Dear Gabby Agbonlahor (and any other deluded, misinformed football pundits).

I’ve supported Newcastle United FC all my life. I don’t often blog about them, but occasionally something crops up that piques my interest and gets me typing. This is one of those occasions. Let me explain.

Over the weekend the TalkSport pundit and ex Aston Villa striker Gabby Agbonlahor offered his audience some rather stupid views about Newcastle United. Now, I’ve only seen a clip of this, but essentially his point was that no one would want to sign for Newcastle. By ‘no one’ I’m taking it he meant players of any great quality and those that might get us out of the kind of trouble that we currently find ourselves in. His argument was something along the lines of “If a player was offered £40k a week to play for Newcastle or £30k a week to play for Brentford, he’d choose Brentford because players don’t want to live in Newcastle, they want to live in London.” What, all of them?

Now, I’m not an idiot. I realise that there are players who would turn us down in order to go and live in London. But his comments got me thinking. At first, like many others, I thought of the many attractions of my home town. Then I recalled some of the brilliant players we’ve had over the years. In fact, several of these former players took to social media to refute Gabby’s argument. More of this later.

What struck my mostly, when I’d had time to think about it a bit, was how utterly absurd a point Agbonlahor had made. Because of course, even a small amount of thought would produce a list of players who signed for less glamorous clubs than those in London. Some went for money, others to play for a certain manager and others because doing their homework revealed a lot about the clubs they would sign for and the cities in which they’d live and told them that although there was no Harrods, they could probably have an excellent quality of life wherever they lived. I mean, taking Gabby’s £30k or £40k a week analogy, earning more than a average person’s yearly salary in a week might make life quite easy really. But not in Newcastle though. Never in Newcastle. Take less money, to play in front of less fans at a smaller club because…London. As I said earlier, utterly absurd.

It’s widely acknowledged that Diego Maradona was and is one of the greatest – if not the greatest – footballers to ever grace a pitch. A breathtaking talent, worshipped wherever he played. And yet, he was arguably happiest at Napoli. That’s in Naples, Gabby. That’s in Italy, Gabby. Europe, Gabby. Maradona left Barcelona and signed for a club in Naples; not AC or Inter of Milan, not Lazio or Roma, but Napoli, a city that while far sunnier is totally comparable to Newcastle in terms of its economic profile and appeal. And unless I’ve missed something, Naples doesn’t have a Harrods, a Thames, a London Eye or a Buckingham Palace either.

Fast forward to the present day and a player that many would deem the best in the world plays in an industrial city in northern Britain where, on first glance, it might not seem like the best place to live. And yet, Mo Salah is as happy as a pig in the proverbial. I understand the draw of Liverpool FC, but looking at what Gabby tells us, it proves a point. Liverpool is nowhere near London, yet even in their barren years they’ve signed a great number of quality footballers.

Explain to me also, the phenomenon of world class footballers from many countries of the world, joining clubs in the arse end of Russia or China to play their football. The quality of life or that of the shopping doesn’t matter if the right amount of money is waved in some people’s direction. And while the majority of fans would rather it was a direction we didn’t take, if money needs to be waved, we’ve got enough to tempt most players out of signing for Brentford. And that’s no disrespect to Brentford.

A little bit of thought also added the following names to throw at Gabby’s argument. De Bruyne at Wofsburg, Hazard at Lille, Ravanelli, Juninho and Emerson at Middlesborough, Sane and Van Dijk at Southampton, Okocha at Bolton, Carbone at Bradford, Yeboah, Strachan and now Raphinha at Leeds and anyone, literally anyone at sunderland. These players all dispensed with geography to play football and live in places that weren’t as glamourous as London for one reason or another. None of them hung around for a late bid on only slightly less money from Brentford, West Ham, QPR, Fulham or even bloody Watford. And yes, I know Watford’s not actually in London. You take my point though? Not you Gabby. You wouldn’t understand my point if it was projected onto a stand at Villa Park.

In other news, a lot of footballers are not rocket scientists. They just want to play football. They’ll have enough money to afford a nice place to live in a nice part of the area around their new football club. They may well not have heard of Newcastle, but history proves that they’re happy enough to sign for us and happier still once the decision is made. Because you know what, Gabby? It’s not a bad place and no one says these people have to stay there until the end of their days. These careers are nothing if not transitory and temporary.

Newcastle United and Newcastle Upon Tyne have a lot to offer. Whisper it quietly, but some might even enjoy it more than living in London, simply because it’s a fabulous city and area. The place is renowned for the friendliness of its people (although I’m not sure you’ve got too many fans, Mr.A), there’s culture – in case someone like Patrick Bamford ever wanted to sign for us – beaches, stunning countryside, nightlife and a night out that untold thousands would vouch for once they’d recovered from the hangover. We’re the home of Greggs – although I believe London has branches too – we have an airport with planes and everything, we have the Byker Wall if you want to see some rather unique architecture, we have the Metro, we have the Town Moor in case you do so well that you’re given the Freedom of The City and need somewhere to graze your cattle and best of all, we’ve got an absolute shitload of bridges. Probably more than London, in fact.

When I was 22 years old I left Newcastle. I had just finished university, couldn’t find a job and was in a long distance relationship that wasn’t going anywhere if we continued to live so far apart. So, I left home. And I stayed away. I’ve lived away for 27 years now, settling in Leeds for the last 24 with the lass that I left home for. So, good decision really. I love Leeds, but it’s not home. It’s not Newcastle. And let me tell you, there’s not a day goes by when I don’t feel some sort of homesickness, because I was born and bred in a very special city that sadly lots of people adopt a view of without knowing very much at all about the place itself. Isn’t that right Gabby? Well, as far as I’m concerned Newcastle is my home town, regardless of where I live and as much as it’s changed over the years – for the better – I still love it dearly. So, I see no reason why anyone else wouldn’t love it too, be they a foreign superstar or an up and coming young British player.

Which leads me on nicely to the final point I’d like to make to Gabby Agbonlahor and people like him. It’s a point that lots of others have made, but still, it’s worth repeating. There’s already an enormous list of gifted and cosmopolitan footballers who have moved here previously, despite what some may think. So let me jog your memory with a small sample of them. Tino Asprilla (clever enough to arrive in a fur coat), Yohan Cabaye (Dreamboat), Shay Given, Philipe Albert (arrived after a World Cup that meant he could have played anywhere), Gary Speed (legend of the British game), Robert Lee (an actual cockney), Demba Ba, Warren Barton, Hatem Ben Arfa, David Ginola (because while he was worth it, he thought we were too), Jonas Gutierrez (who traded living in Majorca to come to the Toon), Kevin Keegan (England captain and European Footballer of The Year, twice), Didi Hamann (left Bayern Munich to play for us), Hugo Viana, Les Ferdinand, Obafemi Martins, Nobby Solano (enjoyed it so much he signed twice), Patrick Kluivert, Laurent Robert and Gini Wijnaldum. Players from all over the globe. Some of them even from that there mythical London.

