Ref! On neutrality and haircuts

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads,

I notice no one is wearing football regalia this evening. Well, you can’t sit there wearing an England shirt during a competition we’re no longer involved in, can you? So at the moment we’re neutral. And what a boring thing that is, isn’t it Baz?

Well, Dave, because Wales have made it quite clear that they’re delighted we’re out, so I’m not supporting them. And they’re not good to watch, anyway.

Well, as it happens, and I was kind of dreading the question, I’m supporting Germany now. Because they’re the most fun to watch. They play the best football. Plus – and this is important – I know most of their players. Not personally, no, although obviously I met a few of them during my refereeing days, but we all know Schweinsteiger cos he’s been around for years and he’s now spending the twilight of his career at Manchester United. I don’t think they expected it to be twilight when they paid all that money for him, but he hasn’t set the Premier League on fire.

So there’s him, and Toni Kroos, who everybody thought would be joining United a couple of years ago but he didn’t. And the goalkeeper, he’s a good ‘un. Mats Hummels at the back. Julian Draxler. Funny, though; they don’t seem interested in coming to England or going anywhere else. They’d rather stay in Germany. And that may be part of their strength.

Anyway, they’re worth watching, aren’t they? Better than Italy, and I must say I enjoyed the penalty shootout. You could see the nerves in their knees, some of them. Heaving it wide like some hungover has-been in the Dads’ penalty tournament on a Saturday morning, end of the season. Yes, I’ve done a few of them. Get a lucky one top corner and the boy thinks you’re a genius, but the next one reveals your true caliber. Trickles out of play and you’re clutching your thigh, hoping nobody noticed.

Cheers Gary, I’ll have a Lowenbrau or something else unpronounceable. Something from the fatherland, mate. None of your brewed-in-Rotherham rubbish with a German-sounding name.

No, I agree, Dave, let’s have a Germany-Portugal final and have them embarrass Cristiano Ronaldo, that would be a bonus, wouldn’t it? Misses an open goal and a penalty – now you’re talking, mate. Germany six, Portugal nil.

And at the end, when they’ve handed out the medals they can have a prize for the worst haircut. Have you noticed the western European players tend to look relatively sensible – maybe a bit too short around the sides, but still – and it’s the eastern Europeans who look like they’ve just nicked a fiver out of their mum’s handbag and gone to get the stupidest haircut they can find, dyed blond just to exaggerate it?

And a special mention for Axel Witsel of Belgium, who’s rocking an afro with sort of shaved bits over the ears so it looks like a badly fitting wig.

axel
Just pull it down a bit, Axel. Well, twist it, then

Oh, we can do best beard too. And the runner up will have to be the captain of Iceland, what’s his name. Somethingssson, yes, that’s him. With his my-grandad-was-a-viking look. He must have choked when he saw Joe Ledley – Wales, Baz –  cos he’s got the same thing only in black and he’s had his hair cut to look like he was run over by a lawn mower. Ah, the abiding memories of a neutral football fan.

croatia
You see? In Eastern Europe we have many cool hairdressers also

 

 

Why are churches full of old people?

This is a question that used to flit, smirking, through my mind in my days as a religious sceptic. I wouldn’t say I was ever an atheist, but I certainly had no belief in any sort of religious higher power. Some superior force out there somewhere, perhaps, but not something or someone to be worshipped or praised or relied on.

St Bridget's
Our small but happy crowd at St Bridget’s Anglican church, Paramaribo, Suriname. But who is missing?

How could there be a father figure I didn’t know about? And why would I need one when I was so clever and powerful myself?

If you had asked me then why churches were full of old people, I would have said it was because they had more time on their hands and they were closer to death, so they were covering themselves in case the grim reaper came calling and found them unprepared. Like dodgy businessmen and their accountants getting their story straight before going to see the bank manager, they were making sure they had answers for any awkward questions.

Now, I see that it’s not so much that the old people are there, but that the younger ones aren’t. As children, we might be taken to church, partly to expose us to the possibility of God and partly because if we were there, we weren’t somewhere else, getting up to no good.

church 2

I’m pretty sure that was my own parents’ rationale. It was a safe environment. Okay, you can get into trouble anywhere, but you’re less likely to do it during a service or at choir practice than hanging around on street corners.

