It’s A Funny Old Blog

This Sunday’s the World Cup Final

And England will not be there

We won’t be lifting the trophy in Moscow

Dancing on the streets of Red Square

 

Whatever you may think of football

This has been a special world cup

For a while we truly believed

(then on Wednesday night fucked it right up)

 

The first World Cup I remember

Was Italia ’90 – I was ten

It was the first time I really loved football

The hopes of a nation, and then

 

We played our old foes in the semis

And extra-time ended all square

West Germany beat us on penners

I can still recall my despair.

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Our fortunes since then have been woeful

Disappointment and failure ever since

Even the most hopeful of fans

Would take some work to convince.

 

We failed to qualify US Ninety-Four

So I supported the Irish instead

Diana Ross’ comical penalty

The heat going to Jack Charlton’s head

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Made the second-stage France Ninety-Eight

Michael Owen’s incredible strike

Couldn’t beat old Argentina

And Glenn Hoddle was soon on his bike

 

Then Japan in Two-Thousand-and-Two

England made it to the final eight

But the overall winners Brazil

Unsurprisingly sealed our fate

 

In Germany Two-Thousand-and-Six

A quarter-final defeat once again

Losing on penalties now habit

And the final straw for old Sven

 

This time our rivals were Portugal

Wayne Rooney was having a stinker

When his teammate got him red-carded

The smug greasy Portuguese winker

 

To South Africa Two-Thousand-and-Ten

Where a last-sixteen knock-out awaited

Once again the Germans destroyed us

Leaving England fans sad and deflated

 

Then four years ago down in Brazil

England’s worst world cup exit to date

Finishing bottom of Group D in disgrace

Paved the way for Gareth Southgate

 

Qualifying for Russia all sorted

In the group stage our Three Lions shone

Then on to knock out Colombia

With fears of penalties now gone

 

Winning with ease against Sweden

Set us up nicely for Wednesday night

A team playing as one for their nation

With World Cup glory in sight

 

But, alas, it was not to be

With the trophy almost in touch

We couldn’t beat lowly Croatia

The final was one step too much

 

I’d have loved to be sat there on Sunday

Watching something that I’ve never seen

England in a World Cup Final

Standing for ‘God Save The Queen’

 

Cheering our team onto victory

Losing our shit when we score

It might have been fifty-two years

But we’d be champions once more

 

I guess I’ll have to keep waiting

In four years I’ll dream once again

Perhaps then England’s young squad

Will fair better as more mature men

 

It’s still been a fantastic journey

Not just for passion and noise

But I’m proud of my country once more

And I can share that with both of my boys

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For a moment we thought it may happen

But the dream can’t be ours any more

Turns out it’s not coming home

It’s being delivered next door.

 

Thanks for reading x

 

 

 

 

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Blog In The U.S.S.R.

(or ‘The Eastern Blog’)

Yesterday afternoon, the World Cup 2018 kicked off in Mother Russia – hence this week’s title.

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Even if you don’t necessarily like football, this still shouldn’t be a surprise, unless of course any of the following apply:

  1. You are a hermit/recluse/prisoner of war, without access to the outside world or any form of media (and, if that is the case, how are you reading this?);
  2. You have the memory of a goldfish and cannot retain information for more than a few seconds;
  3. Your knowledge of current affairs is equivalent to, or worse than, a Love Island contestant;
  4. You live in a country where an evil dictator controls the news, e.g. North Korea, the USA etc. (topical, bearing in mind this week’s historic meeting between a deranged megalomaniac with shit hair and nuclear weapons… and Kim Jong-un);
  5. You have the memory of a goldfish and cannot retain information for more than a few seconds.

Before those of you who detest football stop reading, I should explain that this entry is not solely about the beautiful game. Well, it is, but only to the extent that I will be providing my own unique run-down of the thirty-two countries who qualified.

That way, even if football isn’t necessarily your thing, you might discover a new favourite nation to cheer, as they progress through the tournament. It could even make that office sweepstake slightly more interesting.