So when you think about it Gabby, what you said was a little bit daft, wasn’t it? Because footballers, primarily just want to play football, don’t they. And sometimes, just sometimes, London doesn’t even come into their thinking.

Grassroots Football Coaching: I think we’ve reached rock bottom.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog you may well know that I coach an Under 13s football team. I volunteer; it’s not my actual job and really the only reason I got involved was that my son plays for the team. Around 5 years ago now the club decided that they weren’t happy with the efforts of the previous coach. Coincidentally, I’d just stepped in to take the team for 3 games while he was on holiday and after those games I was asked if I’d take over. As one of a number of parents who were unhappy with the previous coach, I more or less had to say yes. And so, a bit of an obsession began…

This season, we’ve moved to playing 11-a-side games on full size pitches, so it’s been quite a big step up. We’re also working without an actual goalkeeper – our keeper is now one of the squad who stepped up and said he’d do the job. Having struggled at one point over summer for numbers in the squad, we finally managed to get 18 players, but unfortunately that number features several players who’ve had little or no experience of playing football. In fact one boy had never kicked a football before when he turned up to train with us. So, this season was almost set up to be a struggle!

We started quite well, beating our first opponents 5-2 in a home game and managing to involve 16 of the squad, some of whom were getting their first ever taste of competitive football. There were things I noticed in that fixture that alarmed me somewhat though and I was conscious of the need to work on specific areas of play. So, despite the win, I didn’t walk away kidding myself that we’d perhaps cracked it.

And it turned out that I was right to be so cautious. We lost our next four games, conceding 29 goals and scoring just once. I took heart from the fact that in 3 of these games we’d been competitive until late on, before just getting overwhelmed by stronger and fitter teams. Our lack of experience and fitness was really starting to show, but also I think it’s only natural to throw in the towel when you’re 12 and your team is getting a bit of a thumping! It didn’t change the fact that we had a big, big problem though.

The problems have continued. There have been several games where we’ve struggled to get a team out, as kids have been either ill or away. I guess it’s just that time of year and of course there’s Covid, which has affected a few of our group. And of course, getting beat week in week out probably doesn’t make kids want to turn up either. But we’ve battled on.

Sadly, we’ve only had one more win this season. It was a brilliant occasion as we were playing a team that were above us in the league and were 2-1 down at half time. But we knew we could win. And even with a team affected by illness and other absenteeism, we knew that a real effort would blow our opponents away. So we encouraged hugely them during that half time talk, telling them that the game was there for the taking and when they took to the field with a huge cry of ‘C’mon lads!’ at the start of the second half, I knew we were in with a chance. Thirty five memorable minutes later, we’d won 6-2 and it was a thrill to see my son scoring a couple of goals and winning the Man of The Match award.

Since that point though, we’ve suffered again with absence of players on match day and have lost games when exhaustion has set in because we have regularly only had one substitute! It’s difficult to operate like this when your opposition turn up with 4 or 5 subs and can rotate players every 10 minutes or so to keep legs relatively fresh.

Going into our game last Sunday we only had 9 players on the Saturday! I was forced to call up the two lads that had barely kicked a ball just to make up the numbers. These were two players who I’d said were best off just training with us for the time being. With no experience of playing football I didn’t want to throw them into games and find that it was some terrifying experience. I wanted them to feel comfortable with a ball at their feet before then drip feeding their experience of games as substitutes. It turned out that this was no longer an option.

We managed to get another of our players making themselves available and so thought we were going into the game with a full team and one substitute and although that would mean fielding some really inexperienced players, I felt that we might just have enough quality to snatch a win, as we were playing the bottom team. On the morning of the game, however, another player dropped out, leaving us with no substitutes and 11 players faced with 70 minutes of football and no chance to give anyone a break!

I suppose it was reasonably predictable when we got beat. Our opposition were able to rotate players as they had 5 subs, whereas we had to rely on our 11 and just keep them going. We were always in the game and I genuinely think that with a little bit more luck we could have won with the players we had. Sadly though, tired legs took their toll and we were missing a couple of our more important players too. Even more sadly, our opposition being the team below us in the league meant that their win took them above us in the table.

There’s a long way to go in the season, but I’m quite worried that we’ll end up finishing in last place in the league. We won’t deserve that. Even this season coaches have gotten in touch after games and praised our passing and movement and I can honestly say that there have only been two games where I’ve been genuinely disappointed as we’ve let ourselves down.

I felt low after Sunday’s game though. I was disappointed, not in their performance, but that they didn’t manage to get anything out of the game. We were obviously up against it, but I still thought that we could sneak some kind of result. So, it left me frustrated that things had gone the way they’d gone. But I guess this is what grassroots football can be like; it’s not always the best team or the team playing the more attractive football that wins. Which of course brings up the question of whether winning is important at this level. It is to me, but I also want to combine that with enjoyment and the feeling of being part of a team for my lads. The sense that we support each other and that we’re all in it together is really important, in my opinion. But of course, winning helps with all of that!

So now we’re left picking up the pieces. There’s part of me that can see us winning no more games all season and of course this would most likely mean that we finished bottom of the league. No one really wants that.

It’s clear that some players have lost confidence. We’re quite a small team and have been up against some teams where the players look like grown ups, so it’s easy to be fearful when you’re 12! I think some are doubting their ability as well though and where before, when we’ve been doing well, they’ve wanted the ball now they don’t. Some of the lads are happy to pass on responsibility to someone else, so we’ll have to work on getting that confidence back.

We don’t have a fixture this weekend, so I’ve decided to offer a training session instead. I’m testing levels of willingness and enthusiasm in one way. Those that show up, early on a Sunday morning are demonstrating their commitment to the cause, their need to get better. Those that don’t? Maybe they’re confirming what I already know, in that I can’t rely on them. We can’t rely on them. And it seems churlish to write that given that this is Under 13 football, but it is exhausting organising things like training and matches and so when it feels like I’m not getting much back, it starts to grind me down. When you’re spending large chunks of your Saturday glued to a phone making calls and sending texts, just to get 11 lads on a field, it’s frustrating as there are other things I could easily dedicate my time to.

