Archive for June, 2010

Englishmen in funny hats stare slack-mouthed at the football pitch, and the Germans are only having to knock it about now, easy as you like. We’re just chasing after shadows out there, labouring.

Rooney’s face is pink and sweat-slicked; Gerrard wears a grimace. Joe Cole is scuttling around their back line; at the other end, Upson is bewildered. For England, this World Cup has been only a number of ineffectual minutes.

One half of bustle and heart, it wasn’t enough. What a colossal cock-up from the linesman. But that first half aside, they were a team of strangers, pulling apart.

Now the players are swapping shirts, and the Germans are graceful in victory; this is no team of Andreas Mullers, crowing. Instead, Schweinsteiger has only consoling words for Lampard.

And in the stands there are Englishmen dressed as knights in mocked-up chainmail; Englishmen in red and white curly wigs, with comedy moustaches. And they’re looking on in ridiculous disbelief, like abandoned children.

Followers of Shrewsbury Town, Rotherham, and Charlton Athletic.

This is par for the course.

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Torres prone

He’s running and he feels the clip on his ankle. He goes down, he’s lying there on his side, feeling the cool grass against his cheek, and beneath the din of the vuvuzelas blaring there’s a cheer that goes on and on, and then he’s surrounded by bodies.

Socks, boots and ankles. All sorts of voices. The pain was only fleeting; it’s gone now, and he’s left with a feeling like he’s floating, like he’s a child again.

Little Fernando, laid prone on the deck. He wonders where his touch has gone. Nothing feels right anymore.

Someone had put his studs in his shin, someone knocked him down. He got nothing, and he made no protest. Then someone clipped his ankle, and he’s not getting up for any Chilean.

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Straight-backed and squinting, Fabio Capello tightens the cord of his yellow bathrobe and picks up the phone. His hair bunches on his head in tight wet curls and he is without his glasses; he catches sight of a blurry image of himself in the mirror and turns away.

‘Mr. Capello,’ says the receptionist, ‘your wife is on the phone.’

Capello nods to the bedside table. ‘Yes, thankyou,’ he says in English, and waits for Laura’s voice to come through.

‘Fabio?’ she says.

‘I’m here.’

‘Well done, darling. You got them through. Will those boys stop squabbling now?’

‘The players are fine, Laura. They just needed the win. Before the win they were anxious, they doubted everything – they were afraid. And they wanted to test me. But I have made them understand I am neither an enemy nor a friend; I am a master.’

‘That is exactly what you are, darling. But what about the rest of them – the fans, the paparazzi. These English are like children  in the playground. I like to see this Rooney speak his mind.’

Capello shrugs his shoulders. ‘They all speak their mind, this is the problem. The players, the fans. They all believe they are right. I know how to deal with this. They ask for Cole, they get him. But I take away Rooney. And then they get Heskey. Ha!’

‘Come home, Fabio. You are a winner. Come home and win something.’

Capello frowns. He knows that the longer he stays, the more English he will become. For now, he can declare his team can beat the world, and believe it. His trophies are still close enough, and he has no fear of Germany. But England is full of fear.

‘If you stay and lose, you will get used to losing, and you will expect to lose. And then you will become like them – you will always be looking backward.’

He turns back to the mirror, goes closer and closer until his image comes clear. Eyeball to eyeball with himself, the phone pressed against his ear, and the sound of the Milanese morning coming down the line.

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A bunch of England fans are lording it down the middle of the road; one of them has a vuvuzela, but he can’t really play it and the noise that comes out sounds like a prolonged spittle-fart. Another wrapped in the flag of St. George shouts, ‘Come on then!’
Who he’s talking to, Arthur has no idea. There aren’t any Slovenians that he can see, leaning out the chip shop door. Business has been slow today, but it will pick up as beery pot-bellied Englishmen begin to grow cravings for batter and grease.
We’re still in it then – and all down to Defoe. Arthur had watched it on the small telly he keeps under the counter. He’d almost knocked the thing into the deep-fat fryer when the goal went in. Defoe, who does nothing all game except shin the ball at the keeper’s face.
The country’s had some way to fall, he thinks now, watching these three knuckle-draggers making a bee-line for the shop. They’ll be loving him now, won’t they? The little Judas, who’d shoot his own granny for a merchandise line. This is who we have to cheer now.
People like Defoe, and Cashley Cole, and John fucking Terry.


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He puts his elbow in the steward’s gut and barges him out the way. Most of the players have already disappeared into the dressing room, but there’s Beckham trailing after, looking proper dapper in his grey suit.

He charges forward; the next thing he knows, they’re face to face and he’s stopped. Beckham takes a step back. The space between them feels uncomfortable, like they should shake hands or something. But he just stands there, like a lemon, and Beckham is eyeing him warily, waiting to see what’s coming next.

He shouts, ‘Fucking shit Beckham!’

Beckham just frowns at him, shakes his head.

He knows he has to do something else, so he grabs his shirt and kisses the three lions. ‘Sort it out mate,’ he says, but all the anger has left him now, and his voice has become weak.

And Beckham isn’t even looking at him anymore, he’s looking past him. He begins to turn around, but they’re already on him, his face jammed against the concrete floor, and shoes are digging into his back and sides.

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Maradona has said his piece. He leaves the players with the assistants and heads for the bathroom. At the sink he runs the cold tap, splashes his face.

When he looks up, God is in the mirror, staring at him. Maradona stares back, then makes like a boxer and jabs at the old man with his left.

God’s face creases up. ‘Always thought you’d fight southpaw,’ He says, chuckling. ‘How you doing, Diego?’

‘Pretty good, God. Pretty good. We’ve got a match in five, you know.’

‘I know everything, but don’t worry. I won’t keep you. Listen, I heard what they’ve been saying about you.’

Maradona’s face sours. ‘Platini?’

‘Yeah,’ God says. ‘And listen, Platini isn’t fit to wipe your arse. I could never bear that smug prick.’

‘You ever visited him?’ Maradona asks.

‘Once, and believe me, I couldn’t get out of there quick enough.’

‘Thanks God,’ Maradona says. ‘You’ve always been good to me.’

‘You’re welcome, Diego. Now, get out there and show the world why you’re the greatest.’

‘Thanks, God. Oh wait, if any of those guachos play it up to Messi’s head, you couldn’t help him out, could you? He’s only little.’

‘Sure thing, Diego.’

‘Maybe something a little less obvious this time?’

God blushes. ‘Oh yeah, well, I’ll see what I can do.’

‘You’re one in a million, God.’

The old man gives him a wink and disappears.

Maradona admires his own reflection, his dark virile mane, his sharp grey suit; he gives a nod of approval and jabs at the air a couple of times.

He turns, dances around the room, puts a left hook under Platini’s jaw. Then he skips an imaginary rope, squats and star-jumps, squats and riiiip!

‘Oh, shit.’

His eyes are wide open as he reaches around his big behind, finds the flap of torn trouser. Down the tunnel he hears the sound of the vuvuzelas buzzing. He turns to the mirror, but there is no-one there.

He sees his own lips mouthing, ‘God?’

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Klose gets there just before Schwarzer and crashes it into the back of the net.

He wheels away, but nothing changes; the vuvuzelas are blaring all around. The sound of 60000 people nullifying themselves.

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