So, without further ado, pick your favourite from these:

Russia

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Russia may well have been good enough to qualify for the World Cup anyway, but rather than take the risk, they decided to bribe/blackmail their way into hosting the entire competition in 2010*

*allegedly. I don’t want to find a healthy dollop of VX nerve agent in my soup next time I dine out.

Saudi Arabia

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Russia’s opponents for the opening match yesterday. I’m writing this before the tournament has started, so I’ll assume the match went ahead, and the Saudi Arabian squad didn’t mysteriously disappear, or come down with life-threatening illnesses prior to kick-off. Unlikely to progress from the group stage, which is no bad thing, as it’ll allow them to focus more on giving equal rights to women (decades after everyone else).

Egypt

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If Liverpool striker Mo Salah is fit, Egypt could do well – without troubling the knock-out stages too much. If, however, Mo Salah is still carrying his shoulder injury from the Champions League Final, or has a few off games, Egypt will be like that boring colleague at the Christmas party – going home early.

Uruguay

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Uruguay will most likely top Group A, so long as they don’t get kicked out of the tournament because Luis Suarez has eaten an opposition player, been racist, or simply behaved like the despicable twat he is. Shame, as he’s actually a very good footballer. Uruguay have won the tournament twice, and that will still be the case come August.

Portugal

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I have mixed emotions about Portugal. It is a beautiful country, and they are a strong footballing side (as evidenced by their victory at Euro 2016), however there are very few footballers I detest more than Cristiano Ronaldo, and I cannot bring myself to cheer a team containing that smug prick.

Spain

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Like Portugal, Spain have some terrific footballers, and you will not find a starting eleven anywhere in the world with finer, more precise beards; but as far as preparing for a World Cup goes, sacking your manager the day before the start of the tournament is ill-advised at best. They’ll still do better than England though.

Morocco

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On Wednesday, Morocco lost their bid to host the 2026 World Cup, because FIFA decided to go with a joint offering from Mexico, the US, and Canada instead. Seemingly, despite having eight years to prepare, Morocco’s hotels, transport network, and – rather crucially – football stadiums, are so shit that they still don’t have enough time to prepare. Their disappointment will no doubt be an unwelcome distraction (and they were crap in the first place).

Iran

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Speaking of shit footballing nations, don’t get your hopes up if you picked Iran in the work sweepstake, ok?

France

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France are a solid team, but apart from their victory at the 1998 World Cup (which they hosted), they rarely perform to their potential – something England fans can relate to. If the players sort themselves out, they could be formidable, but they’ll most likely just end up being…. well, French.

Australia

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The Aussies are very much like the United States when it comes to football. Both have massive countries, with a population who, for the most part, couldn’t give a shit about ‘soccer’ – presumably because they devote the vast majority of their time to avoiding all those deadly snakes and spiders. Strewth.

Peru

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Peru is famous for three things: Machu Picchu (which I think is a type of Pokemon), Paddington Bear – who always sounds distinctly un-Peruvian if you ask me – and the fucking panpipes. Notice the absence of any reference to football. There’s a reason for that.

Denmark

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I’ve never been to Denmark, but I’m quite fond of it as a nation. The Danes have some good players among their ranks, but sadly not enough for them to do any major damage on the world stage. Fortunately for Denmark, they have been plonked in a group alongside Australia and Peru, so they have every chance of progressing to the knock-out stages.

Argentina

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Argentina are another team who should do really well in tournaments, but haven’t won anything for some time. Still, as we have seen with Barcelona this season, Lionel Messi (the man my son wishes was his father) can win a game virtually on his own if he so chooses, so you should never write them off.

Iceland

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Prior to Euro 2016, most people would have associated ‘Iceland’ with cheap frozen food and Kerry Katona/Peter Andre; but having reached the quarter-finals in France (by beating England), only to be knocked out by the host nation, shit party food is now thankfully a distant memory.

Croatia

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Despite what Cristiano Ronaldo may think, footballers don’t need to be good-looking – which bodes well for Croatia, because you will not find an uglier collection of specimens outside Burnley town centre (I’ve just flicked through my son’s Panini sticker book, and it’s actually worse than I thought). Not bad footballers though.

