1. Home and Away – In a noble and honorable gesture, presumably designed to make Egypt feel less intimidated by the large Scientology airport terminal that is Wembley Stadium – and not at all for cynical marketing purposes you understand– England decided to play last nights home friendly in their Away kit (now available at all good retailers from £34.99). An unfortunate set of unavoidable circumstances – namely that this kit is the same colour as Egypt’s – meant our opponents also had to play in their second strip, which, confusingly, is also the same colour as England’s home kit. This led to almost perpetual confusion in the inattentive and easily distracted mind of yours truly, as I struggled to understand why an England team who seem to so often struggle with the simple words of their own national anthem, inexplicably knew all the words to the Egyptian one, and why on earth our number 9 Jermain Defoe was suddenly so white. I was initially impressed with our pre-match bonding team huddle – especially during the recent Terry-Gate scandal – until I realized that was actually Egypt, and we where just milling around vaguely in the other half looking cold and disinterested as per usual. After a few minutes I managed to acclimatize myself to this bizarre situation, but quickly wished I hadn’t, as I’d of been much happier under the illusion the team in white was the one I was supposed to be supporting.
2. To boo or not to boo – that was the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to partake in the slings and arrows of tabloid driven moral indignation, or to not bother, and simply shout at the ref instead. The latest chapter in the rise and fall of Jonathan Terrance saw a divided Wembley crowd pass through several stages of principle taking. There was initially a chorus of boos when his name was read out, counteracted by a smaller chorus of cheers intended to drown them out. This state of duality continued for a while until the people booing couldn’t be bothered anymore. This left the people cheering simply cheering, which they then suddenly realized sounded a bit embarrassing – like responding to a friend’s rude joke at a crowded party just as the music cuts out and the place falls silent – so no one did anything for a while. The half hearted booing/cheering ridiculousness resumed a bit later however and continued sporadically, but only amongst a handful of supporters, as everyone else just rolled their eyes and whished the whole stupid thing would just go away. I now eagerly await the slew of opinion pieces by journalists decrying the rather weak booing as a disgrace, despite repeatedly telling the world at large why exactly we should all hate this person in the first place in intricate and gory detail for the last 3 months. It’s a football match, not a war, and booing is just one of the many minor inconveniences footballers have to put up with in a life of spectacular highs and reward. It’s not that important, it’s all just a big show anyway and it rarely bothers the affected persons that much at all. So take care of yourselves, and each other, I’ve been Jerry Springer, until next time…oh no wait, sorry.
3. I think you’re crazy – Into the actual game and The Egyptian goalkeeper – Essam El-Hadary – was completely mad. This may not have come across on telly, but I can assure you he was. In addition to being a little camp and looking like an aerobics instructor form an 80s work out video, he obviously considered himself a bit of a showman. At one point – when Defoe was flagged offside and the ball was his responsibility to return to the place of infraction – he flung himself at it and attempted to pass it back with a diving header. He spent a good minute following Egypt’s opening goal kneeling down and kissing the turf in front of the traveling fans whilst waving his arms around like a frenzied jumping jack in a bad acid trip. I’m sure he would have attempted a Rene Higuita-like Scorpion kick if he’d been capable of such a thing, but instead he had to settle for the ‘Crippled Butterfly Flap’, a move which he performed spectacularly during England’s second goal.
4. I wanna make a super sonic man out of you – Theo Walcott is an interesting creature. He seems to have gotten quite far as a footballer without actually being able to play football particularly well. His entire performance last night consisted of trying to hit the ball 15 yards in front of his marker and then run past him. This unfortunately doesn’t work if there’s another defender 10 yards in the same direction, or in fact if the pitch ends in 13 yards anyway. The fact that injuries have hindered his development shouldn’t be completely ignored, but all the signs last night unfortunately pointed to the fact that taking Theo Walcott to the World Cup could be the biggest faux pas by an England manager since taking Theo Walcott to the World Cup.
5. Where for art thou…? – After a woefully rubbish first half performance, with Frank Lampard seeming as confused as I was that we weren’t playing in white, and Wes Brown clearly desperate to remain at home this Summer to catch Glastonbury on the telly, England started the second half in much the same rubbishy way. They did this however, without the support of most of the fans, a lot of whom had been unable – or simply unwilling – to return to their seats in time for the start. This is a constant problem at Wembley, and always feels incredibly weird. A bit like you’re watching a warm up game or some half time entertainment celebrity kick about that no one really cares about. A good 10 minutes into the half and the people in front of me finally returned, with the man directly in front of me performing that bizarre routine people late to their seats often do of entering the row facing away from the action –and incredibly slowly – standing there for a moment smiling at you, and then turning around again to actually sit down. This is incredibly pointless, please don’t do it if you’re ever sat in front of me. Or, preferably, get back in time for the second half.
