Wednesday, 19 May 2010

FA-ntasy Football

'Here's our bid Mr Blatter, but I heard
some Russian guys earlier saying
there might be a Buy It Now option?'

Right, so it seems England’s 2018 World Cup bid is on its arse already; inevitable, but still disappointing. For what its worth, David Beckham may as well have brought the coffin to the birth and called Sepp Blatter’s wife a whore whilst handing over the absurdly massive document last week. For in true British style (well, English really, but I won’t give the Scots the satisfaction) we have shot ourselves in both left feet and are braced to drag our bleeding bodies towards the finishing line, desperately trying to mop up behind ourselves as we go. I’m not just talking about Triesman here either, not entirely. Yes, showing off to his ‘friend’ about his presumed insider wisdom was foolish, but I suspect he’d already had a Martini or two by that time. Besides, who hasn’t found themselves drawn to the subject of Russian corruption after a slap up meal and a few cocktails? The truth is that Russians are corrupt; it’s not their fault, they just grew up in Russia.

Whether or not there is any truth in the accusation remains to be seen, but please, and this is the point; why must the British press insist on urinating in its own pint glass? It is something inherent in our mentality that drives these ‘public interest’ exposures. The expenses scandal yes, I can understand that (though not its longevity), but this bid saw our most realistic chance of landing football’s premier tournament for a generation. As perceived by Fifa, the main problem with England’s previous World Cup bids was our fans. Every country has its quirk; as the Italians eat pizza, the French refuse to shave their body hair and Irishmen sodomise choirboys, the English have football fans that smash up Piazzas. Hitherto, these model citizens have been thought to be too dangerous on their home turf to allow foreigners in for a pasting. But we’ve come a long way, and English football violence has diminished considerably in recent years. Admittedly we’ve confiscated the passports from the worst offenders during major tournaments, but there is a feeling these days that it might just be safe to open the doors and let the world in to what is without doubt the best country in the world for a major football tournament. Yes, America has bigger stadiums, but it takes ten days to get from one to another. Yes, the Russians have oodles of oil money to plough into facilities, but they also drink vodka from the tap. Yes, Spain has the weather, but it's also about as multicultural as Nick Griffin's spice rack.

The truth is that England has it all. Great grounds, passionate fans, diverse culture, good transport links and what’s more, we invented the bloody game. So why does the Daily Mail feel the need to expose Lord Triesman’s allegations to sell a few copies? Also, I take issue with the word ‘allegations’. They only became so after they were aired to millions. Before that, they were simply comments made to a friend over dinner. Admittedly, he was probably having an affair with her (libellous but worth the punt) but they were nontheless private.

I don’t see the public interest angle as acutely as some, who claim that we have a right to know if the chairman of the bid harbours fears of fraudulent activity, but how do we know he wouldn’t have made an official complaint to Fifa if he had gathered substantial evidence? He could hardly go to them with a hunch, or he would be accused of a far greater crime than he has already been made to stand down for, so what else can he do but discuss his thoughts privately? For all we know, on the same night, several officials in Madrid were chucking about claims concerning our bid. The difference of course, is that the Spanish press would never be so stupid as to scupper the interests of its own country. The actions of the Daily Mail have angered many, most notably Gary Lineker, with ‘Outraged Of Leicester’ taking the ironically Mail reader-esque stand of quitting his position as columnist over the story.

Who knows, maybe this will all blow over and the bid return to its status as a front-runner once the decision draws closer, but one thing’s for sure; if the British press continue their whirlwind of meta-journalism on the subject, it won’t fade from memory as quickly as the FA had hoped when Lord Triesman promptly stepped down as FA chairman. As for a permanent replacement, Lord/Sir/Baron Sugar, who seems to be picking up more titles than he can cope with, was quick to register his interest. I suggested in this very blog a couple of years ago that the FA should sign him up, if nothing else but to put his TV slogan to good use and get rid of the bloody lot of them. Given Sir Alan’s contentious views on association football (he once called all footballers ‘scum’ and that they would all be in prison if it weren’t for the sport) it’s probably not a wise move, and would end up making Lord Triesman look like a shining ambassador for the game.

Poor old Capello must be more confused than he usually looks at the whole saga. He has signalled his intent to remain in the manager’s job until after 2012, but might wish he’d never said that. What he actually said was "I have a contract with the FA and it will finish when they decide to sack me," which is hardly an unequivocal statement of resolve. The Italian cannot be blamed for thinking this country totally insane when it comes to its relationship with football. Like a deranged, controlling father to his son, we pour expectation on the England team every two years to deliver, and it is this unfulfilled wish that drives us to turn on it at every opportunity. True, failure in the national team is not exclusive to England and there are countless other countries that never win anything, but out continual and deluded expectation as creators of the game leads us to self destruction time and time again.

As for this year’s tournament, we can realistically expect a semi-final at best; consider our injury list, the lack of coherency in the recent squad and towering form of the Spanish. Rest ye worried minds however, because at least our cricket team have a World Cup to show for itself following last week’s Twenty20 triumph. And how many times have we been able to say that? So maybe then… Just maybe… You never know…