So, this Sunday is really important. I’d like them to know my fears and what they’ll be up against for the rest of the season. In short, nearly everyone we’ve played have hammered us. While we may well have been competitive for long periods of time in games, we’re not picking up points. In fact, we’re just picking up beatings.

While I need to get a serious message across, I also need to keep spirits up. My team know that they’re a really capable bunch, but they need to know that as coaches, we have the belief that they can do better. They need to know that although things are going to be difficult – let’s face it, every team we play can see how many goals we concede and will expect to beat us easily – we can overcome it all. So Sunday will be hard work, but by the end of it all I’ll hopefully have an even better idea about my squad and know the direction that we need to move in.

I’ve got no doubt that our next few months will be very difficult. Not only do we have league games to play – and currently every other team will feel they’re better than us – but the spectre of cup games lies ahead in the new year too. With cup games comes opposition from higher leagues and therefore, much bigger challenges. The question is, can we rise to the challenges ahead? Can we get more points on the board? And can we lift ourselves off the bottom of the table? Well, we’re about to find out!

Poetry Blog: Farewell Mike Ashley.

This is a post that’s been a long time in the making. It’s a poem about one of the greatest loves of my life, Newcastle United. And if that seems like a bit of a pathetic sentence, then you should probably stop reading. But the football team that I support have been a constant in my life for well over 40 years now and let’s face it, around the globe there are plenty of us that fall in love with their chosen sports team. The club is something that I blog about sporadically as I like to write about lots of different things, but I couldn’t resist this one.

The poem itself was written in June 2019, when I’d finally allowed myself to think that Mr. Ashley, the owner of my football club, was actually leaving. For those who don’t know, Ashley has owned the club for 14 years and it’s been an incredible low point in our history; lacking in investment, lacking in ambition, lacking in hope and a time where balancing the books has been deemed way more important than success or even excitement and hope on the field.

When I wrote the poem a Saudi Arabian investment group seemed on the verge of buying the club, meaning that hopes and dreams could return. And then, to cut a long story short, it didn’t happen.

Fast forward 18 months or so from when the news of our takeover first broke and following high profile legal action, and almost at the drop of a hat, the club has been sold. So, here’s my poem.

Farewell Mike Ashley

When you first pitched up you were greeted optimistically.                                                                                                                                 A sportswear billionaire set to change the Toon fiscally.                                                                                                                                        But then, a reason to doubt your intelligence                                                                                                                                            when you sloppily disregarded your due diligence. 
But, your black and white shirt in the away end provided a distraction,
the drinks are on Mike, no need for (Sports) Direct action.
Then you brought back King Kev, a masterstroke,
yet the way that you treated was nowt short of a joke.
Wise and Jiminez, your plan to bring the good times back,
followed by Gonzalez and Xisco; two straws to break the camel's back.
Keegan gone and relegation drawing near,
your answer? Joe f***ing Kinnear.
A sleeping giant in an idiot's grip,
you were seemingly determined to sink this ship.
But you didn't reckon with Kinnear's heart
which inadvertently gave us a brand new start,
Shearer tempted, a legend returning
but his hands were tied, the ship still burning.
Relegation and Shearer left waiting for your call,
but you chose to ignore the greatest scorer of them all
Against the odds Hughton took us straight back up,
but still the chequebook remained shut.
In time you brought in Pardew and a Director of Football...
Kinnear again though; pissed and capable of f*** all
Years passed and we made it to the Europa League
but with little investment we fell away, fatigued.
As Pardew stuttered you committed the cardinal sin
out with SJP, the Sports Direct Arena in,
terrible and sinking with Pardew's palava
as he blamed the grass, the science, the fans, then left us with Carver.
Still there was time for you to behave like a wanker
by blanking poor Jonas, stricken with cancer, 
and oh the sweet irony when he came to the rescue,
yet still you got rid like a cockney Ceausescu.
And then more alarm bells as you gave us MaClaren, 
a hair island, no idea and his tactics board barren.
Even Benitez couldn't save us from our fate,
another reason for more Geordie hate.
But Rafa rebelled, he was made for these fans,
but your silence said you had other plans,
but the tide was turning, a truth became clear,
we were nothing but right not to want you here,
we didn't want Charnley and we didn't want Bruce
whatever you did there would be no truce.
Transfer windows where nothing was spent
anyone could see it was time that you went.
Protest groups, boycotts, banners and the Trust gave hope
now finally, deal done, get out of our club you fat dope.

The future looks incredibly bright for Newcastle United and it’s been a bit of a ridiculous few days. I’ve watched the celebrations in the city from afar, just wishing I could be part of it. Making do with social media footage and various reports on the telly has had to be enough, but it’s still been amazing to watch. Then you read the media reports and the quotes from Amanda Staveley and others involved in this new dawn and it’s been as bewildering as it’s been exciting.

There are other, darker issues to address with this takeover but for now I’m happy to just wallow in what it could mean from a footballing point of view and try to forget the last 14 years of penny pinching and constant disappointment under Mike Ashley. As someone who first sat in the East Stand aged 6 and has been in love with the club ever since, I’d resigned myself to the fact that we probably wouldn’t win anything in my lifetime. As someone who walked away from attending games 13 years ago as I realised what Ashley represented, that feeling was utterly miserable. But it’s time to look to the future, because the future’s bright; the future’s black and white.

I hope you enjoyed the poem. Feel free to leave a comment.

Grassroots Grumbles; a short update as I tear my hair out!

So having posted a blog about the current trials and tribulations of coaching a football team at the weekend, I felt compelled to update things a little following our latest game on Sunday. Indulge me. Let’s just call it some form of therapy or anger management even…

We were playing a team that we’ve played a lot in the past. In fact, our last game of last season was against the very same opposition. They’re a good side, but on our day we’re a match for them. In fact, after our previous game – which ultimately we lost – their coach was kind enough to text me and compliment the team on our passing, which he said his team couldn’t live with at times. So, it was safe to say we knew the challenge we faced, but also felt like we’d be at least competitive.

We were also at home and it was a fresh, sunny Autumn morning. We had none of our big hitters unavailable for once and a good sized squad, meaning that we could make substitutions if anyone tired. We were even wearing our brand new home kit for the first time. It felt like the footballing gods might just have been smiling on us.

Turned out the smile was more of a grimace. Imagine the face a baby pulls when it’s got wind.

