Last night’s match at Wembley always had an importance which transcended the occasion of an international friendly. That the matches in Belgium and Germany were also cancelled for security reasons, gave it an additional importance.
Security. Tyldsley was quick to point out that the helicopter sound picked up by the microphone during the minute’s silence, was one of the security services fleet and not in any way connected to the independent broadcaster. Just as ITV cut away to an overhead shot that was suspiciously high. I’m sure it was a very big crane holding their camera. No, I am. Really.
Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Wembley recognised the tragic events of last Friday with an impeccably observed silence, as well as appreciating the floral gestures beforehand. HRH’s presence ensured that the national anthem was sung with a rare gusto by the players and a thousand French GCSE teachers cringed at the pronunciation of La Marseillaise.
It didn’t matter. The crowd responded in the refreshingly football way: embracing the moment and everything that was asked. It wasn’t an audition, just an affirmation of basic humanity.
Beforehand, questions emerged about whether the players would celebrate. They wouldn’t, the received wisdom went, as the squads were too aware of football’s relative triviality – sorry, Shanks – in the universe. We never got to find out the reaction to a French goal but nobody told the England players to cool it. For them, it was business as usual when Alli opened the scoring. Nor were they any less subdued when Rooney doubled the lead; a cracking finish, admitting which would have stuck in the throat were it at club level.
Alli’s goal looked spectacular until the deflection from Koscielny became even more apparent. Not that it mattered; England’s Brave Clive Tyldsley ignored the closeness of Lloris’s hand to the ball. The Arsenal defender, on this occasion, won’t mind his intervention being belittled.
Meanwhile, Harry Kane – according to ITV’s commentary team – had five good sights of goal during the defeat to Spain. An interesting insight into Analyst-Speak from Glenda; I prefer, “just couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo” to his “just couldn’t hit it cleanly”. I think my view a fairer reflection but I could be accused of letting my club bias show…
And what of the Arsenal contributions? Koscielny was Koscielny. Solid, well-positioned for the most part and was unlucky with the deflection for the opening goal. Olivier Giroud was in low-key Giroud mode which suited his watching manager. As would Kieran Gibbs getting a ninety minute run-out to keep up his match fitness. I wonder what Wenger’s companion for the evening, David Dein, thought. All those years later and the red cashmere scarf remains an instantly recognisable adornment.
Wenger has urged FIFA to take the opportunity afforded them by the corruption scandal, and use it to restructure the international calendar or face the consequences: it’s the clubs ball and they are going to take it home with them. Or the clubs who pay the players wages and they don’t get a chance to rest during the season because of the international breaks.
It’s not hard to see his point but so far he has chosen the wrong targets when moaning about Chile or Wales; they were competitive matches, not friendlies. It’s a two-way street though, certainly in English football. The clubs are so driven by revenue generation that given more weeks in the year, they would see it as the opportunity to increase the number of matches they play either inventing a competition – the Premier League Cup? – or playing lucrative friendlies.
Football’s calendar needs completely overhauling on these shores. The Premier League should be reduced to eighteen teams, the League Cup abandoned by those competing in European football and FA Cup replays done away with. The latter is contentious for smaller clubs but if they want a guaranteed big draw, the lowest ranked thirty-two clubs could be given home ties in the third round.
There are solutions to fixing the problems but the will isn’t there. Instead, it’s fashionable to blame problems on international football. Would you trust the clubs to put the players first any more than you trust FIFA? I don’t.
A final thought on the England game. The final whistle brought a sense of relief that the evening had been the occasion expected. The result is of little importance; indeed, does anyone care? I shouldn’t imagine the French have one jot of concern at losing.
Thierry Henry said beforehand that the defeat in Mallorca on 9/11 was the one match he didn’t care about losing. I get that. We’d flown out of Gatwick at an ungodly hour (GMT) that morning and the first we knew of the events was from the TVs in the Costa Blanca bar where we’d decamped to watch the evening’s football. Screens on one side of the bar showed the despair that hate can bring, contrasted with the teams lining up on a Spanish island.
On that occasion, football – UEFA – got it horribly wrong. Not so last night. Football matches proved their place in the grand scheme of things. 71,000 supporters portrayed the hearts and minds of a watching world. Bravo, Mesdames et Messieurs; bravo. Jeux sans frontières, indeed.