Euro ramblings – Opening Night by Jade Craddock

And so it begins. After a wait of over a year, Euro 2020 (yes, we’re sticking with that) finally kicked off last night in Rome as Italy took on Turkey in Group A, and for once, it didn’t disappoint. It had everything from Nessun Dorma to dodgy offsides to super-size subs benches. But as I sum up some random observations from the opening fixture, there’s only one place to start, remote-controlled cars, naturally…

  1. Remote-controlled cars: I can’t say I’ve often watched the ref walk onto the pitch with the match ball and thought, do you know what this is missing – a bit of pizzazz, a bit of razzmatazz, a toy car. But clearly, UEFA didn’t feel the same. With so much else to do, they thought, let’s lighten the ref’s load and not make him carry the ball and whilst we’re at it let’s inject some showbiz into proceedings. Sadly, the whole thing felt more Toys’R’Us than glamorous as a miniature car whizzed almost to the centre circle, where the ref had to pick up the ball (surely, they could have found a way for the car to eject the ball for at least some wonderment) and then place it on the pitch before the car promptly whizzed back off. I can’t help feeling as if something had gone amiss, perhaps the spectacular jet-pack entrance they had planned went belly up in rehearsal and with just a couple of hours until kick-off and no plan B, the work experience lad was hastily sent out to the nearest Rome toy store, which was just about to drop the shutters for the day but not before offering up the choice of the final three items in store: roller skates, stilts or a remote-controlled car. My vote would have been the stilts, but the groundstaff at the Stadio Olimpico would have most likely kiboshed that, so the car was duly chosen. Luckily, the driver was a pro and injected as much entertainment as is possible with what was essentially an oversized toy, and I guess we just have to be grateful that it wasn’t a rogue driver at the helm who attempted to take out the opposition’s number 9 – although that may have added more excitement to proceedings. It remains to be seen whether this was a one-off as part of opening ceremony spectacular, but if not, perhaps we can look forward to a cannon shooting the ball to the ref in the Wales v Switzerland game, the ball parachuting in for Denmark v Finland or being dropped from above from a hot-air balloon for Belgium v Russia – the possibilities are endless, though I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of that toy car – UEFA and the sponsors have got to get their money’s worth after all.
  2. First goal of the tournament: With the ball safely delivered by the remote-controlled car, thank goodness – you can’t trust those pesky refs to do the job – it was on to the business at hand with the opening game of the tournament and the age-old battle to score the opening goal. At half-time, viewers may have been forgiven for wondering if after a year of waiting this was going to be the proverbial damp squib, but alas after 53 minutes, deadlock was broken, and one man wrote himself into history, joining luminaries such as Rummenigge, Platini, Shearer and Lewandowski in scoring the tournament’s opening goal. Sadly, Turkey’s Merih Demiral didn’t only just score the first goal of Euro 2020, his unfortunate own goal granted him the dubious honour of being the only player to ever score an own goal as the opening goal in a European Championship. If nothing else, he’s secured his place in quizbook history, but I suspect, apart from a few fervent fans who can name every Euro opening scorer from Milan Galic in 1960 to Olivier Giroud in 2016, Merih Demiral’s contribution will soon be forgotten, if not already, thanks to the later efforts of Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne, and perhaps even a remote-controlled car.
  3. Italy on the offensive: Historically, we’ve come to laud Italy on all things defensive, but whilst their opening showing secured the typical clean sheet, their three-goal triumph secured the Azzurri the largest margin of victory in an opening match in Euros history. Indeed, whilst other opening matches have been higher scoring, with France’s 4-5 defeat to Yugoslavia in 1960 taking top billing, opening matches have tended to be tight affairs, not least 1968 when after a 0-0 draw with the Soviet Union, Italy won on a coin toss – as they also did in the semi-finals against the same opposition. Who needs remote-controlled cars when you can have a coin toss deciding matches? Whoever decided heads or tails in that 1968 Italy team surely deserves some kind of honour, especially as Italy went on to win the whole tournament – without the aid of a coin toss in the final, although it did take a replay to separate the Azzurri from their Yugoslavian contenders. Anyway, I digress, and back to 2021 (or Euro 2020, as it is), and Italy’s 3-0 victory over a young Turkish side made some sit up and take note. It has to be said that Turkey weren’t really at the races and lacked any real energy or pace, but Italy’s display was dominant against the opposition. Could they repeat their only other Euro victory in 1968? Somebody find the man who called Italy’s 1968 coin tosses, he may just come in handy if it comes to choosing ends in a penalty shootout.
  4. No Buffon, no problem?: It’s the year 2000, Billie Piper is top of the charts, Maximus Decimus Meridius had been unleased on the big screen and Erling Haaland has just been born, and it is the last Euros before Gianluigi Buffon takes the helm. Having featured throughout the qualifying campaign, Buffon broke his hand prior to the tournament and missed out on Euro 2000. By 2004, however, Buffon was well and truly installed as Italy’s number one and there he would stay, having assumed the captain’s armband for Euro 2004, until Euro 2016 – an incredible five consecutive tournaments. The prospect of Buffon retiring was unthinkable and yet he confirmed that Euro 2016 was to be his last. Who on earth could ever replace this literal giant of Italian footballer – a player who has not only won innumerable Serie A, Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italianas but also twelve Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year awards and the Golden Glove in the 2006 World Cup when his team were victorious? Buffon’s are amongst the biggest gloves to fill. Step up Gianluigi Donnarumma – a man, nay a boy, who made his debut for AC Milan, one of the biggest clubs in world football, at the age of 16. Indeed, Donnarumma took the honour of being the youngest ever goalkeeper to feature for Italy from Buffon himself at the mere age of 17 years and 189 days. Still just 22, Euro 2021 is Donnarumma’s first major international competition and whilst there was little to judge from in his opening match, he’s certainly one to watch
  5. Pundit wars: And talking of ones to watch, after his successful stint on BBC for the 2018 World Cup, Cesc Fabregas returned as part of the punditry team for the Euros opener and proved himself to be as valuable an asset off the pitch as on it. One of the most intelligent players of the modern era, he brings that football intelligence to his analysis. Well-spoken, perceptive and often spot on, he adds to a strong line-up of BBC Euro 2020 pundits that includes the likes of Micah Richards, Karen Carney and Eric Abidal. And whilst Cesc is certainly a high-class addition, the coup of the season may just be ITV’s potential pairing of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira. What better way to add some entertainment to a 0-0 draw than Keane and Vieira sharing a studio?

