The Football Ramble
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The latest things going on in football tagged with `England`

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gunner

In England we have Gunnersaurus, who fires gifts into the Emirates crowd with his comedy cannon.

He is rarely involved in goal celebrations but has been known to join in the odd tribute before a game. With confusing results.

 

In the United States they have the Minutemen. They wear American Revolutionary War costumes and carry muskets. When the New England Revolution score, they fire their (loaded with blanks, but still) muskets into the air.

This seems like a marvellous idea when you have players like Diego Fagundez knocking around. Mario Balotelli?

Probably not so much.

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By Kelly Welles

Diego Fagundez, New England Revolution

high

So do me under the Trade Descriptions Act. See if I care.

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The teams in Group G haven’t played a competitive game yet, but a small snag like that isn’t going to keep Zlatan Ibrahimovic off the front pages.

He scored twice in Sweden’s friendly vs. Estonia, the second a typically audacious back heel that not only broke Sven Rydell’s record of 49 international goals, but completed Zlatan’s record of scoring in every sixty second period of 90 minutes.

You will remember Cristiano Ronaldo achieved this feat in February, but even the shiny Portuguese would have to admit, how Zlatan got there was infinitely more inspiring than most.

 
Even we English have managed to come to terms with that, so there’s still hope.

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In actual, meaningful, results-based football, Scotland came within a whisker of a fabulous draw against the world champions - Thomas Muller ruining the party with a 70th minute winner after Ikechi Anya’s equaliser.

Charlie Mulgrew was sent off in the final few minutes after receiving a second yellow card. I didn’t watch the game but am reliably informed neither was shown because he was waving Little Charlie about, or even pretending to. Which must be a relief to everyone.

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gib

The Polish national team proved they have no respect for essential services after trouncing a largely part-time Gibraltar side 7-0.

The Gibraltar line-up featured two police officers (not quite a Police Machine - just a wheel, or perhaps even a designer mudflap), a fireman, an electrician, a couple of clerks and a Customs dude alongside two professionals.

Robert Lewandowski scored four and wants to hope his iPad doesn’t short circuit and catch fire while he’s entering Gibraltar carrying more than a litre of Alcoholic Beverage, Spirits, liqueurs or cordials’ because no one’s going to rush and help him.

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Bet he didn’t think of that while he was dancing through the Gibraltan defence, did he?

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After the first round of fixtures, Portugal are the team most likely to be found driving to the Iberian equivalent of Dundee in their bare feet.

The Guardian described the Ronaldo-less side “slumping” to a 1-0 defeat against Albania, which shattered their “hopes of bouncing back from a miserable World Cup”.

crisps

Keep an eye on their shirt sponsors. If it changes to Toblerone for the next competitive fixture, we’re on.

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nuts

Oh, and England’s goalkeeper has ‘gone nuts’. And by ‘gone nuts’ we mean, someone at the Daily Mail presumably spotted a couple of agency photos of Joe Hart eating and flicking nuts off a balcony in Basle, went to their editor with the ‘gone nuts’ headline proposal and was not immediately fired.

Is it vaguely reassuring to learn that England Football is not the only organisation in need of a top down review? No. No it’s not.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images: @jfpenman, @mailsport, @foxsoccer.

Estonia, England, Portugal, Germany, Sweden, Scotland, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Joe Hart, Thomas Muller, Gibraltar

england

Everyone has an angle during the World Cup but this collection of anime mascots is among the most interesting to emerge from our overstuffed inboxes.

france

nigeria

Compiled by an as yet unnamed artist, the pieces riff on cultural reference points from each nation, and while one or two are unnecessarily ‘vivid’ (for vivid, read unsettling and bafflingly crass), the majority are spot on.

spain

us

Especially Switzerland. We cannot emphasise that enough.

switz

Switzerland. For all your cheese and multipurpose knife needs, yo.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images: escapistmagazine via @hbandsandhbreak.

England, Spain, France, Switzerland, World Cup 2014

cover

One thing is for sure. If England performed well and won an international football tournament, we as a country wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves. As the team arrived home and strode down the steps of their official plane brandishing one of the few massive shiny trophies that Sergio Ramos hasn’t thrown under the wheels of a passing bus, we’d simply stare, our mouths hanging open as our minds frantically tried to rearrange the images into something recognisable.

