Posts Tagged ‘ England ’

Poor Sales for Olympic Football…Go Figure.

It would appear that Olympic bods are a little concerned about the state of ticket sales for their under 23 knock about football tournament. The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, better known for hosting 70,000+ fans cheering on fifteen gents in red, currently looks set to welcome around a mere 15,000 people to watch the so called ‘TeamGB’ join other youth teams from around the world in a contest for the 7th most significant tournament in world football. Why then is this leg of the Olympics, part of what is usually sold as the greatest show on earth, failing to whip up the sort of fervour that competitive sporting fixtures usually invite when hosted in Cardiff city centre?

From a Welsh perspective, attention would well be drawn to the most recent press conference regarding the forthcoming tournament. Plenty has been written over the lack of a Welsh FA endorsement for the TeamGB concept, and there is little point wading through all of that once more. But if anyone wanted an insight as to why Welsh fans are not flocking to snap up their taste of the Olympics, look no further at the figures who made up the press conference panel. At one end, we have the manager of the England Women’s team, Hope Powell, next to her, occasional England Men’s team manager and former England international Stuart Pearce, and then over to the other side could be found Clive Woodward, former England rugby international and manager of the winning English Rugby World Cup squad. So, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, these are the figures spearheading your campaign, do you feel the pride in your English, English, English, oh so very English management team, well, do you? Not even an attempt of tokenism towards the non English elements of this TeamGB farce, a sentiment not helped by manager Pearce asserting that he would have no qualms selecting an all English first XI (though he stressed the same for an all Welsh XI, though that would require having enough of said nationality to put out that many players…we will wait and see on that one).

TeamGB was a pandering to England’s love of their beautiful game, and in it the authorities in London saw a chance to soften up those noisy ‘regions’ of Britain who felt they were being shafted financially in order to give London yet another advertising boost in front of the world for a few weeks. Well London, we are not buying the trade off, and we are not buying the tickets.

Couple that with the fact that the whole concept of football being played out in the Olympics is a farce in itself – remember everyone, if it’s in the Olympics, then the Olympics has to be the pinnacle of that sport’s ambition. Well, I don’t see the football World Cup being downgraded, so Cardiff and Hamden get the pleasure of hosting a second rate tournament which should not even be in the Olympics, which barely represents them, as part of a pat on the head for not making too much noise about being sold out so that the English capital can enjoy another day in the sun. Thanks London Olympic Committee, but no thanks.

TeamGB football has been a misguided concept from day 1, while dropping some events outside of London (hello London Olympic Committee, you do realise that you are shipping off parts of the Olympics to a different country yes? Was that in the French plan, to give Belgium some long distance track events?) is a nonsense. Wales will not be sold on the idea, and Wales will not be sold out for some colourful rings. Sadly, we don’t seem to have much choice about it, apart from not turning up to see any of the meaningless matches, and that, for us, will be exactly what we will do.

Oh, and when you do drop into Cardiff London Olympic Games, clean up after yourselves, London is a filthy little place – don’t treat Cardiff as if it was one of suburbs…which of course, is exactly what you are doing.

Wales as Favourites? Not for the lad of 1998.

Probably too bleak a title to lead into tomorrow’s match in Twickenham. Wales are very much the favourites, even if the majority of us Welsh fans don’t cope well with such suggestions. On form, on talent and on experience Wales stand, on paper at least, a year or two ahead of the current English team, and were the game to be played in Cardiff, any sense of doubt might be laughed out of the room. And yet…and yet, there are those of us who are scarred, tortured even by the memories of our past, of games lost, of dreams crushed, of humiliations endured time and again. You see good reader, I was there in 1998.

Now many Welsh fans will probably either be of an age where that date is too long gone to earn a place in the memory banks, or too painful for those who saw it to be discussed in the light of day. But for a young lad, travelling to his first away game in Twickenham, following his beloved Wales into the belly of the beast, 1998 left an indelible mark on that fragile memory. On that day, Wales were certainly no favourites, indeed Wales in those days was the team that pretty much everyone in the then 5Nations expected to beat – but no one, not even those oh so jolly English men, could have imagined what would happen. We need not dwell on the details, but the result, Wales 26…England 60.

Suffice to say, it was a long afternoon for the corner of Welsh fans, shoved into the upper levels of the home of English rugby, to endure. Try after cursed try was planted with increased ease over the Welsh try line, the jeers of the home fans, frustrated by the standard of opposition offered by Wales on the day, rang down on player and red clad fan alike. We all carried our share of shame that day – how could that which stood to represent our beloved nation prove so ineffective and impotent in the face of the enemy that should have brought out the best in them.

Some memories die hard, so you will forgive me, I hope, if the concept of Wales travelling to Twickenham as match favourites is something that proves a little challenging to accept – 1998 has never truly been forgotten or forgiven.

Yet, destiny brings us once again to Twickenham, a return to the venue of that darkest of days. Fate sees fit to point towards Wales and say ‘you chosen XV, you are the favourites for this occasion – you must now deliver’ – and those nervous many in Wales line up to shudder and crouch, whispering to each other while rocking back and forth ‘no, no, not favourites, can’t be favourite, lose if favourites…’ we are a troubled bunch when it comes to our rugby. Even when the rugby world recognises us as the most likely team to take a result, we are still the ones to hold back and say ‘no’. Well, please don’t blame us, 1998 and many such occasions have left their mark.

So, Wales travel east, and with them they go the troubled memories of a 14 year old lad – in the hope not just of a win, but also with a prayer, that those memories might once and for all be banished. Do it for Wales, but do it for the mental well being of that 14 year old, locked in the mind of a man much older now, but still haunted by the terrifying sight he saw on the Twickenham field all those years ago.