So that put – and still puts – a few young people in church. And with them are their parents, young adults still in the early stages of building their lives. Their mothers, anyway. The fathers might still believe they were in charge, despite having played such a small and simple role in the creation of a child.

And the old people were there.

What you didn’t see were the 20 to 35-year-old single people, because they were too busy recovering from working hard and playing hard. And they didn’t  feel the need to be there, anyway, because when you’re in the prime of life you feel in control. Motivational speakers fill us with the notion of  doing everything ourselves. We have to make it happen. We are responsible for our own destiny. There is no such word as  can’t.

Admirable sentiments, in many ways. And “driven” people are often successful. What are they driven by? Financial security, perhaps. But it’s more likely to be ambition, desire for material things, and once they’ve got them, that can turn to greed.

church 1
Pic courtesy of Pixabay, the free online photo resource. Credit:betticohen

But one thing such people are not doing is thanking God. They may be congratulating themselves, but that is widely regarded as a bad thing that leads to complacency, so they are urged to put that achievement in the bank and set off in pursuit of the next.

Have you ever wondered why professional footballers don’t always smile after scoring a goal? It’s because they (or their coaches) are afraid that enjoying the moment will lead to relaxation and switching off, leaving the team vulnerable. So, they score, they punch the air and they snarl “Come on!” as if they had just conceded a goal rather than gained one.

Such people are, in short, not humble enough to believe in God, because if they do that, they are not believing in themselves, and they are taught that that way lies failure.

As we get older, the vast majority of us will suffer setbacks, tragedies or health problems. And such things teach us that it is not all in our control.

That is why the church population is as it is. Churches are not full of weak people: they are full of people who do their best but are humble enough to understand that their strengths and talents alone – they alone – are not enough.

Ref! On the end of the world

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Cheer up, Baz. We’re English football fans. So we know the end of the world comes around every two years, and it happened again last night. You just don’t expect it to be caused by Iceland, that’s all. Remember when that Norwegian commentator gave us a load of verbal when they beat us? 1981 or something. And he was going “Maggie Thatchuurr. Maggie Thatchuurr. Your boys took a hell of a beating. Lord Nelson, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Henry Cooper, Lady Diana.”

That’s right, I know it off by heart. It used to be my party piece whenever there was a Scandinavian in the room. Yes, Dave, I was a bit of a pillock at the time. But really – who do these people think they are? One football match and they think they’re entitled to mouth off about it and we’ve just got to take it.

Who was Lord Beaverbrook, Baz? Newspaper proprietor, mate. Owned the Daily Express. No, I don’t know why the guy picked on him, must have just liked the sound of it. If we were doing that in reverse, who would we name? The only Norwegian I know is Anders Breivik.

Anyway, it wasn’t Norway this time, it was Iceland, and who do we know from there? That’s right, Dave: Bjork, funny-looking singer with a funny voice. Anyone else? No, all they’re famous for is having volcanoes that send out a load of dust and shut down airlines for a few days.

Well, that was all they were famous for. Now Iceland is another country that has beaten England at football.

Cheer, Gary, I’ll have a vodka. On the rocks. Just like it is, a drop of the hard stuff, mate. Down the hatch, bottoms up and here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women. Robert Shaw in Jaws, Dave.

Good game? I suppose you could say that, for the neutral, anyway. We weren’t bad, were we? Just unlucky. Rooney was off his game and Sterling had one of his days when he had plenty of the ball but didn’t look like he’d ever actually played before outside his back garden. I know some of the pundits are saying it was a diabolical performance, but really, we had a few chances and if just one of the shots on target had been a foot to one side we’d be laughing.

So what now? What now indeed. Another two weeks of football and no vested interest. No, I’m not supporting Wales. Do you think they’d support us if it was the other way round? No, good luck to them, but they’re a bunch of journeymen with a couple of superstars. I always want the best team to win a tournament, and I’m afraid that might mean the bloody Germans again.

So, for the neutral it’s a lose-lose situation. We’ll have the telly on , but I’ll be trying it on with Jody most of the time. And it’s very hard to combine making love with watching football. But in this case there can be only one winner, and it’s not Poland-Portugal.

