Aaah yes…it’s nearing that time again when everybody who’s even vaguely interested in the beautiful game puts normal life on hold and gathers round the living room/pub T.V. to watch our boys take on the best in the World. Alternatively you could call it the biggest load of hype and torture by television ever contrived; whatever point of view you subscribe to personally, one thing’s for sure…there’s no getting away from it!!!! Sadly if you’re a football fan (I apologise to those of you who aren’t) around the same age as me (21 obviously!) your life has already been permanently scarred by England either not being good enough or getting knocked out in the unluckiest and unfairest circumstances (the Hand Of God incident featuring Maradona or the penalty shoot outs in 1990 and 1998).
Football like music does have the ability to punctuate our lives. Anybody old enough to clearly remember 1966 will never forget where they were the day England won the World Cup. It’s as potent as a lifetime memory as Live-Aid or for obviously different reasons September 11th 2001.
We did actually attempt to arrange our Japanese shows for sometime in June so we could get to a match or two but our promoters were extremely nervous that attendances would be down as a result of the football. We did try to argue that as there would be more Brits around we would in fact sell more tickets but they were not convinced!!!! Bugger………
We were in Japan during the last World Cup and on the night the English team went out of the tournament to Argentina, we were in a bar owned by a friend of mine in Nagoya (Hi Steve). The problem was that the match didn’t kick off until 5am Japan time and my buddy was plying us with booze from around midnight; you can imagine the state we were in by kick off! I remember leaving the club in daylight feeling very miserable and Harry and I trying to console each other after a thoroughly undeserved exit from the tournament by penalties.
Anyway, enough of my watery-eyed memories and on to the serious business of unqualified and pointless speculation!!
This is the big week when Sven announces his squad. All the fringe players are probably in a terrible state wondering whether or not they’ll make the cut. I don’t envy them; it must be awful to get so close and then have your dreams shattered by one phone call. Even though the wages they earn are more than adequate compensation for the stress incurred by this, playing in the World Cup Finals is the highest peak of what can be an even briefer career than that of the humble musician. Clichés are unavoidable in football but it really is the chance to measure yourself (don’t titter) against the best and such are the vagaries of being a professional sportsman that it might be your only chance.
Anyway back to that barroom speculation…
So who do I think will make the 23?
Potential winners (apart from England obviously) ?
These teams are all capable of winning but I still think the team to beat is going to be France; winning against any team with Zidane, Henry, Viera, Petit, Desailly, etc. is going to be very difficult and they will score goals from every position on the teamsheet.
So what realistically are our chances?
Well, I think you have to say that 2 years ago we would have all said virtually none but thanks to the genial, low-key (apart from Ulrika!!!! What was all that about????) sensible Swedish gentleman at the helm, we are now in the game at least. Sven has had the common sense to ask the players to do the same job they do at club level and simple as that sounds, the two previous managers seemed incapable of seeing what we, the punters already knew. We have in Beckham, Gerard, Scholes and Owen four genuinely proven world-class players, which would indicate that going forward we will be a match for anybody. The problem lies in defence where we undoubtably have talent but of the raw, inexperienced kind with the exception of Sol Campbell and Gareth Southgate who have been there before. Weighing all this up, one can’t help but reach the conclusion that if we make it through the group stage in second place behind Argentina as everyone is suggesting and we come up against the French we will need a minor sporting miracle to progress further. However if we can play the kind of high-tempo destructive attacking football as we proved we can on that wonderful night in Munich when we thrashed Germany 5 - 1, then anything is possible.
So Ladies and Gentlemen, all that remains for us to do is to fill our glasses and scream at the top of our lungs ‘COME ON ENGLAND!!!!!!’