It’s something of a relief then, that the chances of that happening in the near future are hovering at around the same level as the ambient temperature of the Uruguay dressing room right now and we can throw ourselves into the biennial inquest with significantly more gusto than any of our players demonstrated during the tournament.

The usual questions have been dusted off and are being presented in various iterations as we speak; why are England so consistently poor in major tournaments; why can’t English players translate their excellent domestic form for their country; why do they look so miserable all the time?

Why didn’t we just appoint Harry Redknapp?

england

In order to avoid desperate, recidivist measures such as the above and the same cycle kicking off again in late June 2016, we must look deeper than the simplistic “too many foreigners” in the game argument and drill down into the stuff we as a nation find deeply uncomfortable. This includes, but is not limited to, recognising we no longer own the game of football.

Other countries, upon realising that their national team was not performing as expected, have examined their systems and reset, sacrificing short term success  for long term progress. We sack managers and spend £120m on a sparkly new National Football Centre that our first team don’t use that often because it’s in the wrong place.

And that isn’t even the most annoying bit.

In his 2009 book, ‘Every Boy’s Dream’, Chris Green sets out the situation in plain, unvarnished terms. Having interviewed many people involved in the game, from parents of prospective talents to former heads of youth development at the FA, he concludes that inadequate training resources (including unqualified, inexperienced coaches), power struggles between the three governing bodies (the FA, the Football League and the Premier League), the trawling of pre-pubescent talent by Premier League academies and too much organised football are all contributory factors to England’s malaise.

The book, which is refreshingly accessible given the layers of bureaucracy and corporate aggrandising involved in the subject matter, explains how the inception of the Premier League not only slashed the funding available for training facilities in the lower tiers of football but increased competition for talent between financially secure clubs.  Despite rules being in place regarding the age a boy can be signed and the distance he is allowed to travel for training, Green describes how parents can become so dazzled by the opportunities available to a talented youngster that they will drive their kids hundreds of miles a week to play for twenty minutes. 

Unsurprisingly, the clubs show slightly less commitment when it comes to releasing them.

If you’ve heard former England right back and FA England Commission member Danny Mills’ summarising for BBC 5Live, you’ll have heard him mention a few of these ideas between throwing buckets of water at Chris Waddle. He has articulated the climate of fear within which young players must ply their trade; fear of ridicule, fear of making mistakes, fear of being dropped and losing their chance of a lucrative career in the most glamorous sport in the world.

Players look like they’re scared and under pressure while wearing an England shirt because they are.

Whether he’s read ‘Every Boy’s Dream’ or his personal experiences have contributed to his opinion, I can’t say, but in theory at least, it should be reassuring to have someone on the FA England Commission who is apparently aware of the scale of the task ahead if we’re ever going to truly be able to say we are be proud of our team. But while their recent report paid lip service to matters such as grassroots training and the prioritising of the Premier League over England, it’s perfectly clear that fundamental changes to football’s existing structure are not on the agenda.

Instead of reading that in an attempt to understand the deficiencies of the England national team, read ‘Every Boy’s Dream’. When you’re fully acquainted with the information that we’re supposed to believe was available to a writer but not those charged with improving football, you won’t feel any better but at least you’ll be a little clearer as to where the problem lies.

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By Kelly Welles

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Every Boy’s Dream is among several excellent football books published by Bloomsbury and available for 30% off during the World Cup. Check them out here.

Premier League, England, Chris Green, Every Boy's Dream, The FA, Football League, FA Commission

 
Uruguay 2-1 England

¡Buenos días! What a fantastic morning to be from Uruguay!

You have to love the World Cup don’t you, with its playful manipulation of expectation and wilful urge to make perfect patterns from peoples raw emotion. Ignominious defeat in the opening game is forgotten as the country basks in the joy of comprehensively beating the mighty England, Home of Football™, 2-1.