 

 

Ref! On genius and idiocy

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads,

So what do you think of it so far? The Euros, gentlemen. Seen anything you like? Yes, England, going okay, more than okay in my opinion. Roy doesn’t, as people keep saying, he doesn’t know his best team yet, but I think that’s being overstated. At international level, does anyone ever know their best team? You’ve got a pool of players who must all be good or they wouldn’t be there, but putting 11 of them together and expecting them to gel like a club side, it’s not going to happen.

I bet they were saying the same in 1966 when Alf Ramsey was doing his best with what fate threw at him. And that meant Jimmy Greaves getting injured early on in the tournament, so he had to bring in Geoff Hurst, or as some people would have said, Geoff Who? He might have been expecting Roger Hunt to be the star up front, but Hurst rose to the occasion. Greaves was his number one striker. No wonder the poor sod turned to drink later.  Greavsie, I mean, not Ramsey.

Funnily enough, there’s a bit of Ramsey about Roy Hodgson. Not a lot of charisma floating around. And not afraid to make unpopular decisions. Ramsey played without wingers, which must have been like sacrilege – yes, Dave, insanity – at the time. Them were the days of two fast wide men and a big bloke in the middle. Andros Townsend and Aaron Lennon pinging them in for Andy Carroll or bloody Peter Crouch. But Ramsey was having none of it. Was he a genius? Probably not. He just happened to have a few good players at his disposal and through a combination of shrewdness and circumstances he got the job done.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, Baz, but Hurst and Martin Peters emerged during the tournament. Ramsey knew Gordon Banks was his best goalie and he’d have put his house on Jack Charlton at the back, and Bobby Moore of course, but we’ve got the World Cup winning XI set in stone. He didn’t.

You’ve just got to hope your name is on the trophy. Cheers Gary, pint of bitter, mate. Anything as long as it’s English, you know what I mean?

You’ve got to hope that it’s your destiny. Remember when Chelsea won the Champions League a couple of years back? Bayern Munich should have won it, but it was Chelsea’s year. You could just feel it. Even Gary Neville noticed and you could tell he liked it, rabid Man U man though he is. He was co-commentating on the final and he could sense it. It doesn’t matter who you’re up against. It just happens.

So against Wales, the key match in the group. I was nervous, I don’t mind telling you. And when Bale put that free kick away when Joe Hart should have had it for breakfast, you suddenly thought oh no. Not one of those days! But funnily enough I had a feeling it was going to be all right and sure enough, Vardy does the business. Even when it got to stoppage time, Jody’s bouncing up and down on the settee next to me – she gets excited, Baz, she’s a passionate woman – I was just waiting for it and sure enough, Sturridge does the business.

Hodgson didn’t know that was going to happen, two of his substitutes score and make him look clairvoyant. We’re talking before the Slovakia game, so we could ourselves be sounding like geniuses or idiots – thank you, Dave, I was waiting for that. Anyway, if we get tonked in that, it’s not the end of the world.

Why don’t you join me in a quick rendition of a song by Neil Innes – the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Baz, don’t you know anything?

How sweet to be an idiot,
As harmless as a cloud,
Too small to hide the sun
Almost poking fun,
At the warm but insecure untidy crowd.

No, It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a smartarse attempt to be funny. And if we do beat Slovakia and go on to win the tournament, who’ll be an idiot then?

 

 

Ref! On tattoos and Britishness

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads,

So far so good at the Euros, n’est-ce pas? England, I mean, Dave. Yes, security too. One is reluctant to make jokes about that, but the way the fans are, they can do a good job of disrupting the proceedings without outside help.

Russia, eh? Who’d have thought it. In the bad old days of the 70s it was the British fans and the Dutch who used to make trouble, while you didn’t hear anything about the Soviet supporters. Then they get a bit of freedom and suddenly they realize all the stuff they’ve been missing out on. All the racist crap they could have been chanting, all the bananas they could have been throwing at black players – I reckon some of them think they had a deprived upbringing for that reason.

And across all the countries, you see players have learned from the English ones. Not in terms of technique, Baz, no. I mean they’ve discovered that they can have a haircut like a badger and a sleeve tattoo that makes them look like an oik, just like an English Sunday league player.

