Archive | March, 2007

Quiet Corners in the Lives of Great Managers

Posted on 30 March 2007 by JamesHamilton

We all know that Don Revie went off to Dubai after resigning the England job. But no one seems to know how he got on there. In another vein, we all know that Sir Alf won a championship with perhaps the most unlikely club in the history of the Football League, but few could tell me off the top of their heads how Ramsey got on at Birmingham City, or when he was there.

The subject has the makings of a very short quiz. No Googling.

  1. Brian Clough was manager of Leeds United for 44 days. How long was Jock Stein’s reign at the club?
  2. Who was the first former England captain to manage a club to a European Cup Final?
  3. Which football club was managed by two former England players on its way to a European Cup Final?
  4. Name two England managers who have taken clubs from promotion from the old Second Division to runners-up spot in Division One the following year.
  5. Finally, give the wording of the curse placed on Brian Clough’s former clubs. To say nothing of Don Revie’s. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since this game, hasn’t there?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EPYZKWVpPI]

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England: Motivation, Luck and Narrative

Posted on 30 March 2007 by JamesHamilton

Although opinion to the contrary is gathering, it’s still most people’s feeling that this current crop of England players are capable of putting in better performances than the ones we’ve seen. How to get at those performances is the problem. Do you get in one of those mysterious, possibly mythical beasts, the “inspirational” manager? Do you hang the threat of the bench over everyone’s heads? Do you insist on 4-4-2 – or get cross at the lack of a plan “B”?

Do you – and I haven’t seen this one broached yet, perhaps because of its extreme unlikelihood – bring in cricket-style international contracts? Well, this is English football we’re talking about, and the only area of the game we are pioneers in is hooligan control. Noone else has done it (although Mexico did something related in 2006, and the difference was palpable).

Looking at it now, I can’t help wondering if things haven’t gone awry for a quite different reason. Let me import a political meme into the situation. What if history has gone wrong for the England team?

Here’s what I mean. Eriksson’s appointment, and the way he went about the early part of his tenure, was successful in creating something of a “year zero” feel to things. That was helped by the retirement from internationals of some of the more influential old faces like Tony Adams and Alan Shearer, whom Eriksson might have wanted to have available, but nevertheless, the failures of the late Hoddle and Keegan eras were shed like snakeskin with the twin victories over Spain and, of course, Munich.

Eriksson’s brief was to build for the 2006 World Cup. It was felt that a great crop of young players were coming through, and that the chance was there. I’m not sure that rescuing the 2002 World Cup qualification was seen as an essential, but it was duly done. Indeed, when England were given the chance – when they were able to play in near-human conditions – they thrived, despite the absence of Gerrard and Gary Neville, and the injuries carried by Beckham and Owen. That defeat to Brazil came as a disappointment might have surprised some people only a year earlier.

What did Michael Owen say last week that relates to that defeat?

I can count on one hand the times we have played fantastically well through 90 minutes in my decade with England.

Maybe players of other big countries will say the same, but it is definitely true of us. We were great against Germany in the famous 5-1 win in Munich in 2001, but mostly it has only ever been in patches. I don’t go along with the argument that some of our better results have also been good performances.

Beating Argentina at the 2002 World Cup finals, for example, is remembered as a great win, but while we played really well in the first half, we sat back throughout the second. How they didn’t equalise I will never know.

People talk about the victory over Turkey in April 2003 when Wayne Rooney made his full debut, but we should expect to beat Turkey at home. In the first half-hour against Portugal at Euro 2004 we were unbeatable. But we tend to have a subconscious attitude of keeping what we have and sitting back as soon as we get a lead.

It’s an old failing. Get out the video of that 1996 European Championship semi-final against Germany and see if you don’t witness it happening there.

Nevertheless, you have to be in a position to sit back on a lead, and looking at Eriksson’s matches in charge, you see it happening repeatedly.

Against Portugal in 2004, it led to disaster. Rooney’s injury didn’t help, of course, and certainly provided the Portuguese with an entirely undeserved lift, but the fact was that England went for 1-0, and only came back to life in extra time, where, as usual, a disallowed Sol Campbell goal and bad penalties saw the wrong team win.

Some people see this sitting back as a lack of passion and motivation – something some “other” manager – perhaps an English one! would deal with by bouncing about on the touchline like a baby on a racehorse. Or by shouting at people. Or by -

There’s another view, that says that the “subconscious something” mentioned by Owen is that the team know they are better and are saving themselves.