We lost the game 6-0 and to use boxing parlance we barely laid a glove on them. I’ve coached these lads for just over 4 years now and I don’t think I’ve felt so frustrated in that time. For the second game running we’d more or less beaten ourselves and for the second game running we’d stopped thinking, ignored advice and taken very little responsibility for what was happening with the ball. Time and time again we hoofed the ball forward without thinking of why we were doing it or what it might achieve. It felt like no one really wanted the ball and so the best thing they could do was just to get rid of it. It reminded me of what Einstein said about insanity being people doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

We were much better, much more like ourselves in the second half, but by then it was too little too late. At least though it might have allowed us to end the game on a positive. But we couldn’t even manage that as we had a player sin-binned in the final few minutes for verbally abusing the referee, which was completely unacceptable, but all the more so as our referee was the father of one of our players!

And so we are left banging out the same messages, working on the same skills, praising wherever and whatever possible and hoping that next week some of it pays off! Meanwhile, I’m reminded of a moment earlier on today, after school as I was sat marking assessments. Hearing voices, I looked to my right to find some of our younger pupils taking part in some extra-curricular football. I spotted a boy I teach, just as he gestured his team mates towards him and, just like their heroes in the professional game, they held a pre-match huddle to get out all those important messages. And it’s moments like this that make me love football and love coaching kids! So, I guess I’ll just keep going!

Let’s see if we can improve next Sunday!

Grassroots Grumbles – Busy, stressful, alarming…but still loads of fun!

While it’s just fantastic to be back involved in grassroots football without (much) Covid intervention, I’m afraid I’ve got a bit of grumbling to do.

I’ll level with you, dear reader; I hate losing. I’m not a bad loser; I don’t shout and bawl at my team, I don’t kick equipment across the field or jump up and down like some kind of demented kangaroo on the sidelines either. But I hate to lose. And we’ve been plunging headlong into losing of late!

In many ways it’s been a brilliant start to the season. We’ve got a lovely new kit – the players, not the coaches; we get very little! We actually won our first game, handsomely and for a short period of time were 2nd in the league. And this came after we’d got to less than 24 hours before the game and not been able to locate any nets for our goals! So I thought we were riding our luck pretty well really! The weather’s been great as well and for once I’ve not been soaked to the skin in either training or on the touchline during a game. And there’s just been a lovely sense of optimism about our club and our team.

But then came our second game of the season.

We’d been told we’d been placed into a cup competition with clubs from an entirely different league and while it turned out that we didn’t have to travel over far to play, we were drawn against a completely unknown quantity. We’d learn more soon enough.

By the time of the weekend of the game I’d been able to establish that our opponents were in a higher division than us; just not which one. By the end of the game not only had it been made clear in the performances, but I’d been told by their coach as well. It turned out that they were four divisions higher than us – the equivalent of a Premier League team playing a non league side – and thus we took a bit of a beating.

For a while it was actually quite a heartening performance. At half time we trailed 1-0 and were still talking about the fact that if we could get the ball forward quickly, we might just be able to nick a goal. Game on! It quickly went downhill and by the end we were beaten 8-0. For the last 15 minutes or so our lack of fitness had become all too apparent, we were repeating the same mistakes, over and over again, we looked a bit scared and some of our lads had simply given up.

So it was a Sunday afternoon of reflection. While not wanting to impinge on any of my lads’ enjoyment of training or matches, harsh words were going to be needed in order to re-focus people. I’d been a little perturbed by some of the silly behaviour at the previous training session and the messing about, chatting and not listening, the half paced attempts at drills. And I blame myself for that type of thing when I think about it. Was training interesting enough? Was that the right drill? It’s funny how you can beat yourself up for a result and performance where you didn’t actually set foot on the pitch.

The two subsequent training sessions were a bit of a mixed bag, but largely positive. We concentrated on drills with the ball and a longer game where we could stop play, ask questions and point out options in the first session. Then, for our last session we went with fitness work and a shorter game at the end. It seemed like everything had gone well and with a game against the second placed team to come at the weekend, I at least felt like we were ready.

As ever with grassroots football though, there would be a complication. As training ended on the Thursday, two of our best players – twins – told me that they wouldn’t be able to play on Sunday. Two out of four of a first choice midfield gone in an instant. And I couldn’t even feel too vexed as the reason they were unavailable was that they were off to St. James’ Park, home of my team Newcastle United, for a stadium tour. Us Geordies have got to stick together!

On the eve of the game I’d managed to scramble 13 players together and had an idea for a side and a system. But any optimism wouldn’t last as we turned up on the Sunday morning. The current petrol crisis made me a little late setting off, as I’d been queueing up to get much needed petrol. Must remember to thank the first petrol hoarding moron I see. Then when we got there we couldn’t find the pitch as it was part of a 15 pitch complex set up on a huge park in north Leeds. When we finally found our opposition I then had to run back to my car to retrieve the phone I’d left on the dashboard! This left me around 5 minutes to announce a team, talk through a system of playing and go through any last minute messages and reminders about how we try to play. A shambles, but not untypical at grassroots level! Certainly not for this coach anyway!

Despite making a good start, we still managed to come in at half time losing 2-1. We were clearly the better side and so we pointed out how we needed to be better in the second half. Less panicking on the ball, working harder, being braver with the ball. We ended up losing 7-1 and again, the confidence was shot once more.

I think we’re struggling a little bit because of the amount of new players we’ve taken on. At the end of the season, we lost 2 first team players, one of them our goalkeeper who had been excellent and vital to the team. We’ve since spent the whole of pre-season trying to replace him with players coming in and then deciding they don’t like being in goal after all within a few weeks. We’ve started with one of last season’s outfield players in goal and he’s brave, I’ll give him that. But to be playing in the huge 11-a-side goals when he’s not really a keeper is giving us a weakness that previously wasn’t there. As coaches we’re working hard on his game and his confidence, but he needs time and with a game every weekend he hasn’t really got any. The best thing is that his attitude is great and he’s working hard to improve too and relishing the chance to be in the team. So maybe we should expect results to take a bit of a hit while also being thankful that we found someone to play in goal!

A lot of the other players that have come in have had little or no experience of football. So it’s proving quite a step up for them. So far this season I’ve been asked ‘What’s offside?’ by a sub that I was just about to put on and also ‘How do I pass?’ by one of our new boys at the start of a drill. Call me naïve, but I hadn’t expected that. It means that we have to try to work on a one on one basis with some of them in training, which obviously takes time away from others. The result of this is that our work as a team can suffer as there are often not enough coaches to be bringing new players up to speed, offering a goalkeeper specialist drills and also working on team play with the players who we’ve had for years.