FA Cup Final 2010/11: Sweet dreams are made of this….

And so the 2010/11 season comes ever closer to finishing, with the FA Cup Final this weekend. A reassuring date in May that sits there in the football calendar and marks the passing of time. An event that has always for me had the, “…I remember where I was…” tag-line. Something that grows up with you, a constant that is there as you go through life.

In the year I was born 1962, the FA Cup Final was between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley. In a game that has become known as “The Chessboard Final” due to the tactical and cat and mouse nature of the play, Spurs emerged winners 3-1 with goals from Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Smith and a Danny Blanchflower penalty. The Clarets had equalized with a goal from Jimmy Robson on 50 minutes, but the North London team went ahead 2-1 within a minute and sealed Cup Glory with just ten minutes remaining.

However, it wasn’t until 1970 that I have any recollections of watching my first FA Cup Final and then it was the replay at Old Trafford and not the first game at Wembley. The picture of being sat at home with my dad watching that game on 29 April 1970 is still a vivid one in my mind. We didn’t have a colour television, so it was black and white images that we watched that night. I remember my mum coming into the room just as Leeds scored through Mick Jones on 35 minutes and in typical football superstitious style, she was banned from coming into the room until the game was over. These days that Replay is viewed as something of a brutal encounter, but 1970’s football was a very different and physical beast to that of the game today and so watching that night it didn’t seem as though this was a “dirty” game. Chelsea got back into the game in the second half but left it late with a Peter Osgood header just 12 minutes from time. Extra-time followed and for some reason we didn’t put the lights on, so black and white shafts of light flicked across our faces as in the last minute of the first period of extra time, a long throw from Hutchinson caused confusion in the Leeds defence and Dave Webb headed home what turned out to be the winner.

Subsequent years and FA Cup Final days are linked in with my dad’s and my passion for cricket. This meant that for a number of years, any glimpses of the Final “live” were restricted to the tea interview in between innings. Even though I loved playing cricket, when Cup Final day came around I invariably prayed for rain! If the gods of precipitation had done their work I could sit myself down and take in the full glory of the BBC’s coverage (I was and am a BBC man!) that included down the years special editions of Mastermind, Question of Sport and It’s a Knockout all featuring fans of the Cup Final teams. It was a real marathon which featured players at their team hotel, their journey to the ground and more analysis than you could care to take on. It was a feeling of real excitement once the game started. It was only once the game was over and the Cup was presented (barring replays in those days), that you could rise from the sofa, head muzzy from 8 hours in front of the television and stomach full from snacking during this period to get back to the rest of Saturday.