Nigeria

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If my junk mail is anything to go by, there are enough Nigerian princes floating around to plough some serious money into their national team, so they should be unstoppable. Unfortunately, it looks like all that money is currently tied up in various off-shore accounts, so Nigeria will have to resign themselves to being average (at best) in the meantime.

Brazil

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The favourites, as usual. The most annoying part is, they don’t even need to play very well to stand a chance of winning the entire tournament. In fact, Brazil could send their Under-12’s blind B-team to the World Cup, and still comfortably reach the semi-finals. The swines.

Switzerland

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To give the Swiss some credit, they make nice chocolates and cuckoo clocks, but that’s about it. They aren’t exactly a force in world football, so I don’t think we need to say too much more about them. Shit flag, too. Looks like they nicked it from a first aid tent.

Costa Rica

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I know nothing about Costa Rica (the team, or the country). I’m pretty certain it’s in Central America, somewhere near that other non-entity from this summer’s tournament, Panama (quick Google check…. good, they share a border), but other than that, I’m stumped. Never mind, they won’t be around long enough for me to take an interest.

Serbia

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Like Russia, the Serbian squad – following another cursory glance at the sticker book – appears to be exclusively made up of big, angry-looking, bastards – and a lot can be said in football for scaring the living shit out of your opponents. This alone may well be enough for Serbia to follow Brazil into the knock-out stages.

Germany

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God, I hate Germany. Not the country, or the people (hey, it’s all in the past), but as a footballing nation they are our nemesis. Which makes the fact we have every chance of facing them in the quarter-finals (assuming England make it that far), all the more daunting.  We won’t beat them in normal time, and we sure as hell won’t beat them on penalties either, so we have to try and avoid them at all costs.

Mexico

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Now that Mexico have been chosen as joint hosts of the 2026 World Cup, in eight years’ time they will become the nation to stage the tournament the most times – thrice. For me, it’s between Mexico and Sweden as to who will follow Germany into the second round (which probably means it’ll be South Korea).

Sweden

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Sweden may be responsible for Roxette and the Volvo XC60, but they also gave the world ABBA and Ikea, so for that reason alone they can fuck off.

South Korea

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Everyone’s favourite Korea, although they are only marginally better than their neighbours when it comes to football (unless you believe North Korean media, in which case you will know that the Kim Jong-un World XI are the best team of all time).

Belgium

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Made up of players you look at and immediately say ‘Shit, I forgot he’s Belgian – he’s quite good’, which makes them a half-decent side, and undoubtedly England’s biggest threat in Group G.

Panama

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Shares a border with Costa Rica (I learned this a few minutes ago). Has a famous canal, and is associated with hats. If you fancy a sneaky bet on Panama, make sure it’s on them losing every match without scoring a single goal.

Tunisia

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England’s opening fixture. A fascinating and beautiful country (we had our honeymoon there), spoiled somewhat by recent terrorist activities and general civil-unrest bollocks. Shame.

England

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The semi-finals of this summer’s tournament start on 10th July, and barring an airline strike, England’s footballers will be safely back in Blighty long before then. If we reach the final four, I’ll post a nude photo of myself on my Facebook page.

Poland

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Straight out of the Russia/Serbia camp of ‘scary blokes you don’t want to mess with’, Poland are a decent side who – looking at the remainder of their group – stand every chance of reaching the last sixteen. There are lots of Polish people in Crewe, so I hope they do well for our local relations, if nothing else.

Senegal

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In any other group, Senegal would be advised to book early flights home, but none of the teams in Group G look particularly threatening (although the Polish look threatening), so if Senegal reach the knock-out stages it wouldn’t surprise me.

Colombia

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Famous for drugs and shootings (then again, so is London). In the world of football, they are only known for two things: Carlos Valderrama’s massive permed hair, and their goalkeeper (who looked like Lionel Richie) performing his ‘scorpion kick’ at Wembley in 1995.