Making the transition from 9-a-side to 11-a-side isn’t easy either. The pitch is much bigger, as are the goals and the positions that players are asked to play will differ too. I suppose it’s a lot to get your head around when you’re 12, regardless of how much time you’ve spent playing football.

So while it’s been a bit of a disappointing start to our season and there’s lots to be grumpy about, there might just be enough positives in there to tell me that every one of our present clouds might well just have a silver lining. Let’s hope things get better this Sunday with our latest game – a second home match and the first chance we’ve had to wear our brand new kit!

Euro 2020 Diary: The Final Instalment

Ah, the morning after the night before. For completely different reasons, had England won the final of Euro 2020, this would have been a difficult entry to write. As it goes, on the back of such a cruel loss, it’s tough to know where to start.

In fact, I started by staring at this keyboard. For quite a while. Then I flicked tabs on the internet to have another look at the BBC Sport football page. Then I looked at social media on my phone for a bit. It didn’t change very much.

I’ve tried to avoid writing too much about England as I’ve written these diaries. And although I’ll abandon that stance quite soon, I’ll think I’ll revert back there to start with.

It’s been a helluva tournament. A month’s worth of football and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it, until around 11pm last night that is. What’s occurred in and around stadiums has been an absolute spectacle though and it’s been wonderful to indulge my love of the game.

  1. I’ve done a bit of freelance scouting for my team. Every football fan does this at major tournaments though, don’t they? We all watch the games with half an eye on our club side, searching for the diamond in the rough that, in our heads, we can recommend to our club side. We all know that we have no influence whatsoever and that said rough diamonds are probably playing beyond their ability just because of the lift that a tournament gives, but we still do it.

This time round my keen eye has picked out a few Italians, Elmas the attacking midfielder who plays for North Macedonia, the Welsh lad Ethan Ampadu and a few others. As ever, I’ve found that most play for big clubs and would cost way more than Newcastle United’s budget, but it hasn’t stopped me looking and playing the ‘expert’.

Sadly, I imagine our manager will be scanning the list of free transfers and players available for loan as we speak. Alas, my role as Head of European Scouting was fun while it lasted.

2. Why would you go to a game in fancy dress? Come to think of it, why would you go anywhere in fancy dress? Even a fancy dress party is about a dozen steps too far. During this tournament I’ve witnessed German fans dressed head to toe in lycra as the German flag. French fans dressed as Asterix and Obelix, Dutch fans dressed as oranges…oh wait, that’s just the colour of their football shirts, England fans dressed as St.George and actual lions and during last night’s final there were Italian fans dressed as Mario, a pizza and even the Pope. Some Scotland fans even attended games in skirts.

I don’t get it. Given the heat which has been a fairly regular feature in the tournament, I get it even less. But imagine simple logistics like sitting down in an Obelix costume. Imagine the conversation stopper that is, ‘Lads, I’m thinking of going to the final dressed as a pizza’. And the feeling of looking like an even bigger tool when some bloke a row down from you steals your thunder by dressing up as his actual holiness the Pope. I understand the excitement and the fact that people get carried away, but fancy dress? Never.

3. Why have England fans been booing national anthems? I mean, I know what reason most will give for booing the German anthem, but I think it’s time to leave this behind lads and lasses. In fact, go to Germany. Spend some time there. Immerse yourself in wonderful things like trains that arrive on time. Visit the museums, sample the night life, enjoy the people who are truly lovely, sit in an enormous beer garden and feel stunned at how friendly it all is. Don’t boo and hate because of ancient history. Don’t boo any nations anthem. Just rid yourself of your small mindedness and show a tiny bit of respect. And listen carefully; some of them – as I’ve pointed out in an earlier diary – are absolute bangers!

And why are people booing Denmark’s anthem by the way. We’ve all stood barefoot on a piece of upturned Lego in our time, but it’s hardly worth all that energy on an anthem that is a little bit rubbish and means literally nothing to you.

4. We couldn’t quite bring football home, could we? But that’s OK. We’ve been not bringing football home for years.

It was heartbreaking to watch the final as an England fan. We started so well, scored early and offered hope for a while. It looked like we might finally see a tournament through. But, to cut a long story short, we were beaten by a better side on the night.

While I’m beyond disappointed this morning, I’m going to try to be positive. We have a young, vibrant, gifted squad of players with more waiting to come through and represent their country too. The future looks bright. The experience gained last night could and should stand the team in good stead in future tournaments. We’ll have our day, I’m sure of it.

Mistakes were probably made last night, if we’re being honest. Most notably with the penalties. As a result of missing some penalties, the now usual barrage of racist abuse has appeared from a spiteful, hate filled, thick as mince underclass and this kind of thing clearly needs to be dealt with. But just for now, let’s applaud the courage of those that stepped up. Bukayo Saka, who took and missed our final penalty, is 19 years old. At his age I was frightened to talk to new people, shy beyond belief. I wouldn’t put my hand up to answer questions in university seminars, hated going into the pub on my own to meet friends, blushed noticeably if a girl spoke to me and was just too immature to appreciate the opportunity afforded me in being able to go to university and study for three years. Bukayo Saka stepped up to take a crucial penalty in front of a packed Wembley Stadium while 30 million people watched on telly. I bet he’d have no bother walking into a pub to meet his mates and he’d be at ease in a seminar. Give the lad some respect and some love. And give the rest of the squad and the coaches and officials exactly the same while you’re on.

The England team have left us with even more amazing memories. They’ve beaten pretty much whoever has stood in front of them and it’s been absolutely brilliant to play a tiny part in it all as a fan. That overrides a missed penalty kick. So while I’m disappointed this morning, I see no point in apportioning blame and forgetting how much enjoyment this tournament and our teams has given me and countless others over the last month or so.

5. Finally, spare a thought for Jordan Pickford. Jordan is a Sunderland fan and I’m a Newcastle fan. We don’t know each other, but I get the impression he wouldn’t like me just because of my allegiance. I’m not a big fan of him because of his allegiance either. He is however, the England goalkeeper.

Jordan Pickford was magnificent in the penalty shoot out last night. He didn’t deserve to lose after saving two Italian penalties and I felt heartily sorry for the lad. And while I’m hopeful that he has his usual meltdown if he plays against Newcastle next year, I hope he has a brilliant season.

So that’s me signing off on the Euro 2020 diaries. It didn’t quite go our way, but I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it. Here’s to writing about it all again when the World Cup in Qatar starts at the back end of next year!