Talking of tattoos, you know what gets me? It’s when a girl gets one in the small of her back, just above her bottom. You can see it if she’s wearing low-cut jeans, but mainly , to get a good look at it she’d have to be naked and you’d have to be behind her. It conjures up images, Dave, images that in the right circumstances with the right girl might be very nice, but the state of some of these specimens…

Cheers, Gary, I’ll have a bottle of Guinness. No, not a pint of draught, a bottle. Tastes very different and I like it, that okay with you? It’s the hardest thing in the world to pour, a bottle of Guinness. You know with ordinary beer the bartender gets the bottle right in there and might even push the mouth down into the stuff that’s in already, so it slows it down. I saw a guy try to do that with two bottles of Guinness once, one between thumb and index finger and the other between index and middle, you know, the classic barman’s grip. And the stuff just zoomed up and out of the glass like a chimney sweep leaving Vesuvius. It’s a volcano, Baz, very famous. Jody was telling her students about it last week. Not strictly on the curriculum, but she works outside the box a lot. One of the things that attracted me to her in the first place, as a matter of fact.

Anyway, the football: some nice free kicks and England did look good for most of the Russia game but the chances just didn’t go in. They will. It’s looking promising, so if Roy can avoid wholesale tinkering, I reckon we could be in for quite a nice little ride this time. Yes, it is a pity Gareth Bale’s not English. Pity it’s not a UK team, in fact. But that will never happen because the smaller countries would never have more than one or two players in it. I don’t know why they’ve stopped producing great players, but they have, haven’t they? Where’s your Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness and George Best and John Charles? Archie Gemmill and Peter Lorimer, Dave, quite right.

Who from Scotland and Northern Ireland would get in a UK side now? And from Wales, Bale, certainly, Aaron Ramsey maybe.

They’ve chosen independence in football but not other things. So we can cheer them on, except on Thursday, obviously, when we play the leek-chewing gits and hope they don’t spring a surprise just when we’re getting on our feet.

 

Ref! On the silly season

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads,

So here we are on the brink of greatness or the edge of the abyss, eh? I mean, Baz, that the Euros are about to start and we don’t know if it’s going to be great for England or embarrassing. I agree, Dave, the latter looks more likely judging by the three friendlies. No, I don’t know either: Hodgson might have no idea or he might have made up his mind what he’s going to do and just used the friendlies to disprove a few theories.

And yes, I agree with that too: I am talking cobblers. That’s because this is the silly season, and what that means, Baz, is that there’s nothing really going on, so people start making things up. Why do I know that and you don’t? Well, you know more about bricklaying than I do. It’s horses for courses. Don’t forget that until a couple of months ago I was a professional referee, one of the chosen few, maintaining order on the playing fields of England. And now that I’ve retired or, as the local papers put it, “hung up my whistle”, I join the likes of you as an armchair pundit.

Well yes, I did do that before anyway, because one thing about being a ref is that you get a certain amount of free time to sit around in pubs as we are doing tonight and pontificate. Nothing wrong with a bit of pontificating. We all do it and any man who says he doesn’t is a liar. It means, Baz, to speak pompously as if you know it all, and it comes from an old word for the Pope. You’ve heard him referred to as the Pontiff, haven’t you? Well, he is. In good writing, you see, you avoid repetition, and that sometimes means you have to use a different word from the one you would do normally. So if I’ve mentioned the Pope once or twice, I sling in Pontiff next time. Yes, all right, I do owe that particular piece of knowledge to my lady friend – she’s not a bird, Baz – Jody, who is highly intelligent and a bit of an academic, as teachers often are, obviously.

I’ll tell you how the subject came up. In the early days of what used to be called our “courtship”… that’s  right, when I was trying to get my leg over for the first time, if you have to be crude, we used to exchange long emails. Because text is so limiting, Dave. Email is tailor made for the modern love letter, whereas text and WhatsApp and all that  are for the  lazy and the intellectually challenged. And for dirty sods like Baz, yes, but you can be just as dirty on email. And you can send attachments.

Cheers Gary, I’ll have a pint of Guinness, and if it’s the little barmaid, ask her to draw something on the top, she’s good at that. Anything. Surprise me.

Anyway, I was waxing lyrical one night about her bosoms, but I was referring to them as her bazookas. In a playful way, gents – she’s got a sense of humour. But eventually she educated me about repetition and we came up with some alternatives. Okay, but you will have to promise me you’ll treat this with the utmost discretion. My favourite was Mel and Kim, after the pop star sisters. She likes The Sugababes.

