Taking a break from the Daggers Diary this week, Brian Parish headed west for Wales versus England. In the first of two reports from different camps on the game, Brian gives us the English view.
When the fixtures for the league season were announced, I was hoping that either the Daggers would be away from home, or at least the home game would be rearranged for the Sunday. So when the schedule produced a home game against Sheffield Wednesday, we hoped that the game would get moved. After all, the England band are all Wednesday fans, aren’t they?
Unfortunately for us, the hoped for rearrangement didn’t happen, so it meant a straight choice; either attend the Daggers v Wednesday, or Wales v England. Since last year’s “displays” at the World Cup, interest in the national team seems to have dropped away, although not so much amongst those who regularly travel with the team. There were more applications for tickets than we had been allocated, so for the first time in a while, there was a ballot to decide who would be able to attend. After all of the tickets had been sold, there were extra put on sale, but then there came a problem; the tickets didn’t really exist (or at least shouldn’t have been sold), which meant that several hundred people who thought that they had a game to go to were now denied. Not the Welsh FA’s finest hour.
Much of the pre-match media coverage seemed to surround two main topics. The first was the re-appointment of John Terry to the England captaincy, into which most people fell into two camps; either he shouldn’t have been sacked in the first place, or it shouldn’t have been given back to him. The reaction to this in most of the media was that Capello had lost control of the squad, but in the end, the appointment of Rio Ferdinand hasn’t really worked for the simple reason that he seems to have been injured most of the time. Whether you agree or not with the decision, the fact is that, about a year after losing the armband, it was now being given back to the Chelsea defender.
The other big topic was Gareth Bale. After his hat-trick against Inter in the Champions League earlier this season, the press and almost everyone who has ever offered an opinion about the game, has been unanimous in their praise of him. Fabio Capello even went as far as to describe him as the best player in the world, which seems a bit much given players like Lionel Messi are around, but he has been in fine form recently. However, he had only recently returned from an injury, and when it emerged late in the week that he may miss the game through another injury, most England fans would have been pleased that the best Welsh player in their squad would be missing.
Saturday 26th March, Wales v England, Millennium Stadium
This was the 100th meeting between the two countries, although since the ending of the Home International Championships in 1984, there haven’t been too many games since. Amazingly, the last time the Millennium Stadium sold out was for the last time England played here, in 2005, when Joe Cole scored the only goal in a World Cup qualifier. Since then, Wales have gone through a few managers, and the latest incumbent is Gary Speed; a former national team captain, this is his second game in charge, the first being a 3-0 defeat to Ireland last month.
For England, this was a must win game, as the last qualifier had ended in a tame 0-0 draw at home to Montenegro in October. Aside from the captaincy issue, there were doubts over the team, and whether they really want to be out there. After an encouraging win in Denmark last month though, there is a fair amount of optimism around, although many are predicting a tough game. Wales will be fired up for this one.
Walking around Cardiff city centre prior to the game, the atmosphere is such that, if it were possible, you could cut it with a knife. Although we witness no trouble, it seems as though it wouldn’t take a lot to set something going. There is a big police presence, but that may not be enough.
Having collected our tickets, we have a bit of a walk but don’t venture too far from the stadium, and in the end, wait around until we are let through to the gates. Our seats are in the second row of the upper tier, and it’s an impressive arena. We do venture right to the back of the upper tier to take pictures and marvel at the sight, but agree that we will stay where we are. While it’s still a great view at the top, the amount of bird droppings and various other things on the floor mean that we’ll leave that to someone else. It’s one of those occasions when we will actually sit in our allocated seats for an away game.
The teams emerge for their warm up, and the booing of the visitors starts early. Particular scorn is reserved for Terry, who clearly isn’t popular in these parts either.
Once the warm up is complete, the teams disappear for a bit, before re-emerging for the anthems and kick off. The English anthem is sung heartily by the visitors and booed by the locals, before the roles are reversed for the Welsh anthem. Someone nearby remarks that they couldn’t hear the Welsh sing, but then when everyone around you is booing, that’s not really much of a surprise.
Dagenham Dan reckons an early goal could be the best thing for us, and for the opening few minutes, we do quite well. All English players are booed, but once again John Terry is the focus of attention. Dan’s wish for an early goal is granted, when James Collins slips, and recovers, only to bring Ashley Young crashing to the ground. The Portuguese referee points to the penalty spot, and England have an early chance to go in front. We all stand up, but are then (not unreasonably) are asked to crouch down a bit, as we are right in front of the wheelchair section, and one of the occupants can’t see. Those of us in front do crouch, and are able to watch Frank Lampard tuck the penalty away to give us the lead. The away fans are not the only ones that are happy, as one of the cameramen gets rather up close and personal to the celebrating England players, almost joining in at one point.
This quietens the crowd a bit, but they are well and truly silenced after only fifteen minutes of the game, when Ashley Young crosses from the right to set up Darren Bent to get the second. Cue more celebration in the away section, as three points start to loom large. The next chant to go up from the away fans (other than those about interfering with sheep) enquires if Wales are Scotland in disguise.
Wales are just not in the game, and Scott Parker is looking quite good in midfield, as well as Jack Wilshire. The Welsh defence though is leaving large gaping holes, and it’s only a last ditch interception that prevents Parker from being played through, or a pass that is slightly over-hit that means that Wayne Hennessey in the Welsh goal gets to the ball ahead of Darren Bent. Although the home side have a couple of corners, the threat is almost non-existant, and the booing of every English player is starting to wear out. This is not what I was expecting.
The Welsh are even now resorting fighting amongst themselves, although this is in the stands, rather than on the pitch. As the half is progressing, we stare at the opposite side of the stadium, to see two groups going at each other. The initial thought is that there are England fans in the home section, but we are later told that it was Cardiff and Swansea fans.
By the time the half time break arrives, the game looks already done and dusted. There is a half time display of “freestylers” which is basically six blokes doing fancy tricks with a football, and then a kids game, which we are constantly reminded by the man with the microphone is “just a bit of fun”. A pity then that he couldn’t find the volume control, as we have been bombarded with noise from the speakers as soon as we got into the stadium.
As the second half begins, I make the observation to Dan that the Welsh can’t be as bad as they were in the first half. As is the way of things, I am instantly proved wrong as yet another pass is mis-placed, and an embryonic Welsh attack breaks down.
England are in control of this game, and no matter what the home side try, it just isn’t going to happen for them today, a fact re-enforced by a moment when Michael Dawson slips when trying to clear, and still manages to find another white shirt by playing the ball away with his knee while still on the ground. When your opponents are getting that kind of luck, then you know you might as well give up. Ramsey is the only Welsh player looking threatening, but he is trying to do it all on his own, and when he does try to use his team mates, he looks to be on a completely different wavelength to them. On the other hand, England are still in control, although the centre of the defence (knee passes aside) is still looking a bit on the suspect side every now and again. Steve Morrison is replaced up front, but this makes little change. The home fans start to file away from the stadium with about ten minutes to go, clearly feeling that they are likely to get nothing from this one.
They are good judges, as although the home side force a few more corners, there is still no threat up front. Indeed, the closest we come to a goal in the last few minutes is when Stuart Downing hits his shot just wide from about 20 yards. With just two minutes to be added on, we start to make our way to the stairs, ready for a quick exit from the stadium. When the whistle is blown, England have won very comfortably, all the away fans are quite happy with their day out, and Wales look as though they have a lot of work to do.