Japan

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Like the rest of Group G, Japan are boring at best – very much like their flag – however they seem like such a peaceful nation (no, I haven’t forgotten Pearl Harbor, but like Germany, it’s all in the past) and you can’t possibly take a country whose national sport is paper-folding seriously. Bless them.

So, there you have it. Choose your favourite, and support them like you were born there.

Thanks for reading x

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Blog. Blog. Need. Blog.

In just under two months’ time, the European Football Championships will commence in France.

Annoyingly, England have once again started to churn out some half-decent performances immediately prior to a major tournament (the recent 3-2 victory against our old foes and neighbours Germany in particular), which invariably means that the English media will now go into a frenzy about our chances of doing really well at the tournament. This, of course, is a waste of time, since every sane football fan knows that England will either fail to qualify from the group, or we will lose on penalties in the quarter-finals, following a dodgy refereeing decision in normal time. We are England, after all, and those are our only two options.

This might sound like me being cynical and pessimistic (that’s because it is), but even though I am certain England will again disappoint the nation, I now have a renewed interest in international football – thanks in no small part to my eldest son, Ollie.

Ollie will turn six in a few weeks, which, for the mathematicians amongst you, means he was four when England played at the World Cup in Brazil two years ago. As expected, England were shit and didn’t qualify from the group stage, but that didn’t deter young Ollie, who continued to enthuse about the whole tournament right up until the final. True, this was partly because he was obsessed with learning about the national flags of each country, and partly because it was an excuse not to go to bed, but there was another reason he was so taken with Brazil 2014 – his Panini sticker book.

In a clever marketing ploy, the sticker books were given away free in shops and supermarkets throughout the land, with their glossy, colourful covers often displayed on stands at checkouts. Panini, despite being named after a flat toasted sandwich, are obviously no fools, and they realised that checkouts are the one place where children become hell-bent on grabbing anything they possibly can, as a last ditch attempt to be treated before leaving a store.

If Panini could give away as many sticker books as possible (and which reasonable parent would refuse their pleading child a free book?), then they could continue to sell packets of stickers – at 50p a go – in their millions. You know when drug dealers give potential junkies their first hit for free, in order to get them addicted? Yeah, it was like that.

The nation, in short, went sticker mental. And it wasn’t just the children, either. Grown men and women were obsessed with completing their books, even though it cost hundreds of pounds to do so. ‘Swap-meets’ were organised up and down the country, so that people could get together to do ‘swapsies’ with each other, in a bid to grasp the last few players they needed to triumphantly fill their books.

It was all rather sad when you think about it. And I bloody loved it.

You see, I never really got into sticker books as a kid, so although I loved collecting things, the world of Panini largely passed me by. I remember (very fondly) collecting little wooden American Football shirt key-rings with my friends at Primary School, then swapping any duplicates in the playground. They cost 10p from the ‘ice cream man’ (as far as I know, the same guy still visits the street where I grew up, even though he must now be well into his seventies), and for that you would also get a delicious bubble-gum. That’s value right there, kids.

I recall that everyone, and I do mean everyone, desperately wanted the Miami Dolphins key-ring, as they were the team of the late 1990s. In a moment of child-like impetuousness (well, I was a child), I ended up trading my pristine – and from memory, quite rare – San Diego Chargers key-ring, for a (rather tatty in comparison) Miami Dolphins one, and quickly realised what a fool I had been. I would have been eight or nine then, and I don’t think I have ever got over the bitter regret of that decision.

Shit, I’m welling up here just thinking about it.

Anyway, I digress. Ollie got his World Cup sticker book, and we began to purchase packets of stickers for him every time he was particularly well-behaved. None of his friends seemed to be collecting them, so he ended up trading swaps with my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law’s husband (which is not, before you ask, an extremely convoluted way of saying ‘my brother’).

