….Well, I couldn’t keep away – despite Saturday’s lacklustre bore draw with Macedonia*. Besides, there was the enticing possibility of a mass terrace conflagration between the Italian-restaurant-table-cloth-check-shirted Croats and our away fans. Rumours that the Croatian fans had been deploying themselves in swastika-shaped battalions had whetted my appetite for the fray – I searched as the camera panned along the terraces for the massed ranks of our plucky lads, formed with iron discipline into the red white and blue concentric circles of the RAF symbol, but to no avail. The nearest we got to a bundle was a few unsavoury types, quite possibly on the Sky payroll, still being penned outside the ground as the match neared half-time, who had been reduced to playing keepy-uppy with the rather unwieldy steel barriers being used by the ever-thoughtful former Stasi-operatives to spare them from having to endure the dire events occurring inside the stadium on the pitch.
Fortunately, I too was delayed on the way to the Prisoner of War by a particularly bad case of west-London congestion** and so had also managed to avoid the first forty minutes of the match altogether. Hardly had I bid a good evening to Des, Strangely Brown and Stray Radiographer who were all stooped in grim penance beneath the wall-mounted screen nursing their pints of Crane Sundancer, than the second half began and England fell behind to a soft goal – the bizarrely positioned Ashley “the people’s favourite” Cole colliding comically with captain John Terry in order to allow naturalised-Croat, Brazilian-born dwarf Da Silva*** the chance to send a speculative header looping like an overly cautious parent’s underarm delivery to their two year-old plastic bat-wielding offspring and over the head of the hapless Paul Robinson. We’d barely had an opportunity to pick ourselves up off the floor than Wayne “Gazza” Rooney had sprinted beyond the last man to fire a wonder shot right into the top corner of.... the stand. Matches, like disgusting, greasy kebab columns, can turn like that.
No sooner had we removed our heads from our hands, the Croatian advantage was doubled. England conceded one of those comedy goals that we’ll all be bored rigid of seeing endlessly replayed until the next Ronaldinho v. Seaman-style calamity eliminates us from a major tournament at the quarter final stage. A harmless back pass from Gary Neville cruelly sought out the only spiteful divot to be found on an otherwise baize-like pitch to send the ball hopping over Paul Robinson’s oversized comedy boot and into the net, leaving the even-more-hapless-than-he-was-before keeper with nothing to do but stand with his hands on hips whilst a baldheaded accomplice poured jugs of water into his oversized trousers, and wiped the rivulets of tear and make up from his red nose, the crestfallen 'keeper scratching his ginger curly wig as though thoroughly perplexed by the cruelty of fate. Cut to Steve McLaren, bereft on the bench, looking for all the world like a man who has gone to a fancy dress party as Mike Bassett: England Manager and even taken the trouble to perfect his disguise right down to all the despondent sweeping of the hands through the hair gestures and the terrible cheap and nasty suit and everything. All that was missing was the 'tache - but that too can be worked at on the training pitch, no doubt...
Des, an inveterate England away fan disappeared right on the final whistle. He still cares, I think – whereas I just can’t take international football seriously any more. All that was left of the evening was for Stray to continue his defamatory “Turnham Green is not on the bladdy Circle Line” campaign, pointing out to me at at some length the distance that the tracks would need to be moved in order to facilitate a stop on that particular branch of the London Underground network at the esteemed West London Station immortalised in song.
In my defence, how can anyone in their right mind possibly argue that the lines
She was born on the Circle Line in 1973
Her mother joked that she’d go far,
As far as Turnham Green –
(provided she changed at Gloucester Road and proceeded to take the Westbound Richmond service calling at Earl’s Court, Baron’s Court Hammersmith, Ravenscourt Park, Stamford Brook and Turnham Green…)****
The debate rumbles on….
* National beer of Macedonia? Vergina. Enough said.
** That’s traffic – not a bad case of dysentery…
*** So much for the old racial purity then, eh lads?
**** Sorry, it's a *very* in-joke....
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