6. Got to get a-wave – Another thing that annoyed me – further speeding my transition from carefree youngster to grouchy old bastard – was the Mexican wave. This is now becoming a fixture of England matches and I don’t like it. A Mexican wave at 4-0 with 10 minutes to go is all well and good and great fun for all concerned, but a Mexican wave at 1-1 with only 15 minutes gone of the second half is amazingly pointless and hugely distracting. Furthermore, any section of the crowd who don’t partake – which is nearly always either the club Wembley section (if they’ve bothered to get back to their seats) or the traveling fans (who are always much better than us anyway) – are then mandatorally booed, which is fastly becoming the most popular chant at the new Wembley. What slightly bugs me about this is that they’re most likely far more interested in doing the one thing they’ve actually turned up to do – watch a football match – rather than spend 5 minutes watching lots of people stand up and sit down again so they can be aware of when it’s their turn to stand up and sit down again. All whilst the match is still delicately poised. It all strikes me as a kind of childish bullying for not doing something stupid in the first place. We might as well just make chicken noises at them or get our mates to stand behind them while we push them over. Perhaps since I’d already watched the man in front of me perform an infuriating routine of standing up and sitting down, I wasn’t in the mood to tolerate it en masse.
7. The Little and Large Show – Eventually, the introduction of Shaun Wright Phillps and Peter Crouch changed the game in England’s favor – which usually necessitates the brilliant spectacle of them having to stand next to each other in the post match interview – as did the short cameos from James Milner and Michael Carrick. Crouch continued his quite remarkable scoring run at international level, a run that surely must guarantee his inclusion in the final squad regardless of how unlike a footballer, or indeed human being, he may appear. After England had taken the lead trough some comical goal keeping, the match became quite comfortable, but still managed to be just as dull as it was before, just in a different, more satisfactory way.
8. O captain, My captain – As the game wound down, Capello realized that not enough people were booing John Terry anymore, and so decided to torture him in his own special way. This seemed to involve brining off all his captains, instigating a nervy game of pass the parcel in which the departing players had to work out who to give the armband to in the knowledge they weren’t allowed to give it to Terry under any circumstance. Gerrard gave it to Rooney, which was a fairly simple choice, who then gave it Gareth Barry upon his departure. If Barry had eventually been taken off too – which considering the substitutes had been warming up for the entire game seemed fairly likely at one point – he would have had by far the hardest task, as the team that finished the game contained only one possible captain, and he wasn’t allowed to have it. Capello would surely have had to bring on David Beckham for his 300th cap solely to take the armband, but he managed to resist this perverse instinct, and England finished the game with the mighty Barry as captain, whilst Terry performed all the captainy duties of leading the team on a clap around anyway.
9. Shakin’ Steven – As Captains went, Steven Gerrard wasn’t particularly good, though it did seem to galvanize him to try harder, something he often seems less inclined to do on international duty. Despite playing in red (which on reflection could just have been an elaborate ploy to fool him into thinking he was playing for Liverpool) he got into the right positions but didn’t have his Liverpool cap on and failed to be particularly inspiring. He wasn’t alone though, as the best midfielders all game were either substitutes, or Egyptian.
10. Just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in – Just when you think England have finally turned the corner, they suddenly go all rubbish again. All in all it was a very disjointed performance, but to be completely honest, not one I should really grumble too much about given the very nature of having meaningless friendlies during the crucial domestic run in. The fact that Capello went with ostensibly his strongest available side meant most of the players didn’t really have much to prove. Rooney was quiet but has no chance of loosing his place, which also goes for Gerrard and Lampard unfortunately – who still seem terrified by the prospect of being near each other – with Barry, Defoe and Upson all pretty likely to be included in the final squad –if not the final line up – come what may regardless. So it’s not too surprising that the best performances came from messes Milner, Carrick, Little Ian and Crouch, all of whom gave a good account of themselves and should’ve done enough to give Capello reason to play them again in the remaining meaningless and intrusive friendlies. The only sour notes were the performances of Brown and Walcott, who looked incredibly bad, and prospectively unreliable for a World Cup quarter final, which is – lets face it – the biggest game we’re going to get in South Africa. Certainly on this evidence.