Still, despite being able to trade little bits of sticky paper with two grown men who, at that stage at least, had no children of their own (not that they now have children together, you understand), Ollie was still some distance from completing his book. In desperation, I began to relax what I considered to be ‘good behaviour’, in order to justify buying more packs for him. It began gradually, with rewards for little things like ‘not wetting the bed’ (even though he had only done this perhaps once in the previous year), but as my desire and greed became more fervent, I started to get desperate:

“Ollie, you’ve been screaming for an hour now, and really shouldn’t have launched your dinner across the kitchen in temper, but at least you managed to miss mummy. That’s good enough, get your shoes on and we’ll go to the shop.”

I’m not proud of myself, but I needed a fix. You wouldn’t understand, unless they got to you too.

Then, on one glorious sunny afternoon in early June 2014, I took Ollie into town in order to give my wife some time alone with Isaac – who was only a few weeks old, and recently home from his extended stint in hospital.

We bought a few packets of stickers, and went to sit outside one of my favourite Sandbachian pubs to work our way through them. As I nipped inside to get a beer, we met one of the girls who looked after Ollie at nursery, and she spotted the sticker book he was proudly clutching under his arm. It turned out that her boyfriend, who was working behind the bar at the time, was also collecting the stickers, but had ‘a few swaps’ if Ollie fancied sifting through them. I think I responded with a little too much enthusiasm, and certainly before Ollie had any chance to speak.

She went upstairs in the pub, and returned a short while later with a large Tupperware container filled to the brim with stickers. There were hundreds of them. I was so excited, I believe I went a little light-headed, and may very well have wet myself slightly. Anyway, I bought my beer (and a blackcurrant squash for Ollie) and we sat outside in the sunshine to go through the box. Needless to say, there were so many stickers, I had to purchase more beer in order to justify remaining at the pub for what, ultimately, turned out to be a few blissful hours of peeling and sticking.

I remember – like it was yesterday – punching the air with unbridled joy, because we had finally collected Ivory Coast’s goalkeeper, Boubacar Barry.

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Surely the greatest name in world football, ever.

Having informed my wife that Ollie and I would go into town for ‘an hour or so’, she was understandably a little narked when we arrived back several hours later. To make matters worse, I was not only sunburnt, but also well on my way to inebriation and, consequently, grinning like a fucking imbecile. In my drunken state, I could not for the life of me understand why she didn’t share my excitement about Boubacar Barry. “But… but… his name sounds a bit like boobs! Or a car full of boobs! And just look at his FACE!”

She wasn’t at all impressed. It was totally worth it though.

Eventually, thanks to that monumental sticker haul at the pub, and some further swapsies with the brothers-in-law (why didn’t I just call them that in the first place?), Ollie got within a handful of players of completing his book, so we filled out the little form and sent it off to Panini. A few weeks later, the last few arrived and ‘his’ book was full. I’m not saying it is the greatest achievement of my life, but it’s certainly top five.

Of course, as any sticker collector will know, in order to fill one of these books, you invariably end up with hundreds of swaps, which become entirely useless as soon as the tournament is over. For some inexplicable reason, we still have them, and we apparently collected twelve of whoever-the-fuck this ugly Croat is:

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So, when the latest Panini book for the forthcoming Euros was released a few weeks ago, I didn’t take a great deal of persuading from Ollie to once again embark on the costly exercise of trying to fill the damn thing. My reasoning, if you can call it such, was that the European Championships are a smaller affair than the World Cup (for any non-geographers out there, Europe is smaller than the World) so, assuming squad sizes remain more-or-less constant, there should be less stickers to collect, right?

Wrong.

Panini, devious bastards that they are, have somehow managed to make the book bigger, by including not only the usual team photos and squads, but also various additions. We’ve only just started the book, so I don’t know who some of these people are, but I would not be at all surprised to find we are also now collecting stickers of singers, prominent politicians and landmarks from each country too.

Still, we have only bought ten packets of stickers so far, so we are still at the glorious stage of having just the one swapsie (screw you, Zlatan Ibrahimovic) and I guess it’s all downhill from now on. Over the coming months, I will most likely destroy a large chunk of Ollie’s University fund, by purchasing endless packets of stickers to feed my recurring addiction. Oh well, father-son bonding is ultimately more important than education anyway.

Besides, it’ll help to take Ollie’s mind off things, when England inevitably screw up.

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