There are two sides to that. On the one hand, England were actually expecting to do well in Euro 2004, something that hadn’t been the case since 1970. With a different referee, that would have been a semi-final finish or better.

On the other, it’s possible that with this set of players, the time to get truly involved is always in the next match, not in this one. A bit like smokers, who are always a week or a month away from giving up, England are always saving their energy and their best efforts for the arrival of proper opposition.

Earlier on this site, I broke “motivation” down into pieces that actually meant something, that could be acted upon in some way. That analysis was badly received, as is any other suggestion than that the team are overpaid jessies who need kicking, shouting, whipping etc. whilst showing their pride in the shirt. I think it might get on better this time:

  1. You have to want to win. (Fairly straightforward. Put me, middle-aged and unfit, into an England shirt, and I will want to win too. There won’t be anything I can do to bring that about, though).
  2. You have to believe that you are capable of winning. You have to see it as genuinely likely. That’s not just skill – that’s also planning, knowing what your role in the team is, and trusting your team mates to perform theirs. This stage is missing at the moment, but was present at Euro 2004.
  3. You have to be comfortable with winning. It has to feel natural. This isn’t a British trait – it’s the opposite of support for the underdog. Not many England players have it. From the last two years, I’d list Sol Campbell, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney (thus his frustration now), Ashley Cole (it ran through his book and got him thoroughly hated as a result). In the past, Tony Adams, Alan Shearer, perhaps Paul Ince. You have to be comfortable with winning for yourself too, as well as for the team, and – this too is unattractive to Brits – you have to be majorly uncomfortable with losing. Lampard and Terry talk about that a lot, but I’m not entirely convinced.
  4. It has to be time to win now. Not tomorrow, not next week, but now. Again, not a trait the British favour – how much do you enjoy playing Christmas games against someone who is far too serious about it, even prepared to cut corners? But that’s what I’m referring to.

Underdog motivation is a temporary thing: how often do you see it fall apart in the last ten minutes of a game? Pride in the shirt can backfire into shame if you are losing and don’t know how to stop losing – and the expression of that can look mightily like not trying at all. Which makes you, if you’re an England player, fodder for the fickle fans.

I think the England team saw it as their destiny to win in 2004, and some of them haven’t yet accepted that they didn’t. Failure to win spoilt the story, lost them momentum, cost them belief: the 2006 World Cup became about putting right what had happened before, about winning that belief back, not about carrying on with a good thing.

And doing so with the best players hobbled. The best players are always hobbled.

History’s gone wrong, and the chance to put it right is always being denied by capricious fate. Injuries and suspensions mean that England haven’t put out their strongest side in a long time.

And no, I don’t really believe that the players trust McClaren, whatever they may say to the contrary. They won’t say it to him, but if you are returning to club managers who are Ferguson, Mourinho, Wenger, or even Benitez after the Champions League win, then the contrast is there. It would have happened to any of the other candidates with the possible exception of Martin O’Neill, so that isn’t necessarily a reflection on McClaren.

Of my five points of motivation, one and a half are present at the moment, which is what we had with Keegan and Taylor. A fully-fit squad would improve matters, but there’d still be a missing piece, quite apart from the sitting-back tendency.

That missing piece is a new narrative to fly by. The old one – the golden generation being prepared for 2006 – is gone, and now it just does damage. It needs replacing.

You could argue that we’ve tried to replace it, with all of the recent Back-To-The-Future stuff about traditional English values, traditional English captains, passion and commitment. But it isn’t working, is it? Nor, to be fair, would Eriksson Mark Two – we can’t just import a foreign manager for the sake of it this time. There wouldn’t be the fresh start or the clean break that’s needed.

But we do have one thing. There’s the new Wembley. It’s ready now, and it’s a chance to start again that we won’t have in the same way in the future. It could be the start of a new story, one that makes sense and gives meaning. I can’t help feeling that a change of management is in the offing whether for fair reasons or foul. If so, let’s get the poison out of the system now, and start afresh at the new stadium.

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Wayne Rooney

Posted on 29 March 2007 by JamesHamilton

Summer 2006:

Wayne Rooney is the golden boy of English football. Don’t kill him because you will need him.

Sven Goran Eriksson

Spring 2007:

“And what is all this nonsense I’ve been reading,” he (an Israeli fan old enough to remember Finney) asked, “about Wayne Rooney being one of the best young players in the world. He was one of the worst on this field and that’s saying something cruel.”

