Woodward’s ‘mare of a performance on Hardtalk the other night – dull/reeking of fusty anoraks – question how much of All That Stuff He Achieved was actually down to him, I wonder?)

New model Stuart L’s England have played like a side run along well-propounded dictums; solidly and with conservative purpose rather than inspiration. Hodgson’s absence for this weekend has – in the great tradition of Best Teams Selected By Injury – realigned an especially well balanced English back line; one that may yet prove to be exceptional. Half-backs Dickson and Farrell; centres Barritt and Tuilagi; wings Strettle and Ashton; Foden at full back. This is a good lineup. It has composure in defence and power and the possibility for electrification going forward. What it lacks, relatively, is of course experience (and tries?) placing a huge burden upon young Farrell at pivot.

But Farrell seems very much the unflappable type – possibly even culturally so, given his lineage. Whether a close-quarters encounter with Sam Warburton’s ludicrously enhanced biceps might change this impression is hard to predict… but Owen does seem unflappable. He gathers, he kicks. He plays within himself and almost certainly within the (arguably fairly limited?) game plan. Given that England are not likely to stray too ambitiously from a containing/territorial game against the gifted Welsh the likelihood may be that a tightish affair ensures; unless somewhere a dam breaks.

On the colourifically-aspirational side for the whites, the selection of Tuilagi amplifies hopes for some liberation from repeatedly prompt felling of English attackers at the gainline. This boy can run. And the way he runs suggests a love of that simple pleasure – cradling the ball whilst sinuously, boy-in-the-parkfully rampaging up the pitch. Indeed the battle of the centres in this match (both Roberts and the now fully-emerged Davies surely Lions-in-waiting in every sense?) could be either (oh go on, take those liberties!) swervaciously or, more prosaically crunchingly magnificent. It really could be wonderful – would that England come out and play!

They probably won’t. Certainly not early on. Surely? Even if the quadruple-bluff of an immediate Barbarian-style English onslaught has fabulous appeal, surely they won’t. Coaching thoroughbred that he is, Lancaster will have them ear-twitchingly prepared; nose-bagged up; with a freshly-pressed but learned-by-rote game plan. The skipper will lead his men nobly. Morgan and Dickson will be ready. Foden will have the occasional foray. But the occasion will demand foremost that the dam not be breached. And anything further… becomes a bonus, an opportunity, as Lancaster might say, upon which we must capitalise.

Blandishments aboundeth? I’m personally fed up with the word ‘mentality’ tripping so pretentiously/unpretentiously from the rehearsed mouthings of the England camp. So much that I’m going to use it and leg it past, sharpish – treat it like the stink-bomb it is. The quality of this match will depend far too much I’m afraid on the mentality of the men in white. They have it in their hands to deliver us something sensational but the reality is likely to be ordinary.

Previously I have waxed – and then some – on the profound successes of the Welsh. If they do, as I think they may, go to Twickenham and again demonstrate the kind of fearless yet focused rugby fizzing with the simple joys then they will march on with the support of the morally-enhanced majority. A classic ding-dong confrontation, in which a rejuvenated England play a full part until Welsh brilliance finally denies them, is surely the ideal scenario – even England fans might appreciate that? Eventually.