Now never, ever breathe a word of this or I’m a dead man, okay? Cheers, Gary. What’s she drawn, then? What’s that, a whistle? A banjo? Oh my god, she’s sending me cheeky notes on the head of a pint of Guinness.

 

 

 

Ref! On potential glory

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads,

Another week, another option on the England front. Yes, Baz, Marcus Rashford. And bloody Wayne Rooney. Rashford? I think Hodgson will take him and hang onto him in case of emergencies. He’s not going to disturb the new twin kings, is he?  Kane and Vardy, separately or together, one or the other, either or both, that’s what we have to have in my humble opinion. Trust in the future.

The present, indeed, Dave, they’ve both done it in the Premier League and look comfortable at international level, so it’s no gamble to pin your hopes on them. What we don’t want is Roy going soft and playing Rooney through the middle with one or both of them on the flanks. Okay, the old boy scored a good one against Australia and looked  like the experienced campaigner he is. But it’s a new dawn and if anyone is going to standing back, letting the other boys play, it’s got to be him.

You’re right, Dave, it does get me agitated. And there’s nothing you or I can do about it, but it’s what being a fan is all about. We’re interested, we have  a certain amount of knowledge and we want to see the boss do the right thing. And the right thing right now is to give it to the youth. All of a sudden they’re queueing up, whereas some years there’s nobody knocking on the door. But you’ve got all the Spurs boys looking the part – all except Kyle Walker, Dave, I agree. He should be the reserve and we play Nathanial Clyne as first choice right back.

Cheers, Gary, I feel like a spirit. Some “fancy foreign muck”, as Baz would say. Well, you did, Baz, in that Italian restaurant where they had Juventus on the telly in the corner. What did we have that night? Grappa, that’s right. Like brandy strained through an old sock. I’ll have one of them, Gary. If they’ve got it, yes. Otherwise, whatever’s the dustiest on the top shelf.

My prediction? Too early to predict the tournament, but this time I reckon we’ll win the group at least. Well, no, that’s a lot bolder than I was two years ago with the World Cup, when I didn’t even think we’d get out of the group. And I was right, wasn’t I? We were rubbish. All changed now. All we need is for the centre backs to get their act together, and one good game could do that. Stones gets his confidence back and Roy gets either Cahill or Smalling going as the cool head, the voice of experience.

Joe Hart at the back. Somebody suddenly grows up and starts running the midfield – not Milner. I don’t know who, no, but there’s plenty of them there or thereabouts. You can’t predict, you can only hope. But I don’t know: I’ve just got a good feeling about this. And if the best team should win the tournament and we’re not that yet, well, we can grow into it. That’s what Hodgson’s good at. He picked Vardy when everybody thought he was just a flash in the pan, he’s made Kane feel like he owns the shirt – in a good way. I don’t know. I haven’t been this excited since 1990. In a football sense, Dave. For gawd’s sake don’t tell Jody I said that.

Cheers Gary. Down the hatch. Wallop! Yeah, grappa. Fancy foreign muck. Doesn’t half repeat on you too.

 

 

Is God a Liverpool fan?

miracle

The whole concept of faith involves belief in things that are unproven. While the chief argument of the atheist is that we can’t prove God exists, the counter argument is that they can’t prove he doesn’t.

In the modern age, educated people are more likely to believe in ghosts than in God (and incidentally, who has ever been killed or wounded by a ghost? If they do exist, why be afraid of them?)

The Holy Spirit used to be known as the Holy Ghost, but the word ‘spirit’ doesn’t have the same spooky connotations. Some people profess to be ‘spiritual’ but not religious, although because there is no definition of the word that they would all agree on, it may mean one thing to one and something different to another.

For the purpose of this little study, let’s say that people who call themselves ‘spiritual’ believe in a higher power – something or somebody not in human form but capable of influencing what happens in the human realm. They may or may not believe in ‘spiritualism’ as in the ability to communicate with the dead, as practised by someone known as a ‘medium’ but I don’t think that is what most really mean.

I think people who consider themselves spiritual are closer than they would like to think to believing in God, but just can’t bring themselves to do it, because it’s too complex and involves, as they see it, too many rules and regulations, dos and don’ts.