If not the worst, appearances said, certainly the angriest, the unhappiest, the least comfortable in his own skin.

The McClaren crisis of confidence will meander on for some time, give or take an eruption of brilliant expression against a glorified pub team Andorra or another pratfall against the likes of Estonia, but for one on Saturday night to most trouble those who care passionately about the English game was the truly terrible decline of Wayne Rooney.

Reports of his angry reaction to McClaren’s criticisms after his latest anonymous performance in an England shirt were scarcely earth-shattering in the level of their surprise. Rooney has rarely looked so out of sorts and spirit. He ran close to serious problems when allowing flash points to smoulder and there were times when it seemed that he might even headbutt his own shadow.

A week earlier he had shown on behalf of Manchester United more than a flash of his old splendour against Tal Ben Haim of Bolton Wanderers. But when the big, shrewdly abrasive man reappeared in the blue and white of Israel you might have thought he’d become a giant of the game rather than merely a competent pro. It is as though Rooney can occasionally unlock the iron chains of memory and find again the brilliant exuberance which made him the greatest, most exciting talent bred in these islands since Paul Gascoigne. But like the tragically ill-starred Gazza, the wonder kid is besieged, it seems, by some of the most oppressive demons since the ones who hunted down even the genius of George Best.

There are no reports of Rooney and wine and roses. No suggestion that he is failing in any overt way to cope with the onslaught of wealth and celebrity that first propelled him from the back streets of Merseyside. Only it is football, that seems for most of the time now, too much, which is both the irony and the tragedy.

The whole point of Rooney, as it was of the young Best and Gazza, was that he adored to play football.

It welled out of him so beautifully, and with such originality at times, that Arsène Wenger said he was the best young English player he had ever seen. Johnny Giles, a flint-hearted judge of what he considers football pretensions, came away from one match saying that he had seen one of the authentic greats, someone who will reasonably progress and would surely walk naturally in the footsteps of the Maradonas and the Cruyffs, even a Pele.

Today Giles, despite the currently unpromising evidence, does not go back on that first assessment. But he admits it has become worryingly vulnerable to the ebb of Rooney’s performance not just for a few weeks, a few months, but the best part of a whole season.

Says Giles: “It’s very hard criticising a player like Rooney going through a dry spell. Unlike a midfielder he cannot go out and shape a game. Even though he is brilliant in his talent he is more dependent on the rest of the team and let’s be honest, the English team is not one to bring the best out of anybody at the moment. Still, the same can’t be said of the United situation where he has also put in some performances which have made him look quite unrecognisable. Sometimes in football you have the sense that someone is not just quite right in himself, that there is something running deeper than mere form.

“In this boy’s case I don’t think anyone, even Ferguson is at the moment able to put his finger on it. But I know how it was when I played and you see somebody underperforming so much and you look at him and say, ‘this lad is just not right, there is something weighing him down.’

“I don’t know Wayne Rooney, I just look at him as a great admirer of his talent and I have those old suspicions. I’d like to think he could walk out in a few days’ time and make us all look silly. Certainly he looked a lot better last weekend against Bolton. There was some of the old wit, the old bite, but then it just seems to disappear again.”

James Lawton, The Independent

(Wayne Rooney was 17 when he made his England debut, Paul Gascoigne 21, Rooney’s age now. David Beckham was 23 when sent off against Argentina in 1978.)

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Fans From Everytown

Posted on 29 March 2007 by JamesHamilton

Before last night’s internationals got underway, Alan Green (on BBC Radio 5) mentioned his longstanding opinion that the bulk of England fans who attend matches are supporters of lower-league clubs. For these people, England games, he said, are like European matches to Arsenal or Manchester United fans.

That makes sense, whether or not it’s actually true. Supporters of the Big Four have their teams to do the phoney-war stuff on their behalf. Following a top club abroad is likely to leave you little money for watching England as well, to say nothing of time. (My work commitments usually won’t end until evening games are well underway, and sometimes I’m not free until they are over).

Assuming that there’s something in Green’s theory, and reflecting on the unprecedented booing at half time last night, I thought a passage from Julian Baggini’s essential new book Welcome to Everytown: A Journey Into The English Mind was worth looking at.

