T.U.F. V – THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP
And so it comes to this. The day we’ve been waiting for for six months: the United States versus England in the World Cup. The anticipation has been tremendous hasn’t it? It’s one of the underrated great things about the World Cup draw- bring able to stew about a given match for months, rather thaten the two or three days you get in, say, the NBA Playoffs.
On the flip side though, the bigger the wait, the bigger the potential for anti-climax. This is a very legitimate fear, because if England comes out at the top of their game and the American somehow do not, it will be a most unholy thumping. I’ll be horrified if the most-hyped game in national team history ends 0-3.
(Quick reminder for the newbies- if the US does lose, they’re not out by any means. They would at least four points from their next two games though, and preferably six.)
It’s a bit odd for me to root against England, a team with which I am very familiar and that I generally support, after the US and my former home, Holland. When any of those three play each other in a friendly, England is last on the list, sure, but friendlies pass quickly. A World Cup lingers.
Quick story. I’m from Chicago and was raised on the north side despite south side parents. I grew up near Wrigley Field and, though I always preferred the White Sox, I was a happy fan of both teams. Until it all changed with the advent of interleague play.
The first official Cubs-Sox game I attended was at Wrigley, a temple in which I had worshipped dozens of times, maybe even a hundred. But for some reason, hearing Cubs fans talking shit about the White Sox just got to me. The Cubs won that day- quite big, as I recall, despite an enjoyable eff-you home run by Paul Konerko- but they had lost a fan. It was through no fault of their own. It was just a matter of realizing that now that they would be competing against each other, a choice would have to be made.
But still, it wasn’t that conscious a transition. Just a gradual, almost subliminal ebb, until finally, by the time the Bartman game happened, I wasn’t sad, nor angry, nor hurt. I just shook my head in empathy for Cubs fans, who were now a “they” to me, and not a “we.” I just wasn't a Cubs fan anymore, though I remain a Cubs Sympathizer.
So- and pardon me on this, I know it’s a bit indulgent, but here we are- I wonder where I’ll be with England after Saturday’s game. Mind you, it’s not as though I’ve been England’s #1 supporter or anything like it. Never seen them play live. I don’t go out of my way to watch their qualifiers. But I do own a quite-comfortable-thanks-for-asking ’66 retro shirt. I never miss them in the big tournaments, I never rooted against them in said tourneys, and when the inevitable heartbreak comes, I feel their pain. Their ever-present, regularly scheduled pain.
But when the draw came out, pairing England against the US… something clicked. I have kept the Three Lions at a distance. My ’66 shirt (a #21 Roger Hunt, since there were no Arsenal players on that team and there are precious few athletes with the same last name as me, so why not), once in heavy rotation, has gone unworn. Will this change after Saturday is over with? Will I return to cheering for England once they’re in the knockout rounds? I honestly do not know. There is no litmus test for this.
But one thing is certain: today they are the enemy. And as it is good to know thy enemy, and many of you new folks don’t, here’s a quick primer on who some of the main characters are, and what some time-honored tendencies should be noted, for the England team, brought to you with the most appropriate Shakespeare quotes that Google can hurriedly provide.
NO BEAST SO FIERCE BUT KNOWS SOME TOUCH OF PITY,
BUT I KNOW NONE, THEREFORE AM NO BEAST.
England’s attack is led by a striker named Wayne Rooney, a nuclear fireplug of a man who will eat your children before pooping them back out and feeding them to you, all the while managing to play uninterrupted keepy-uppy.
He is arguably the best English player of the last twenty years, but more importantly for the casual American fan, he is quite visibly their best player. Where many of the greats make vital contributions too subtle for the blamelessly untrained American fan, who often only recognizes talent when it comes with a sound effect, Rooney’s presence and impact are far more acute. Surly, scurrilous, swirling with furious, he is also gifted with the less-traditional English trait of truly phenomenal skill on the ball. He can dribble, he can distribute, he can shoot from anywhere… he is the man the US must stop first.