They will tell you that you don’t have to believe in God to be a good person: one who helps others and doesn’t knowingly do any damage in life – and in many cases I think they’re right.

I can only speak for Christians, and even then, only from my own experience. So not all Christians are good people, and not all non-Christians are good people – if we could all agree on what constitutes a good person. We do what we can within the limitations of our own flaws and weaknesses, and we try to fix our flaws and strengthen where there is weakness.

Does a non-religious person have a definition of the word “miracle”? The Bible contains lots of stories involving miracles, all powered by God, through a chosen few including, notably, Jesus. But what is a miracle? It’s something that happens that seemed highly unlikely but which we were desperate for. We couldn’t make it happen. So even non-religious people will “pray” for a miracle.

And who are they praying to? Are they directing it to God, just on the off-chance that  such a person or thing exists?

Modern-day “miracles” are often seen in a sporting context, so let’s look at one of those.

In 2005, Liverpool Football Club won the UEFA Champions league against AC Milan in the neutral city of Istanbul, Turkey. Liverpool weren’t, by common consent, the best team in Europe at that time. They weren’t even dominant in the English Premier League. And in the Champions League final they were 3-0 down at half time.

miracle 3
Cheer up, Stevie G. The fans around here think you’re God

How many Liverpool fans were “praying for a miracle” while they got the beers in or made a cup of tea? How many half-jokingly closed their eyes and begged some higher power to help them out?

And then it happened: in the second half they scored three goals, making it 3-3, so after 90 minutes came extra time. No change after the added 30 minutes, so it went to penalties. Liverpool won 3-2 on penalties.

The match has gone down in football history as The Miracle of Istanbul.

miracle 2
How did that happen? Are we brilliant or are we lucky?

But was God involved in that? Italy is probably a more Christian country than England, with the Catholic Church fundamental to its society. So millions of Milan fans must have been praying too.

Is God a Liverpool fan? Seriously, what do you think?

Prayer is a question of belief, of faith, but we have to be sensible about this. If you’re praying for your team and someone else is praying for theirs, how can a loving god give it to one rather than the other? God is the father, and even human fathers would not make such a decision between two of his children. We might try to make a decision based on who deserved it more, which team was playing better and who had been a good boy recently, but ultimately we can’t make that judgement.

The point is that in times of dire need, we realize we can’t do it on our own, so we reach out for help. But if we only ever consider the possibility that God exists when we need him, what message is that sending? How about a bit of gratefulness for the good things that have happened so far?

Nobody has all the answers – not even atheists.

Ref! On Euro hopes and dreams

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads,

England, Russia, Slovenia, Wales. Who’s going to win the Euros? England, Baz? Is that a considered answer or purely based on sentiment? Yes, of course I want England to win it, but only if they’re the best team. And are they? We’ve seen it all before, haven’t we? Excellent record in qualifying but when it comes to the real thing, we find that the world has moved on and while we’ve been admiring the development of  one or two promising players, other people have produced superstars.

So what have we got, Dave? Potential gold upfront, I agree. Gone are the days of hoping someone like Danny Welbeck can rise to the occasion and score at international level when he doesn’t do much for his club.

But Kane or Vardy? Both? I would like to agree with you, mate, but at the moment I reckon we’re in either/or territory. Because they haven’t really played together much, and even if Roy Hodgson does play them as a pair rather than having one out wide, it remains to be seen if they can accept being co-stars rather than undisputed kings, which is what they are at their clubs.

If you look back through history at the great strike partnerships, it hasn’t been like that. Lineker and Beardsley? That was very much Lineker as the hit man and Beardsley buzzing around creating chances. Alan Shearer? Whoever played with him was always going to be second fiddle. Go right back to the year of our Lord  1966 and in the final it was Geoff Hurst and Roger Hunt but I sometimes struggle to remember Hunt was even there. And if Jimmy Greaves been fit in earlier matches, you’d have had him up there, and there was a lone wolf if ever there was one.

Cheers Gary. Get us a Campari and orange juice, will you? Because it’s what I fancy, that’s why.