Poetry Blog: Euro 2020 – A short anthology

As a football fan, I’d forgotten how much I missed tournament football. I’ve detailed lots of factors in my Euro 2020 Diaries that I’ve been writing for the blog (links below if you fancy a read), but it’s safe to say that simple things like the noise and the colour have been amazing and it surprised me how much it affected me when seeing it all in full flow again.

Euro 2020: Fan Diary Entry 1

Euro 2020: Fan Diary Entry 2

I think the first time it really struck me was watching the first of Hungary’s games and realising that they had a full stadium. I actually commented to my wife about what a remarkable thing it was, both of us knowing all too well, that I’d been in many, many a packed stadium before.

When the tournament was cancelled due to the effects of the first wave of Coronavirus I didn’t give it much thought. It didn’t bother me at all. Despite football’s importance in my life, life itself took prominence at that point. The realisation that I was at real risk of something that might well kill me stopped me taking football too seriously. Funny that!

However, fast forward a year or so and I am once again fully immersed in watching football. It doesn’t matter that I’m largely watching players I’ve at best only vaguely heard of; I’m loving every minute. It prompted me to write my blog diaries, but then one day I was hit by the urge to get all poetic. I was thinking about the remarkable on-pitch events surrounding Christian Erikson and the subsequent rallying cry of what seemed like the entire Danish nation. And it got me to writing. And once I stopped, well it wasn’t as if I couldn’t stop, but I found myself writing four poems there and then. So, I suppose I did stop after all.

The first is my poem about the remarkable story of the Denmark national team and I suppose those who represent the Danish nation at the tournament. To quickly fill in a few blanks, their star player suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch during their first game. He survived and the team have been battling on ever since. So here you go…

A Modern Fairytale

From that moment something changed in all of us and a modern fairytale was born.
Derided for our tribalism, mocked for our predictability,
now our unity would surprise.
As headlines were made and news spiraled around the world, 
we were focused.
Shaken from our reverie, shocked by what we witnessed,
old memories long since committed to the backs of minds, awoken once more.

And so, we adopted you. Tuned in, crossed fingers, sat tensed, silently praying
to someone or something in the hope that you could find
'us' some justice.
As best we could we shared the early elation, 
giving not a second thought to our own nation,
then returned to heightened tension, pacing floors, shouting
at screens and watching, forlorn as you ran out of steam
and didn't quite have enough.

As the whiff of a final chance floated through the air
and you gathered for one more time, the atmosphere crackled
with pride, optimism, anticipation.
That image, still fresh, would spur on a nation and its adopted
sons and daughters and we punched the air, as one, 
as the net bulged again and again, edging you closer to a triumph 
that was surely written in the stars.

As you celebrated, a wall of red, white and blonde
our game once again reminded us of its power,
producing joy where once there was fear, shock and mourning,
we will always remember these moments of unity, 
when once, we were all Danish, weren't we?

Shortly after writing my Danish poem, I watched the last North Macedonia game. It turned out to be the final international appearance of Goran Pandev, a player I’m well aware of, but also one I’d lost track of somewhat – I mean, I follow football, but you can’t know every player’s every movement, right?

Pandev was substituted late in the game and given a standing ovation by the crowd as well as a guard of honour by his team mates. The game literally stopped while this happened. Once play re-started the crowd chanted his name for a good few minutes too. I just thought it was a wonderful few moments and something that said a lot about our game. So I wrote a poem.

Goran Pandev

If there is a word for a figure that is not quite a legend, not quite an icon, 
then it is needed for times like this.
A celebrated career, yet only known to those of a particular ilk; dedicated, obsessive,
those who glory in the fact that the devil is in the detail.
Born to a nation that many could not find on a map,
scorer of goals that most cannot recall, let alone say that they saw,
it is all the more remarkable that as you leave the field,
for what many would not realise is the final time,
there is a guard of honour, a standing ovation and a rousing, hearty chanting of your name.
A tribute, not just to you Goran Pandev, but to all of football.

England versus Scotland was always going to provoke something in me. As a proud Englishman, it’s a fixture I love, regardless of the sport. It’s the one that both sides always want to win and dared not lose. A classic, bitter, historic rivalry.

As it turned out, the match was largely a non-event. England, overly cautious and perhaps overawed by the occasion, Scotland, performing above the sum of their parts, but still only arguably the better of a bad bunch. The teams shared a point, before ultimately going their separate ways; England qualifying for the knockout stage of the tournament, while Scotland would fail to get out of the group stage.

On England v Scotland

The oldest fixture in football.
This is not just a game, yet not the war that some would have you believe.
There is a hatred on both sides, a mistrust, a pride, an ancient grudge 
that will forever break to new mutiny at the mere mention of the fixture.

All common sense, rationality and right thinking is cast aside
as Edward's army, Hadrian's Wall, devolution, independence,
invading Celts, broken crossbars and of course, 1966, dominate our thoughts,
our conversations.
Bitterness, nationalism, the iconography of two flags, tartan and St. George are
forced to the fore. Nails are bitten, alcohol consumed,
friendships cats aside, a nation even more divided
and for 90 minutes it feels like we hold our breath
and watch through our fingers, faces covered, limbs tense,
a calm exterior a thing of the past.
Our capital invaded, our stadium full, our heroes reminded of their history, their duty.
And yet, on this occasion it will not matter. One side deflated,
the other, seemingly elated; neither wins the day.
Wherever loyalties lie, we'll meet again, we'll see your like again.

I’ll finish this blog with a very short poem concerning the England player Jadon Sancho. Sancho is a young player who has achieved a great deal in a short time, having moved to Germany to ply his trade. And yet, for the first three group games of the tournament, he didn’t get a sniff of action on the pitch. For the first game, he didn’t even make the matchday squad and as a player with such obvious gifts, this became a talking point. He’s since agreed to join Manchester United for something like £73m and has actually played one game in the tournament. The team however have played six. So, like most of the country I was a bit puzzled. Unlike most of the country I wrote a poem in his honour.

Jadon Sancho

You could have been at home,
socialising, enjoying the typical efficiency
of Tuetonic transport systems
or sipping a smoothie or even a beer 
in a Dortmund park.
More likely, you could have gone on holiday,
said '(Foot)balls to isolation', 
but no. You're here, under-used,
cast aside, destined to warm up perpetually.
What a waste.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these poems. If you haven’t, don’t worry, Euro 2020 will be over soon and life can move on. Don’t give up on me! I could well write something that’s right up your street very soon!