Problem is though, even if they do “stop” Rooney, there are many other players on this team that can do damage.
THE WEB OF OUR LIFE IS OF A MINGLED YARN, GOOD AND ILL TOGETHER
Two of those dangerous players will be in midfield, either together on the center or with one of them on the left. Their names: Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. They are similarly gifted players and that has been the problem: it has been hard for England to find a way to make good use of both of them. Since they’re both attacking midfielders they both like to get forward- if they both do it, this causes England to lose their shape, leaving massive gaps in defense.
This might not be so bad if Lamps and Stevie G (the one who might end up playing on the left today) were making up for this with a goal parade. But that usually doesn’t happen, at least not for both; only twice in the last six years have they each scored in the same competitive match.
But one of those times was just last fall in a 5-1 thumping of previous nemesis Croatia. Their mutual presence on the scoresheet was a massive relief to the nation. Not so much for the event itself, as a silencing of what had become a monotonous parade of column inches dedicated to solving the Gerrard/Lampard Conundrum.
For now, people seem satisfied that the problem has been magically solved by…
FRIEND, ROMAN, COUNTRYMAN
Okay, England manager Fabio Capello may now be an adopted countryman, but he isn’t actually Roman, but he did win the league with AS Roma, the only coach to do so in the last quarter-century. And that’s just one of his numerous managerial accomplishments, having also won league titles with Real Madrid, Juventus and AC Milan, adding a Champions League with the latter. Don Fabio is one of the most accomplished managers of all time, and England has welcomed him, only their second-ever foreign coach.
The first one was Sven Goran Eriksson, now coach of the Ivory Coast. When England hired Svennis in 2001, he too had just won the Italian league with a Roman team, Lazio. He too led the squad through a confidence-building, dark clouds-dissolving qualifying period that led to tremendous national confidence on the eve of a World Cup.
They were knocked out in the quarterfinals that time, which then became their usual resting place, leaving the next two tourneys at the same stage. No one thinks Eriksson is a better coach than Capello, mind. But this traditional show of pre-tourney confidence by England is not new.
Would you like clear-cut bad guy to root against? Would that be helpful for you today?
ONE MAY SMILE, AND SMILE, AND BE A VILLAIN
John Terry is a dirtbag. His most well-known and tawdry lapse was- while married to his high-school sweetheart and father of their kids- sleeping with the ex-partner and baby-mamma of Wayne Bridge, his good friend who was teammate at both club and country level. This led to Terry being stripped of the England captaincy, an honor he no longer deserved.
Thing is, Terry has priors. He's the sort of cat who pisses in a pint glass and drops it on the ground at a nightclub. This may have been the same night he broke his hand on a bouncer's face. Last year his mother and mother-in-law were arrested for a £1,450 shoplifting spree at a department store. Two months ago it came out he was giving clandestine tours of Stamford Bridge (Chelsea's home ground) for £10,000 a pop. The man is already worth £17,000,000.
Mind you, he’s an excellent defender. But he also “bottled it” in the Champions League Final two years ago, missing what would have been the game-winning penalty.
You may boo him lustily, and without remorse.
So these are the well-known guys, but of course sometimes it’s someone from the second tier who hurts you.
THE GOOD IS OFT INTERRED WITH THEIR BONES
Our final and most tenuous Shakespeare quote is dedicated to England’s 6’7” bag of bones Peter Crouch. Crouch, a human skeleton, is the first player in World Cup history to be made entirely of elbows. He is deceptively good though- has “good touch for a big man” as they say- and can cause England trouble. Not least with his dancing.
OBLIGATORY PREDICTION: 2-2, in a classic. US counter-attack takes advantage of the space that England’s fullbacks leave for them, but Rooney refuses to let the game get away.
All I ask of you, America, is not to bail if it doesn’t go our way today. There will be two games left, minimum. Let’s all be there the whole way.
- Brendan Hunt
twitter.com/theunlikelyfan, © Brendan Hunt, 2010