Come on Cymru, please Cymru, pretty please, let that lad get some restful sleep, when in the future thoughts once again turn to that Twickenham game…

And then the Six Nations Came…

One thing after another these days, World Cups, one off internationals, club games, European games, LV Cup games, and to cap it all, the Six Nations starts just as winter decides, having been distracted by rugby for so long, to finally make an appearance, just in time to make all those away day train trips a little bit more unbearable. Suffice to say, it’s been a long season (officially this is still part of the 2010-11 season for anyone keeping track – with an IRB directive issued earlier in the year indicating that the 2011-12 season will happen between April and May before going straight into the pre 2013-14 season build up), and one which is taking its toll. No shortage of teams are already patching up their squads, with at least two of the nations involved bringing some giant squads to the party in preparation for the inevitable whittling down of those capable of walking.

So, excited much for the imminent tournament? If you are the BBC then you know already that England won the tournament several weeks ago, and a number of journeymen Europeans are going to be scrapping it out for the crumbs under their table. Then, you never know. The nice thing about a post world cup Six Nations is that predictions tend to go out of the window. Those who underperformed are ringing the changes, those who over performed are often paying the price for their success in a body count. Certainly for two of the three games this weekend, you would be hard pressed to call either fixture.

France at home seems to be a certainty to defeat Italy. The Italians rarely cope well in the early days of a new coaching regime, and to produce a result in Paris on day one of the new era seems far too much to ask. Scotland hosting England though is another kettle of fish. Not a great deal of change from a Scots perspective, other than a need to banish a sense of underachievement from the summer, when for want of conviction they really should have topped their group, yet fell by the wayside at stage 1. England come to the tournament having, for many in the international community, taken to putting every English qualified player’s name into a hat, and drawn them at random to produce their current squad. Of course there was a little more logic to it than that, but certainly new names are the theme of the squad. It’s almost impossible to say what England will do, their new coach was still part of the wider coaching structure that oversaw the World Cup shortcomings, yet the desperation in England to banish the ghost of New Zealand will surely force them to play a more expansive game. Yet, with so many new faces, and a frozen Edinburgh awaiting them, is it too much to expect them to revert to type once more?

For Wales and Ireland, it’s familiar territory. More will follow on this game during the week, but for now, it’s worth noting that there are more familiar faces in this fixture than in many of the other line-ups to be had in the tournament. Old battles, one on ones replayed, heck, there is still a change that O’Gara at the grand old age of 74 will get a starting birth, there is little ‘new’ to be found in this fixture. On paper the Irish should have it, with the regions in dominant form in Europe and a home advantage, there can be no obvious excuse for why the Irish should fall short in their first fixture. Yet historically Ireland have failed to hit the ground running in the Six Nations, and more than once in recent years they have opened the tournament at home, with fixtures that should have been won, only for the game to trickle away. And yet, even with all the talent in Ireland, so often the solution has been to put the ball in the hands of O’Driscoll and leave it to him to save the day, one thing that certainly won’t be happening this year. Wales though, while the form team from the World Cup, have the air of a team that is running on empty, with walking wounded being the tale of yet another Six Nations opening weekend. But then there is Poland, and how Poland transformed an underachieving team into near World beaters – will the ice baths do it for Wales again?

The way the fixtures fall, Wales and England look to have the most favourable draw for any slam ambitions, but for a winner, well, let’s see what happens this weekend, as six teams, unrecognisable in some cases, unpredictable in others, show us what has been happening in those training camps this weekend.

Poppies Saved for the/a Nation.

Well, the powers that be have brought FIFA to its knees, and a momentous concession has been made in allowing (if you follow the BBC news coverage) the English football team to wear their poppies in an upcoming game of minor significance of football (if anyone is interested, Wales were also debating wearing poppies, but no one at the BBC seemed to notice or care about that). Plenty of hoopla and wrist wringing went on over this, with members of the Royal family showing their dismay at FIFA’s initial reluctance to allow the poppies to be worn, and then came in the PM, swinging into the poppy fight with a strongly worded letter that really showed FIFA who is boss (good that he could take the time from helping to prevent the world from imploding on itself to write letters on such pressing global economy saving scale issues).

The conclusion of all this – English football players can wear poppies on their arms, and a great triumph has been secured for the British institutions of the poppy, and general decency and what not, and so on… Now, this piece is not intended to belittle the poppy for one moment, or for what it represents, come the 11th, this author will certainly be wearing one. However, one wonders if a moment’s thought on what the poppy signifies will pass through the minds of the English football players as they line up to play hacky sack with the Spanish, one wonders further still how many of those in the crowd will take the time to ponder, to care about what this whole ‘fight for the right’ to wear the poppy is all about. How many of either footballer or fan will be up in silence at 11am on the 11th? How many will take the time to walk down to their local cenotaph and show their respects? I’m happy to be proven wrong, but I’m going to wager a little sum that there will be very few, if any, who make the effort.

It would be nice to think that this campaign to preserve the ‘nations’ right to wear the poppy will do something to raise awareness of those affected by war (one wonders for instance if any England players will demand a white poppy to be stapled on to their little arm bands?), that the battle over the past few days will encourage all involved to take the time to dwell on the significance of that which they choose to, as no doubt we will all be told, ‘proudly’ wear the poppy. Yet, the reality that we probably can’t escape is that this will have no more impact on the nation other than giving a selection of sporting commentators the opportunity to point out the fact that some footballers are wearing poppies, maybe mention what great ambassadors they are for doing so (before pulling the camera away as one of said role models begins a four letter tirade against a man in black for the most insignificant of reasons).

It’s sad to think that this will be the extent of the impact of this story, but there is a very good chance that that will indeed be its extent, and no more.