Julian is involved in The Philosophers’ Magazine alongside Jeremy Stangroom and Olivia Benson. The magazine has its base a few blocks away from my clinic – which is itself based in one of England’s great Peoria-equivalents. I bought the book to find out why Julian had felt it necessary to go to Rotherham in order to find ordinary English life when his own magazine has it on its doorstep – it turns out that he actually lives in Bristol, and is probably unaware of the nature of what is, for now, the town I sleep in. (I suspect TPM’s base of being a mailing address containing nothing more than dead leaves, the skeletons of mice and an answering machine – it certainly looks that way from outside).

Julian goes to Rotherham, and early on, goes to see Rotherham play Walsall:

It is a gruesome match. The Millers, as Rotherham are known, fall behind to a soft goal in the third minute and play terribly for the first 20 or so. The second part of the first half picks up, and one fan near me even says out loud, ‘We’re playing good football!’ as though it were the last thing you’d expect to see here. The strong spell culminates in a Martin Butler headed equalizer on 42 minutes. But the second half is very uneven, with neither side doing that well. The fans’ loyalty doesn’t prevent them from laying into their own players throughout for their failure to ‘kick it!’ or ‘kick ‘im’. They don’t heed the encouragement. In the third minute of injury time, goalkeeper Gary Montgomery fumbles a hopeful lob from Jorge Leitao and that’s it. At the end the guy next to me says, ‘Another year, new team, new manager, same old story.’ Aye, but he’ll be back.

Of course, it is the emotional engagment with the team that makes it so gripping and inspires this loyalty. And to really feel that you need a strong sense of tribal loyalty and attachment to place. That’s why many graduate followers of the game who adopt teams in adult life often seem either a little apologetic or to be trying too hard. They want to belong, they really do, but they don’t, and frankly find all the belonging business a bit embarrassing anyway.

Which reminds me of this. Listen to the voices. Do any stand out for you?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DC-XVL4qlSc]

Back to Julian:

There is no such squeamishness among the genuinely home-grown fans. The whole set-up is that of a small, insular, parochial community, close-knit but hostile to outsiders. When Walsall’s keeper goes down injured the home crowd cheers. When the medic comes on they jokingly sing a siren: ‘Nee-nar, nee-nar!’ When he gets up they boo. They cruelly chant, ‘Merson is a smack-head!’ because Paul Merson, the Walsall manager, is a recovered drug addict. The referee’s performance is, of course, judged in nakedly partisan terms. No foul by a Miller is so blatant that the ref who spots it isn’t rewarded with calls of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ or, more bluntly, but beside the point, ‘You fat bastard’. One fan shouts to a Miller who makes a mistake, ‘Go back to where you came from.’ I’m not sure if it was because he was a new signing or black, but the sentiment that motivated the cry is surely born from the same instinct to divide the world into us and them. You don’t sense real hatred, but the obvious insider-outsider dynamic is at work, which is exactly the same one that allows people to bond to their local communities and nations. This undoubtedly has a nasty side. After 7/7, there were reports of Hull fans chanting at their London-based QPR counterparts, ‘You’re just a town full of bombers’ and ‘Not enough Londoners dead’.

It’s far and away the worst behaviour Julian comes across in Rotherham. In fact, the place comes over rather well – willing to be warm and welcoming in a way TPM’s hometown isn’t so famous for. There’s a paranoia and habitual misery to much of Surrey east of the A217 that is probably unique to the area. Rotherham reminds me more of Wigan or Leeds, ancient familial stamping grounds whose exiles down here experience the bewildering, pointless malice and superstition as something profoundly alien.

Which brings me back to the booing at half time. England are made up of players (largely) from the big four clubs: the fans from anywhere but. Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool are the London of football, a hated imaginary construct on which everything can be blamed. I suppose it means that there’s still something in it for the fans when England fail. If they insist on betting the national virility on footballers, at least let it be on a set they can disown without bringing it too close to home.

(Incidentally, 3-0 was the worst possible result, wasn’t it? Any other scoreline – a draw, defeat or smashing victory, would have moved us on somewhere. 3-0 leaves us stuck in this horrible limbo. Whether or not you support the castigation of Steve McClaren, wouldn’t you agree that this situation is one of those that needs either inescapable, unmistakeable disaster or success so huge and farcical before the air clears?)