 
A talismanic striker - a man who just four weeks ago was under the surgeon’s knife after spending two seasons provoking ire and controversy from the Premier League faithful - returns to the field of play and becomes a hero. First from a moment of genius by the most ludicrously rock star-esque footballer to squeeze into the unnervingly tight Uruguay shirt, then via the second most unfortunate error his captain has made this year.

rooney

It was like poetry in motion, unless you happen to be from Croxteth, in which case your failure to change the game is punishable by a picture of your four-year-old son appearing on the front of the ‘nation’s favourite’ newspaper.

townsend

Look, it’s either this or wallow in the same old depression that descends upon around this point every two years. This or bitch on social media or radio phone ins about how Roy got it wrong, how the team got it wrong, how we’re not good enough. Listening to Chris Waddle’s now traditional biennial rant and Andy Townsend’s increasingly nonsensical use of the term ‘in and around’.

Can’t be arsed. Even if Mario Balotelli does earn the right to kiss the Queen.

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Colombia 2-1 Ivory Coast

colom 
Joe Hart’s efforts at the National Anthem aside, would England have celebrated like if they’d scored the winning goal? No.

col2

Instead of a media post-mortem that drills down into the personal/professional failings of England players and the ‘ineptitude’ of the manager and a Football Association that leaves tyre marks in its haste to depart before anyone attempts to engage it in serious discussion about youth policy, why can’t we just spend the next four years practicing and perfecting a victory dance?

Would the outcome be any more depressing? Really?

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Japan 0-0 Greece

 
Right, that’s enough complaining. Other football matches have taken place, y’know. Matches that are just as important to the countries involved as England vs. Uruguay was to England. Ask the bloke in the picture.

Theoretically, both Japan and Greece could still qualify for the knockout stage of the tournament if results go their way. After this 0-0 draw, “Japan face Colombia, who have already qualified with six points, and a win could still take them above Ivory Coast, whose current tally is three points while the Greeks must defeat the Ivorians and hope that Japan’s result gives them a chance to finish…               

Ah, bugger it. I’m off to Photoshop the lads into some Game of Thrones posters. Speller will love that.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images: buzzfeed, Getty.

England, Greece, Colombia, Uruguay, Japan

It was Renton-esque. The carrier bag full of food items that could be consumed by the handful. Fluids, both alcoholic and isotonic, to ensure that the peaks and troughs of merriment and the morning after weren’t too altitude sickness inducing. Ditto Ibuprofen. The ceremonial boarding up of the living room door.

It was Friday, 7.55pm. I was planning to ease into the ten games of my World Cup Weekender with a straightforward, if competitive and entertaining 2-0 victory for Spain, with an appetising side of Dutch unravelling.

van

The door was already swinging on broken hinges by the time the first SuperVan photoshop came out. It’s often hard to convey the magnitude of what happens in ninety minutes to people who don’t care about football (especially when you’re covered in crisp dust and cider) but the world champions’ utter capitulation to a Dutch side who had finally managed to channel their not inconsiderable frustration at a common enemy, seems to have caught the imagination of all but the most hardened cynics.

Arjen Robben’s focussed aggression. Daley Blind’s crosses. RvP’s staggering header. The actual sound of Iker Casillas breaking. Seeing Manchester United’s out of favour striker race to the touchline for a high five with his manager, remembering they’re both working for the same team next season and having a panic attack. The whole thing captured in one photo, cheerily retweeted by Nigel De Jong (top)

It was all there. In the second flippin’ game.

campbell

Had the weekend peaked to early? With an England game on the horizon it was tempting to believe so, especially after watching a heartily unfancied Australia put in a plucky, if unsuccessful performance against Chile and the supposed Group D whipping boys Costa Rica storm to an inconvenient 3-1 victory over Uruguay and simultaneously offer Arsene Wenger another selection headache.

balo

But although the final result of the Manaus match up leaves England in third place on goal difference, the general feeling is one of positivity among supporters - an unfamiliar and slightly disorientating position.

lewin

Obviously Wayne Rooney has been criticised. The Italians spotted the space freed up by the Manchester United striker’s unwillingness to track back early and exploited it time and time again. England failed to deal with the anticipated threat of Pirlo and Veratti, as well as the unanticipated and relentless penetration by Candreva and Marchisio. The defensive frailties. Gary Lewin.

sterling

Indeed, the only thing missing from England’s performance was the terrible malaise that seems to descend on our players whenever they pull the shirt over their heads. Raheem Sterling’s audacious shot from outside the area may not have counted, but the jolt of excitement it produced lifted most off the sofa. The possession and one touch passing that has been absent from England’s playbook for so long, we forgot what it feels like to love our team.

