Euro 21

Having a total aversion to Subbuteo football (where the only player doing anything is the one with the ball) I choose not to bother with this television extravaganza other than to dip into it during the adverts on the other channel or other idle periods

Hence I barely saw twenty minutes of Italy v Switzerland where the commentators were waxing lyrical on the apparent flare of the Italians even though in the time I watched the Swiss goalkeeper was not once called upon to handle the ball.   Flair, what flair? None was in evidence.

A similar occurrence occured  in the other snippets I saw as the full backs passed the orb around with each other knowing there is going to be no attempt by an opposing player to try to intervene and gain possession.  Such is the boredom of what is now described as ‘possession football’. Boredom personified

But I thought I had best give my full attention to England v Scotland on the grounds that it was being built up as Bannockburn reinacted.

So it was in the opening phase where whenever two players came into conflict one of them would end up on the turf writhing in agony. In the Premier League the referee would not have bothered to put the yellow card back in his pocket, knowing it would be needed again almost instantly but the man in yellow managed to keep the card unfurled.

Eventually the attrition calmed down and everybody tried to avoid tackling anyone else for fear of their having to become an early substitution. Neither goalkeeper was called upon to handle the ball and had to be satisfied with clearing a succession of pointless back passes. It was absolutely no surprise when the interval arrived with the game goalless, Scotland not have the slightest idea how to get the ball into the England penalty area and England having no idea what to do when they somehow got that far. Little wonder as they were playing without a centre forward, despite all the pre=match build up suggesting they had Pongo Waring/Harry Hampton personified in the team.

Main interest in the second half centred around the ever-changing pitch side advertisements. Most seemed to be on screen for less than a minute before they revolved around again. “Volkswagen is zero” was best – was it a prediction or did they know something we were not altogether expecting?

The English goalkeeper earned plaudits from commentators who know nothing about goalkeeping when he went flailing around his six yard box, tipping the ball wide from a shot so lacking in power that he could easily have bent down and picked it up. Ditto the Scottish goalkeeper, almost when England got close for the only time in the game.  The TV flashed up some otherwise useless statistics that in nearly an hour’s play we had so far seen only two attempts on target.

After an hour of nothingness there was excited movement amongst the English supporters when a lad with short cropped golden hair was removed from the arena, begging the question what he had been doing there in the first place – not a lot as it turned out to be replaced by “one of the most exciting players in the world at the moment”.  If you don’t recognise the description it was Jack Grealish. Again begging the question that if he is so good why had he spent sixty minutes as the highest-paid spectator in the stadium?

But those in the know knew that all this meant was that England would now be more likely to get a penalty as Grealish knows how to fall well when tackled, and also that Scotland were more likely to score a goal. It is well-known that a mistake by Grealish often leads to a goal by his opponents. In the event he did fall well and the cameras caught the predictable anguish on his face but the resulting free kick to England was well out from the danger zone. 

Grealish then proceeded to be totally anonymous during his cameo appearance and to the chagrin of the Villa probably halved his transfer value in the process. But someone who did more than halve his value and his reputation was the England captain, who had been so anonymous that the manager had no alternative but to substitute him and send on a youth, who instead of bouncing on full of enthusiasm looked scared to death as he took the field.

A similar fate was mirrored by a Scottish substitute who like most of his compatriots gave the impression that they were the best players the Highland League had to offer. The referee, who had been by far and away the man of the match had had enough and played not a millisecond over the allotted two minutes added time (given the timewasting been the ball went out of play it could have been twenty).  The cameras home in on Scottish supporters, who were delirious that they had escaped with a nil-nil so clearly that they had expected an annihilation.

On one occasion there was a noticeable flash across the screen which gave the suggestion there might have been some technical interference or a flash of lightning outside. But no! For some unaccountable reason three English players took it upon themselves to dash forward simultaneously, only for the player with the ball to send it backwards because he did not want to incur the wrath of his manager by looking to do something positive and the moment was lost.

It was a game which had fully deserved the old-fashioned tradition of the slow handclap or stamping on the Trinity Road boards. But it had been a classic example of the utter boredom which is modern day football. Where on getting the ball the first action of every player is to look who is behind him to pass to.

Problem is that all 24 teams in the tournament adopt the same tactics so there is little prospect of any sustained excitement still to come. But television pundits will continue to sit around trying to convince us that we are watching players with unlimited skills when the vast majority of them have very little basic skill, that of ball control.

And they will continue to eulogise over a shot which sails over the crossbar because the shooter has no conception of the basic first rule of the game: HEAD OVER THE BALL!!!

John Russell

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