Euro 2020: Fan’s Diary Part Three

I write this as we’re a day away from England versus Germany. Superstition tells me to make no predictions, while England’s form suggests that we may never win a tournament in my lifetime so whether it’s Germany or Guernsey we’re playing doesn’t really matter. History reminds me that we’re never comfortable against the Germans.

Asides from the inevitable discomfort produced by the Germans, it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable tournament so far. It’s been brilliant to see fans in stadiums once again, despite the limitations on crowd size. And as ever with tournament football there’s been no shortage of drama, tension and upsets.

So here’s what made the cut into diary entry number three.

  1. Fans make all the difference. The sights, the sounds and notably the colour have been an absolute delight. Whether my senses have been heightened by the fact that I’ve got used to watching football played out in empty and therefore soulless stadiums, I’m not sure, but fans have brought an HD element to our viewing.

There aren’t many better sights in football than the delirium of fans celebrating a goal. ‘Limbs’ I believe is what the football hipsters refer to it as. I watched the Czech Republic beat the Netherlands last night and the sheer ecstasy behind the goal for both Czech goals was fantastic to watch. Keep your perfect volleys, your overhead kicks and your rabonas, what I want to be watching is shirtless, out-of-shape blokes hugging each other screaming and tumbling over in celebration. That loss of self control doesn’t seem to happen in other sports. And neither does the need to shed ones’ shirt in order to watch the match.

Another almost minor and obvious detail about the fans that has been brilliant is just the colour. Be it a wall of red for Spain, Switzerland or Denmark, a chunk of orange for the Netherlands, masses of yellow Sweden shirts or a block of white for England v Germany, it doesn’t matter. It’s always a startling sight and it’s often very much a tournament thing.

2. Why do TV editors cut away when fans spot themselves on camera? OK, I think I already know the answer to this one. But let’s treat this as very much a rhetorical question. They cut away to avoid people mouthing obscenities or perhaps making offensive hand gestures. But aside from the fact that there’s no harm in any of that really – and they could cut away as they do it – why bother? Every time someone spots themselves on camera via the big screen in the stadium they’re absolutely thrilled. So don’t cut away! Let them have their few seconds of fun! I personally love it when people see themselves. The waving, the laughter, the jumping up and down or grabbing the badge – surely this is showing fans at their best? Why not enjoy that? Why not savour it? After all, we heard enough foul language from players when crowds weren’t in, but I’m not sure it damaged anyone. I absolutely loved hearing Matt Ritchie ask the linesman, “How have you given that, you wee prick?” when he gave our opposition a thrown in. It made me and many others laugh out loud.

So why can’t we see a father or mother with their kids enjoying the sight of themselves on camera? There’s no harm here. One minute I’m watching people enjoying basking in the limelight, smiles everywhere and then the camera cuts away only to repeat the whole process another four or five times. It’s just weird.

3. Sometimes watching the national anthems is as good as watching the match. And sometimes, it’s actually better.

As a football fan, I want the players representing my team or my nation to be passionate about it and we see that regularly with the anthems. One of my favourite bits of the whole tournament so far has been watching the Italians singing their anthem. Firstly, it’s just a cracking tune. Secondly, they love singing it and they mean every word (I looked it up and some of the words are ‘Brothers of Italy…Italy has awoken’ so that sounds passionate!)

Alongside the Italian anthem I’d put those of France (chooon) and Wales (just seems to be shouting, hey what shouting it is!) as some of my favourites.

I must admit that our own anthem – ‘God Save The Queen’ – struggles to keep up in terms of its immediate appeal. But I still love singing it or more likely just standing up for it. I think our players are awful at it, but I still love it. It makes the hairs on my arms stand on end. I know a lot of people struggle with it because of their opposition to the royal family, but I don’t have a problem with them. If someone gave me several castles to live in, I wouldn’t think twice about it! I just think that, in terms of sport and identity, our anthem isn’t a great fit. But certainly, it provides yet another wonderful experience alongside everything else in tournament football.

4. There are some dreadful hairdos at the tournament. OK, so footballer’s hair has long been known for erring on the side of bad taste. If you know your football, think Chris Waddle’s mullet or Carlos Valderama’s afro as featured below.

However, I’ve noticed one or two that rival even classics such as these. Step forward, Croatian defender Vida, our own Jack Grealish and Phil Foden, Slovakia’s Marek Hamsik and of course, the German manager Joachim Low.

I’m no hairstyle guru – in fact way back when I copied the Chris Waddle mullet when he added the twist of perming only the back of it – but for grown men to be wandering around football stadiums looking like this, well, at the very least it needs to be gently mocked.

5. England beat Germany and I had to fight back the tears. It’s been 55 years since England beat Germany at a tournament. Longer than I’ve been alive. There have been some heartbreaking moments in that time, as well as some embarrassments. We’ve beaten them in friendlies and qualifying games, but not in a game that actually mattered for a long, long time. So it was bound to be emotional.

It wasn’t during the match. When we scored my son jumped into my arms both times, but we just kind of jumped around screaming. There were no tears; not even hints of tears. Bizarrely though, after the match had finished and as the BBC pundits were reacting I found myself immersed in the moment and realising that I might cry.

I didn’t. I fought them back, but boy was it close! Proof once again that football, derided by many as boring, is actually powerful, thrilling, emotional and vital to some people.

So with another week to go I’m hoping for more excitement from the tournament. I feel sure we’ll get lots.

Oh and…COME ON, ENGLAND!

As always, I hope you enjoyed the blog. Feel free to leave a comment.

Euro 2020: Fan Diary Entry 2

I cannot express my love for tournament football strongly enough. The sheer joy of watching several games in a day or even the challenge of trying to keep up with the events of a 2pm kick off while you’re still at work; I’m not sure it can be beaten. Whether it can or it can’t – seriously, it can’t – here’s my latest Euro 2020 Diary and some observations I’ve made over the last week or so.

  1. England v Scotland was as frustrating as ever. So much ground to cover here. Let’s start with the fact that it was an awful game and that much of the blame here lies with England. We were truly awful, although if you’re looking for plus points, we gave a masterclass in sideways passing. So if UEFA can tweak the laws of the game to include two new goals at either side of the pitch, we’re in business and that long wait for success might just be over.

Other observations? Harry Kane might be pregnant; certainly his movement is that of someone not far off giving birth. England fans seem incapable of providing an atmosphere unless it’s via social media and Gareth Southgate’s coat was horrendous. In fact his whole sense of style suggests he’s discovered a time portal that allows him to visit C&A back in about 1985. (C&A was a fashion retailer way back when, notorious for terrible clothes). I never imagined I’d long for the return of the World Cup waistcoat.

