The win against Brazil on Wednesday night had the country falling back into the Olympic spirit but was everyone happy? Our resident Daggers Diary team headed up to Wembley to test the mood of the nation.
Last July, I gave up my membership of England fans. After six years, and having attended a decent number of games in that time, I figured that I wouldn’t be able to afford to go to Brazil for the world cup, and so I gave it all up.
So of course my exile lasted all of one game, before I gave in and attended the qualifying game against San Marino last October. While it was great going again, the one thing I didn’t relish was the queue to get back to wembley park station after the game. That has always been the one part of the experience that I wish could be changed. Sadly, it still seems to be the same even though the stadium is so much better than its historic predecessor.
I suppose the one thing I miss is the opportunity to go to away games, which were always good fun. But in the end, finances won, and I am a home England fan only. So obviously, I am back tonight, in the cold for the start of the 150th anniversary celebrations for the oldest football association in the world.
The visit of Brazil always brings memories of the great teams of the past, notably the 1958 world champions and the 1970 side which is still regarded by many as the finest national team ever. It also brings the obligatory shots of the Copacabana beach, as well as various carnival images and the cameraman trying to find the most attractive female Brazil fans in the crowd.
There have been a couple of other stories surrounding the game. The first is the approaching 100th England appearance of Ashley Cole. Probably not the most universally popular player ever to play for England, Cole has been good enough to become only the seventh player to get to the landmark century of caps. The performances have been highly consistent and (if you can get past the tabloid headlines about various bits of his personal and professional life), it certainly marks him out as one of the finest left back in our long history. It’s also arguable that a lack of decent competition has helped, but even so, you don’t get to 100 caps by only being average.
The other has been the story of how Paul Gascoigne. The continuing tragedy is being played out in full view of the nation’s media, and it’s just very sad to see this happening to someone that many looked up. Back in the 80’s Glenn Hoddle was treated with a fair amount of suspicion by many simply because, as a midfielder, he was viewed as not doing enough running, despite the fact that he had the technique that would have made him a fixture in any midfield in Europe. Then came Gazza, with the ability, but also the energy.
An article in the Daily Express by Mick Dennis on Tuesday made the link between his tears in Turin, and the sudden re-awakened interest, and eventual flow of unimaginable amounts of money into the game. Not everything that has happened since was because of that fateful lunge near the half way line, but football became popular again, and now there are players earning more in a week than most of us will do in ten years. And that is, in no small part to what Gazza (and the rest of the England team) did in those four weeks in Italy, twenty three years ago.
Wednesday 6th February 2013, England v Brazil, Wembley Stadium
Arriving at Wembley Park is the same as it ever was, with people stopping at the top of the stairs to get their first picture of the illuminated arch. As I walk down towards the stadium, there are strains of a samba band all the way along, mixed in somehow with “Can the Can” by Suzi Quatro. I’m not sure how that came to be, but it was there, honest.
The only downside to leaving work early is that I have to wait outside the stadium, and its freezing, with a stiff wind meaning that I am cold even with five layers on.
Once the turnstiles are opened, everyone near to one heads for the relative warmth of the concourse areas. Or at least they would if they could get in, as the security searches seem to be taking longer than ever. After nearly having my sight impaired by some waving their flag stick carrying bag around, we are eventually on the escalators towards the upper tier of the stadium.
The Grenadier Guards are on the pitch as I wonder up to my seat. Aside from the usual favourites, such as the Dambusters march, they also play to the visitors as well, although how much they appreciate Copacobana by Barry Manilow I can’t report.
As the earlier than usual kick off time of 7.30 approaches, there are still big empty gaps in the seats, meaning that either the bars are still busy, people are still stuck at the turnstiles, or they
haven’t checked the kick off time, and are still under the impression that the game starts at 8. Indeed, had Dan not pointed it out about a week before, then I wouldn’t have known. I would have been there, simply because I normally arrive at Wembley around half past five for an evening game, but others may not have been so lucky to be able to leave work early.
With presentations to Ronaldinho, for winning his 100th cap for Brazil, and Steven Gerrard for getting 100th England cap in Sweden last November (both getting decent applause, as did Ashley Cole when his name was announced in the team line ups), there is a minutes silence for the Munich aircrash, the recent nightclub fire in Brazil, plus it’s now twenty years since Bobby Moore passed away. There are a few idiots who decide to shout out during the minute, leading one in the upper tier to tell them to “shut the F*@k up”, which generates a round of applause. I still have difficulty in understanding how people can not be quiet for just one minute in their lives.
The game finally gets underway, and for a while, it threatens to be another friendly that really doesn’t hold any attention, despite the opposition. Then Brazil get a penalty kick. Dan is confident that Joe Hart will save it, and maintains this, despite the fact that it’s going to be Ronaldinho taking it. The penalty though is weak, and Hart does well, not only to make the initial save, but also from the follow up as well. Credit must also go to the defenders who instantly rush in and prevent any chance Brazil have to take the lead.
If the penalty has bought the game to life, then we really need a goal. Luckily for us, Wayne Rooney is able to provide that, just before half an hour had been played. There is also a chance for Neymar, but he is unable to convert at the back post, and after a cautious opening, this is turning into a quite decent game.
At half time, as the players troop off, they are replaced by a samba band, looking very cold in the dropping temperatures, and they parade around three quarters of the pitch, much as they had done prior to the game, before attention is turned (for those still in their seats at least) to a competition on the pitch, between three people to win (I think) a signed England shirt. All they have to do is get one shot through the “0” in a “150 years” sign placed in front of the goal, but none achieve this. In the end, the last of the second group is the only one to achieve the feat, and as they disappear into one of the service tunnels, the players remerge.
One of the things about Brazilian players is the single names that pervade the team. Players like Falcao, Gerson or Junior rank amongst the great players of the past, and are more recognizable that, for example, Edson Arantes de Nascimento, a.k.a. Pele. In this age of players names on a shirt, try fitting that lot on to a jersey. This year’s crop is no exception with Fred, Jean, Dante and Hulk amongst those named for the visitors, and it is Fred (while not quite as glamorous sounding perhaps as Rivelino) who nets the equalizer just after half time, with Joe Hart having no chance. He is then beaten again a few minutes later, but the shot hits the top of the bar. Suddenly the beast has woken.
Except that the next goal is ours, and Frank Lampard, on as a half time sub, is the scorer with a fantastic strike that looks better each time they show it on the big screen. The game continues, and although there is the usual plethora of substitutions, we are denied the chance to see Hulk, although Miranda does get on, prompting several comments including asking if it’s the woman off the telly, rather than a Brazilian midfield player.
At the final whistle, with the stadium already emptying from about fifteen minutes before, there is the mad rush to get out and join the fun filled Wembley Way wide conga for the station. It’s been an encouraging night, but let’s not get too jumped up about beating Brazil in the cold, no matter how much they have got used to playing in London over the last few years. The trip to Rio in June will be a bigger test, and if we achieve something there, then we can think about doing well twelve months later. The immediate task though is to qualify, and we don’t want a repeat of 1993, when we travelled to the USA for a warm up tournament, only to mess up the qualifiers and blew the chance to go back for the World Cup. There are encouraging signs (Jack Wilshire for one), but the defence needs some work. Is it too late for a “Rio for Rio” campaign?