England lost. But so did Uruguay. It’s the worst case scenario for us in that there’s still hope. At least until Luis Suarez is passed fit for Thursday.

ic

Having confirmed that consumption of all the energy drinks in the world couldn’t keep me awake for Ivory Coast vs. Japan, I was forced to hit the record button and only saw the Elephants trample over Japan’s 1-0 lead via the highlights. But a good night’s sleep stood me in good stead, and by the time Switzerland’s Haris Seferovic shattered Ecuadorian hearts with a 92nd minute winner, I was practically awake.

 

 
Indeed, France’s fairly straightforward 3-0 victory over Honduras would have been quite an enjoyable experience if Richard Keys hadn’t started piping up about goal-line technology but faith was restored by who else but Lionel Messi, who had a mare in the first half, then produced an epic second goal from nothing, which turned out to be the winner.

He’ll do that.

Liver function allowing, I may consider pulling another World Cup weekender, although you’re probably better off relying on more conventional and experienced pundits for more informative World Cup coverage.

henry

From Glenn Hoddle’s camel toe via Clarke Carlisle’s misunderstanding of eligibility in international football, through Phil Neville’s reassertion of fraternal inferiority to appreciation of Thierry Henry’s cardigans, it’s all being played out against a backdrop of confusion as to why Robbie Savage is there at all, and dare I say it?

The major news organisations have it totally covered, and it’s almost as good as the actual footie.

Almost.

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By Kelly Welles

England, Greece, Italy, France, Colombia, Mexico, Japan, Ivory Coast, Honduras, Ecuador, Bosnia-Herzegovina

chiles

We’re all familiar with the collective disappointment an England campaign can have, but apparently our trauma has repercussions in areas far removed from the pub and sofa.

According to NHS Blood and Transplant, figures collected during a previous tournament confirmed that blood donations on England match days fell by up to 5%, and up to 12% on the day following an England match. As a gentle reminder that transfusion requirements do not plummet at the same rate as our expectations, the organisation have recruited ex-Arsenal and England defender Lee Dixon and ITV pundit Adrian Chiles to recreate iconic England moments - Dixon as Terry Butcher during the 1989 World Cup Qualifier in Stockholm and Chiles as Stuart Pearce after scoring that penalty in the Euro ’96 quarter-final against Spain.

Chiles, whose proximity to Roy Keane on the ITV sofa have seen him perilously close to shedding blood for the cause on numerous occasions, managed to escape the fate for his photo, but remained thoroughly enthused.

“Donating blood is easier than watching a football match. It takes less time and, depending on your team’s performance, it’s a much less stressful experience all round. Plus you get to lie down for a bit and save lives. Thousands of patients rely on blood donations to survive so I would encourage people to just do it. There’s no quicker or easier way to be a bit of a hero.”

Lying down? No quicker or easier way to be a hero? Has there ever been an enterprise more befitting a Rambler? If you’re still in doubt, think about this. NHS Blood & Transplant figures state that every blood donation saves or improves the lives of up to three people. This means that if only 1% (ONE PERCENT) of our current Twitter following donate, over one and a half thousand people could benefit.

That’s actual science and maths. See how inspirational blood donation can be?

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By Kelly Welles

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Head on over to blood.co.uk for more info and to make a booking.

England, Arsenal, Adrian Chiles, Lee Dixon

Uruguay
Manager: Óscar Tabárez Special Skill: Persistence
Shirt: City blue, snug fit.
Slogan: “Three million dreams … Let’s go Uruguay.”

 
Despite a knee operation after a hectic and ultimately disappointing season for Liverpool, Luis Suarez remains confident that he will be fit enough to save any headers that might come his way during the 2014 World Cup. But before you start investigating anti-healing rituals involving kitchen-ware, just remember that Tabárez isn’t exactly short of strikers.

cavani

Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan are both fit and available, and while it could be argued that Forlan hasn’t been playing at a ‘competitive’ level since moving to Cerezo Osaka, both remain lethal in the right circumstances.