2. The Fourth Official in the England v Scotland game had a look of Alan Shearer about him. Except no one in our house agreed. And we still couldn’t win. Look at him though…definitely a hint of Shearer.

3. I love the concept of different host cities across Europe. I’ll be honest, when I first heard of this I thought it was a terrible idea dreamed up by an idiot. The kind of thing that gets dreamed up in education while I sit there thinking, that’s awful, who’s going to go for that before hearing that everyone else loves it. However – unlike in education – it works. Who knew Baku was such a great place and had such an ace stadium? Seeing the Allianz Arena in Munich on TV gave me a real kick as I’d been there myself. And did you know that there’s a railway in Budapest that – apart from the train driver – is run by children? I mean, apart from the fact that the stadium there has been full for games and it’s looked and sounded incredible, it’s got a railway run by kids!

Then you’ve got Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Bucharest, Glasgow, London, Rome, St. Petersburg and Seville – an incredibly diverse selection of European cities. And let’s face it, this could be done every four years for the tournament with a fresh selection of cities each time, without it ever becoming dull. Covid allowing, this is definitely one to add to my ‘To-Do’ list; even if it meant experiencing the inevitable disappointment of following England, I think it’d be quite something to do in a few different cities. In fact, it’d possibly be even better just going to games that didn’t involve England, just to enjoy the cities!

4. I’ve started writing Euro Poetry! As anyone who puts themselves through the chore of reading my blog regularly will know, I write a bit of poetry as well, usually publishing it as a blog. Well, I’ve just started writing some poems inspired by the Euros. It started because the whole Denmark story just felt very inspirational, so I wrote a poem about what they’d gone through – players, staff and nation – and the somewhat glorious outcome. After that things just spiraled and I wrote more and more. So I’ll be putting them on the site soon and hopefully I’ll be able to write some more as well.

5. I wonder if other nations cheer so much for the underdog. In the UK, it’s well documented that we love an underdog story. In football, every year produces several underdog stories as David meets Goliath (if you’re reading outside of the UK, neither David or Goliath are actual teams) in the FA Cup and we adore it. At the Wimbledon tennis championship, where British success has depended on Andy Murray for far too long, we’re used to cheering for our underdogs.

At any major football tournament smaller nations have a habit of capturing our imagination. But it has made me wonder if other nations do the same. Are the Germans willing Finland on? Do the Spanish cheer for plucky Wales? Are there Argentinians watching Rwanda in the World Cup, desperate for them to do well? And are the Italians hungry for Hungary?

The obvious underdog story during this tournament has been Denmark and it’s reduced me to tears as well as having me jumping around my front room, fists pumping and cheering like a lunatic. It’s not my nation and I have no known connection. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. Similarly, I’ve been desperate for North Macedonia to do well. Again, no connection, just a need to see the underdog give the big boys a tough time.

Tournament football always produces underdogs. Indeed this very tournament has been won by underdogs over the years with Denmark and Greece springing to mind. They are part of the fabric of the sport and I don’t think I’ll ever stop taking an interest.

As ever, I hope you’ve enjoyed the article. As the group stages end we move on to the knockout stages of the Euros. I can’t wait and I’ll look forward to finding more to write about.

Euro 2020: Fan Diary Entry 1

It’s safe to say that us football fans have waited too long for the return of tournament football. A year too long in fact, as of course this tournament should have been over and done with last summer.

We’re a few days in now and I thought I’d quite like to write a diary about the whole thing. I’ll be watching as much as I can on television, but also keeping up with things via social media too. Being abundantly English, I’ll be following England, but I’ll have an eye on various other teams and players too. I can’t pretend I’ll see every last minute of the tournament as I have a family and a life, but I’ll do the best I can.

So far, we’ve had an exciting start to the whole thing. The Euros kicked off on Friday night and even the build up to the game prompted an observation.

  1. Don’t the Italians look good in a suit? I mean, it’s kind of the home of style isn’t it? And Italian kits are always good. Without fail. But, as a man who wears a suit every day for work, I was taken with the tailoring on show, especially on the touchline. I hope I look as good in my suits as Roberto Mancini and his pal look when I get to their age.

And then, like a bolt from the blue, there was one of those moments of unexpected drama that will stay with us forever.

2. The incident on the pitch with Christian Erikson should teach everyone something. I didn’t see the game. As the drama unfolded I was working around the house and in the garden. Only when I checked my phone did I get a hint of something going on. The details were emotional to say the least. Not to make this all about me, but what happened brought back memories of my own heart failing a few years ago and it was a struggle to hold back tears. I came away from it all and checked back in later that evening.

The actions of everyone involved were admirable. The respect shown, the teamwork, professionalism, the dignity, the spirit, the diligence and the emotion; all incredible evidence of what we’re capable of as humans without even a moments thought. It was a timely reminder of the fleeting nature and fragility of human life. And in the days since, it’s been brilliant to see pictures of Erikson sat up and smiling in his hospital bed.

Sunday meant it was time for England and…

3. England won their opening game for the first time ever in a Euros! That’s it really. We we far from scintillating. We were solid. We got off to a decent start. Let’s see if we can build from this point. But remember; this is England, a team and a nation primed and ready to break your heart just when you decide to get carried away.

It wouldn’t be a tournament unless you go the whole hog, so…

4. I’m getting one of those sticker books. You know the one I mean…sounds like a posh sandwich. I’m not putting stickers in though. Far too costly and the kind of thing that will obsess me all too easily. So I’ll do it my way. I’ll keep you updated.

The sights and the sounds are as good as ever. Better in fact…

5. It’s incredible to see fans back in stadiums. I thought I’d be a bit ‘whatever’ about this, but actually it’s brilliant. The sight of the full stadium for the Hungary game stopped me in my tracks. On the same evening I saw a Facebook post from someone saying that watching 22 millionaires chasing a ball around was a waste of 2 hours of life. I rolled my eyes and swore under my breath. In Hungary a stadium full of fans reminded me of the sheer joy that football can bring. Trivializing it is like saying admiring fine art is a waste of time because it’s just a bit of paint and water or that the opera is a waste of 3 hours of your life listening to someone singing funny.

There are weeks left of this tournament, so I’ll keep it all diarised. It won’t be particularly serious, I’m sure. But let’s see what I can spot and let you know my thoughts on. In the meantime, feel free to let me know what you thought of the blog.

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