Midfield, lads? Full of promise but not too much proven experience. I agree, Baz, I like Ross Barkley, but he’s got to stamp his authority on the squad. Dele Alli’s on a wave of youthful enthusiasm and confidence, so let’s hope that bubble doesn’t burst. Other than them you’ve got Fabian Delph, who’s shellshocked after Villa’s nightmare. Lallana, Drinkwater, Henderson, Dier. Where’s the commanding influence, the guy who takes over when the going gets tough? Yes, I suppose that was an illusion much of the time, but at least with Lampard and Gerrard and Beckham you felt it was a possibility.Maybe Jack Wilshere, yes, it’s like pre-season for him so at least he’s going to be fresh.  Where’s Bryan Robson when you need him?

And at the back, well, unconvincing is the word that springs to mind, don’t you think?

I wouldn’t be surprised if Chelsea replaced Gary Cahill this summer, and yet he’s the captain of England. In the absence of Rooney, yes, and there’s the key. I know I’ve been vocal in my wish for Rooney to quietly fade away, but that was from the strikers. If he can play deeper, which he’s been doing lately, then fine, and he has the experience, which we need.

Also at the back, John Stones needs to rediscover his composure and the full backs, well, they don’t have to be world-beaters, just solid. Disciplined. Leave the fancy stuff to others.

And as the boss said in Mike Bassett: England Manager, we’re going to play four four f***ing two.

Cheers, Gary. Let’s enjoy it while we can, eh?

 

 

 

 

Ref! On success, failure and dignity

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads, and what an auspicious occasion this is. Domestic season wrapped up as far as the big boys are concerned, apart from the FA Cup Final. One word to describe 2015-16, Dave. Weird? Okay. Baz. Refreshing? That’s not what I think of as a Baz type word, but very appropriate, yes.

Me, I’d say emotional. It just makes you realize what a procession the Premier League had become, a bit like Formula 1. No real surprises. The top guys get out front and that’s it. A while later they’ve won it.

But the emotion, it all started months ago when Leicester’s good start didn’t turn out to be a flash in the pan after all. Yes, I remember predicting it wasn’t going to happen. I also remember saying it was foolish to make predictions. Hang on, I’ll look it up, where are we, windingroadblog.com, blah blah blah, January… here we  are:

“Only a fool makes predictions, mate. But since it’s New Year, okay, Spurs win the Premier League narrowly from Man City. United finish mid table, just below Chelsea, and Leicester  and Southampton scrape a Champions League place. Watford relegated along with Villa and Norwich.”

So I was right about Chelsea and got two out of three for relegation. But as I said, it’s all about emotion, and there was plenty of that at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. It was relevant, Dave, because it’s a lesson in humility. Chelsea had a diabolical season by their standards, but they steadied the ship in mid season, Hiddink did, anyway, and got back to some semblance of form. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves or make excuses, they just got on with it.

As in football, so in life, Dave. When things go wrong, when you fall off your perch, you’ve just got to have another go. It’s not a case of deliberately preserving your dignity, I don’t think. Dignity is accorded to you by your fellows. They see how you’ve coped with it and they respect it. Or they think you’re  wanker, yes. Precisely.

Cheers, Gary, let’s have a  malt whisky each on me. On you, mate? You’re a gentleman. I’ll have a large one, whatever they’ve got, but not one of them that tastes like the remains of a bonfire if you can avoid it. The landlord will tell you what’s what. He’s not a complete moron. Palace fan, yes, but the poor sod’s got enough to worry about, then, hasn’t he?

Yeah, at Chelsea yesterday. They had their old boss Ranieri back for the day and they gave him a right old reception didn’t they? Then there was John Terry getting emotional because he doesn’t know if he’s staying or going. Didn’t play, of course, because he was suspended, so he hasn’t learnt that much in his old age.

Then at Man City you’ve got Pellegrini leaving when he’s really not done much wrong, but he’s going with dignity too. Why do they call him This Charming Man, Dave? Because it’s a song by a Manchester band, The Smiths.  Yes, that’s right, my “young bird” told me. Jody’s her name, Dave, and she teaches me things and I teach her things. That’s how it works, mate. She keeps me up to date with things I might otherwise miss and I give her the benefit of my… all right, all right, you may laugh, but… give it a rest, mate.

Hold up, who’s that just walked in? Only Michel Platini. I don’t know, maybe he wants a job. I know they’re looking for a barman.