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England: Coming Full Circle

Posted on 28 March 2007 by JamesHamilton

Where aren’t you going to watch the match? The news that Frank Lampard’s broken wrist will keep him out of England’s team against Andorra in Barcelona tonight brings us full circle. It will mean that by the end of tonight’s game, we’ll have tried everything. The list reads:

  • An English manager
  • Dropping Beckham
  • A “traditional” English captain (although Terry Butcher doesn’t see Terry this way and neither do I)
  • Plan B
  • Passion and Commitment
  • Gerrard and Lampard with/without a holding midfielder, in a 4-3-3, in a 4-5-2, with Lamps in the centre and Gerrard out right where he plays for Liverpool, without Lamps and with Gerrard in the centre where he plays for Liverpool
  • Gareth Barry and Joey Barton
  • Rooney and Crouch; Rooney and Johnson; Rooney and Defoe
  • Shouting at the players
  • I might have missed one or two things out, but you get the drift.

    Does this mean that we’ve got all this nonsense out of our system? I’d like to think so – but I don’t.

    The facts are too unpalateable for that. Fact one is that there probably isn’t an English manager with enough experience and tactical nous to take the job on. Fact two is that the press wouldn’t allow a second foreigner into the job, no matter who he is. Fact three is that we have one good side available, that is disrupted entirely by a minimal number of injuries, and that for the last 5 years, we’ve always had that minimal number of injuries.

    I can remember a time when the statistic still stood about England never losing when Gerrard was in the team. Now that Gerrard is usually fit, it’s Owen, or Rooney, or Ashton (whose career I now fear for) permanently crocked at the crucial moment. Had Owen and Rooney’s injuries taken place a fortnight earlier in the season than they did, had Owen not been injured against Sweden just as he was finding his range, England’s World Cup would have been a different experience.

    That’s the truth of the matter, but it’s easier just to throw mud at Sven and hide behind lies about the English game and football in general. It’s not about motivation, or passion, or aggression, or shouting, or tradition – football is not the successful expression of tabloid sentiment and it is not the successful expression of terrace opinion.

    I’m wasting my breath. But here’s something that even the most extreme and thoughtless 6-0-6er might have to admit. Whatever else you might say about the England job and its requirements, it’s been made impossible for Steve Coppell. Think about it.

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNfq8co0pBQ]

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By Request: Dundee v AC Milan

Posted on 28 March 2007 by JamesHamilton

Dundee 2 AC Milan 0:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qg54Yn5utSg]

Strangely, there seems to be no Youtube footage of the return leg, which Milan won 3-0..

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Pre-War Rugby League

Posted on 27 March 2007 by JamesHamilton

Just to demonstrate that the Youtube well of ancient football is running dry, here is a collection of highlights from Rugby League Challenge Cup Finals 1929-46. The quality of the late 30s film puts soccer to shame. I wonder why?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4N7gjziUb8]

The film stock is quite obviously superior to most of the pre-War football we’ve seen here – but that could be no more than an accidental function of comparative rates of deterioration, modes of film storage etc.

On further reflection, I’m struck by how well both Rugby League, Rugby Union and Grand Prix racing looked in these early films, all sports where the action moved in a reasonably predictable manner (or at least without soccer’s ability to go from end to end in 2 secs) and took place largely at ground level (now that soccer is filmed from far above, the sheer amount of time the ball spends in mid-air is masked from the viewer).

From a spectator excitement point of view, there’s much to be said for filming at ground level from a fixed point with a standard (i.e. not zoom) lens – the experience is more immediate and unpredictable. It wouldn’t work for soccer, although some fixed-point camera work from time to time would be more revealing of formations etc. But it might revive Formula One, which at present, if you go by TV coverage, looks like a rather slow version of Scalectrix.

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Rangers 1 Dundee 5

Posted on 27 March 2007 by JamesHamilton

Purely for the joy of it, here is Rangers v Dundee and a four-goal spree in season 1961-2 by Alan Gilzean against Jim Baxter’s Ibrox men.

Rangers are playing in the light-coloured shirts. I can’t help feeling that this is one of those games that actually looks worse on film than it would watched live from the stands.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYsDK6rIslc]

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Historical Football Cartoons

Posted on 27 March 2007 by JamesHamilton

Three football cartoons from what I think is Chelsea FC’s second or third decade of existence. The club sprang into life fully formed in 1905, with a huge stadium at Stamford Bridge and League status. Some skullduggery lurks behind the status part, and their arrival in what was then industrial, working-class West London was greeted by some left-wing commentators as one more example of tawdry entertainments distracting the worker from his chains. What would Cobden say, etc.