Elsewhere on the pitch they’re not so fortunate. Liverpool’s Sebastian Coates has received a call up from Nacional, where he has been recuperating from knee ligament damage sustained last August, while the Diegos of Lugano and Godin had a calamitous record as a centre back partnership during qualifying.

Maybe if Suarez doesn’t recover in time, they could stick him in goal. He’s got a proven track record in World Cups, after all.

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Costa Rica
Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto Special Skill: Roamer
Shirt: Red with a novel blue stripe.
Slogan: “My passion is football, my strength is my people, my pride is Costa Rica.”

ruiz

As an England fan, Costa Rica are the least threatening team we’re likely to face in Group D, which instantly transforms them a terrifying prospect.

navas

Are we right to be nervous? Well, they finished runners-up in their qualifying group; a notably mean defence conceding just seven goals in the latter stages, but there’s a massive Bryan Oviedo shaped hole in their left side after the Everton man suffered a broken leg in an FA Cup game vs. Stevenage in January. Brian Ruiz may or may not be a threat, depending on how he’s recovered from his poisonous stint at Fulham, while Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas is already attracting attention from the big boys. And birds, it seems.

paulo

Oh, and manager Jorge Luis Pinto is apparently Paulo Wanchope’s uncle.

Having deliberated, cogitated and digested this random collection of facts for at least thirty seconds, we’ll make no firm predictions except to say that England’s best hope against the cruel mistress of fate is that Uruguay run Los Ticos ragged in their opening fixture, leaving the door ajar for England to stick a few in and bump up that all important goal difference.

Oh, and remain positive at all times.

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England
Manager: Roy Hodgson Special Skill:Pressure magnet
Shirt: Ice white. L’homme du sport, if you will.
Slogan: “The dream of one team, the heartbeat of millions!”

gerrard

Since our youth, we’ve dreamed of an England team who play scintillating, attacking football, run their legs off for the shirt and emerge, if not victorious, utterly knackered having left everything on the pitch.

Sadly, while occasional flashes of hope have been noted, our memories of recent tournaments largely consist of acts of petulance, inexplicable lethargy, excuses and embarrassingly predictable exits. There’s no real reason to expect anything different this time - the location, the weather and a tough round of opening fixtures all present their own unique challenges - but despite this, despite the agony, embarrassment and inevitability of our fate, we still hold onto that most English of emotions. Hope.

Hope that Steven Gerrard’s new, deeper lying role will transform him from wandering star to linchpin. Hope that youth will flourish under the hot sun, that Roy will take a risk and the magic that Southampton and Liverpool fans were lucky enough to witness week in week out last season will translate to the green, green (probably dyed) grass of Brazil.

lambert

Hope of screaming ‘RICKIE LAMBERT CELEBRATE’ at the television, before Wazzles throws off whatever has been stalking his international form for the last ten years and score a hat-trick.

waz

He’s got a personal trainer, y’know. Could happen.

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Italy
Manager: Cesare Prandelli Special Skill: Family man
Shirt: Azure blue. What else?!
Slogan: “Let’s paint the FIFA World Cup dream blue.”

cas

There are many questions surrounding the Italian national team right now, but only one is troubling real football aficionados. Will Antonio “no honestly, I’ve given up pastry” Cassano make Cesere Prandelli’s final 23 man squad? Reports suggest that Cassano, along with injury plagued Giuseppe Rossi will be fit enough, but it’s never just a question of that with the Golden Tapir winning striker and you know it.

His habit of only opening his mouth to change feet has seen him forced to apologise for stupid remarks regarding homosexuality, arguing with Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni and royally pissing off fans of current club Parma earlier this year by stating he’d rather be back at Sampdoria.

os

Despite all this, his form for Parma has been good & an announcement that he’s lost 10kg as a result of giving up focaccia has earned him a place in Prandelli’s 30 man preliminary squad - a reward that evaded Dani Osvaldo and the 17-year-old hotly tipped to replace Gigi Buffon, Simone Scuffet. Rumour has it that Prandelli won’t be releasing info on the final 23 until the deadline - June 2nd - but don’t panic if he doens’t make it.

balo

There’s more than enough madman in that line-up to cover him for the next ten years. 

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By Kelly Welles

England, Italy, Uruguay, Costa Rica

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