I expect he’d have said, “Come on you Blues” or something of that nature, although, as this cartoon illustrates, that could be something of a problem from time to time. Click to enlarge:

cartoonone.jpg

Tom Webster joined this particular newspaper in 1919, and he obviously possessed some kind of colour fetish. I’d call this flogging a dead horse:

cartoontwo.jpg

Webster began his career in the Edwardian era, and his cartoons have that atmosphere. The next cartoon concerns shirt numbering, which I confess I had down to Herbert Chapman in the 1930s. But this doesn’t feel like the 30s at all:

cartoonthree.jpg

Whichever end of that 1919-1939 period the cartoon hails from, the Spurs-hating Chelsea fan in that cartoon is a fascinating historical type, especially given the knifings at the last game between the sides.

Finally, the reality behind the humour. Here’s Stamford Bridge more or less as it looked new. You can find pictures of it being built on the net (I think) but here it is, seen from the north, hosting the 1920 FA Cup Final. Note the running track, the thick clouds of cigarette smoke rising from the open stands, the sheer size of the terracing, the crude, nakedly commercial nature of the whole place. This is before people thought football enshrined, or should enshrine, crucial national values. Football as lucrative entertainment, and almost nothing else:

stamfordbridge.jpg

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Mendacious Brideshead

Posted on 26 March 2007 by JamesHamilton

An inspirational skipper.. an English performance.. passion and commitment.. an English manager.. playing the game the English way..

“BBC World Service. The News, read by Roger Collinge…” The warm brown tones trickle out of Bush House like honey from a jar: rich and resonant on the Long and Medium Waves for domestic listeners or bright and sibilant on the Short Wave for a hundred million Anglophone citizens of the world for whose benefit the precious signal is bounced off the ionosphere from relay station to relay station, through ionospheric storms and the rude jostling traffic of a hundred thousand intrusive foreign transmissions, to arrive fresh and crackling on the veranda table. Oh, to be in England, now that England’s gone. This World Service, this little bakelite gateway into the world of Sidney Box, Charters and Caldecott, Mazawattee tea, Kennedy’s Latin Primer and dark, glistening streets. An England that never was, conjured into the self-deprecating style that in its dishonesty is brassier and brasher than Disneyland. Stephen Fry in Arena magazine, 1980s

Whatever the discourse on the football pages has been about since Sven, it hasn’t been about football. Oh, it thinks it’s about football right enough – but that doesn’t stop it from being sepia-tinged fantasy.

I found myself thinking about sepia photographs the other day. Take a good, recent black and white digital image, and slap on the sepia filter – and it won’t look Victorian or Edwardian: something will be wrong. There hasn’t been those ninety years deteriorating in a cupboard – nor ninety years of constant, miniscule yet irreversible changes that between them put that old world utterly beyond our reach.

Did sepia photographs look “wrong” when they were new? They certainly looked different. The colour we see today is the result of fading over time. The toning itself was done to improve the stability of the print, to increase its resistance to deterioration, not to apply a nostalgic “look”.

I’d thought that Britain had gotten over its nostalgic phase. That Merchant Ivory/Brideshead stuff:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IcJuVba2UY]

At some point in the 1990s, Britain seems to have taken a collective decision to drop the post-Imperial hang-up and just get on with living.

Even football began looking ahead. The mid-90s saw the beginning of the non-League revival, the establishment of the Premiership, an air of optimism around the England of Venables and Hoddle, the arrival of foreign players en masse and foreign coaches.

That’s all over now, isn’t it? Football has gone back to its own mendacious Brideshead.

It’s been trying to for a while: the World Cup is only the opportunity taken. Remember why Kevin Keegan got the England job – it was all that rubbish about inspiration and passion then, too. His period in office should have been a Scopes Trial for football Brideshead, for Fry’s “England that never was”.

This England:

(Incidentally, that’s a good angle, not usually seen – and there are shades of Argentina v Serbia and Montenegro too, aren’t there?)

Even then, we would grasp at straws for the opportunity to lie to ourselves:

A pyrrhic victory. Two months later, England, skippered by Wolves captain Billy Wright, lost 7-1 to Hungary in Budapest. So much for the street footballers who were close to their fans, loyal to their clubs, playing with passion and commitment under an English coach; so much for all that. At least the real Brideshead made decent television.

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