With the knees having called time on my cricket career, this weekend as the City’s from Manchester and Stoke battle for the Cup, I’ll be once more adorning a sofa to take in the action. More likely though I’ll settle down to watch 30 minutes or so before kick-off, but it’ll give me the chance to reflect and savour the memories of Cup Finals past and toast the winners and losers.

World Cup 2018 – Fallout

Two days on the FIFA decision on Thursday still hurts and continues to make headlines. The debate about the rights and wrongs will rumble on. In looking to close out what has occurred this week, the words of acting FA Chairman Roger Burden possibly best sum up the frustrations of the England Bid Team.

“…We (England) were equal top of FIFA’s own technical assessment of the four bids…We were top of an independent assessment of the best commercial bids and our presentation on Thursday was widely acclaimed as the best of the 2018 and 2022 bids…Against this background, I am struggling to understand how we only achieved two votes. It is difficult to believe that the voting was an objective process…On top of that, Prince William, the Prime Minister and other members of our delegation were promised votes that did not materialise…”

Burden points to the obvious question, in that if the Bid is based on the FIFA assessments and the England Bid came out on top in these, then what where the factors that the Executive Committee used to make its decision to award the 2018 event to Russia?

Unfortunately the Sunday Times and BBC Panorama programme provided the “excuse” for FIFA to reject the England Bid.

Roger Burden has subsequently withdrawn his application for the position of FA Chairman, saying that in the post he would have to work closely with FIFA, but feels he would be unable to, as he no longer trusts or has faith in the FIFA Executive Committee. A thought echoed by many, many people after Thursday.

World Cup 2018 – 2 days to decision

So that was it? 29 minutes which basically featured details of a case that has been through the Swiss Courts back in 2008. So where was the new evidence? What bit of it was in the public interest? Will the BBC be trotting off to the Police with their “allegations”? So the Panorama team has a list from a “trusted source”, but what direct links do the payments details have with those that they accuse? Where’s the proof?

The way the journalist Andrew Jennings went about the programme gave the impression that it was a personal vendetta against FIFA, rather than an impartial investigative story. A visit to his website shows an obsession with FIFA related stories, which frankly was reflected in last night’s television offering.

It’s an unfortunate fact of modern society, that where there is business and politics or any arena where there is much to gain, whether in financial terms or individual power, there will be corruption. It doesn’t mean it is right or should be ignored, but for the media to act like saints who know what is in our best interest is frankly patronising.

The timing of the programme just doesn’t make sense sentiments echoed by Andy Anson, the head of England’s 2018 Bid, who said he was “…disappointed with the timing of the programme…” and added “…it is certainly not going to win us any votes so we just have to see what happens tonight (Monday) and move on…”

It shows how “informed” the programme was in stating that England’s fate lay in the hands of Nicolas Leoz and Ricardo Teixeira. The reality is that the South American Federation has already pledged its support to the Spain/Portugal Bid. Where the damage will be done is with regard to Issa Hayatou and Jack Warner, as England would have been targeting the CAF (Central Africa) and CONCACAF (North & Central Africa and Caribbean) votes.

As a final thought – you know there is something not quite right in the world when David Mellor is dragged out by the BBC to give advice on integrity and morals.

World Cup 2018 – 3 days to decision

Tonight the BBC does its bit to support the England 2018 World Cup Bid with a Panorama programme titled, “FIFA’s Dirty Secrets”. This obviously in-depth 29 minute masterpiece of journalism, “…investigates corruption allegations against some of the FIFA officials who will vote on England’s World Cup bid. Reporter Andrew Jennings exposes new evidence of bribery, and accuses some executives of taking kickbacks. He also uncovers the secret agreements that could guarantee FIFA a financial bonanza if England hosts the World Cup…”

Now will the producers be gathering last minutes facts and interviews before a last ditch edit to ensure the programme goes out at 20:30? Of course not. This piece of work from the Panorama will have long been in the can and ready to show. Why if this programme is as the BBC say, so necessary for the public interest, was it not transmitted before now? The reason, pure and simple, is about the egos within the Panorama team and the BBC wanting the programme to have maximum exposure and controversy, so will put it out just 3 days before the FIFA decision.

If the BBC is so concerned about the publics moral welfare, why didn’t they submit their “evidence” along with the Sunday Times expose to FIFA at the recent Ethics Committee hearing in Zurich? Simple, they want their own slice of the action. It’s rather like a witness withholding evidence until a time that benefits them. The other alternative is that the programme doesn’t actually hold water so has nothing to say based on fact and instead the audience will be treated to less than half an hour of suggestion, speculation, hearsay, coincidence, rumours and assumptions.

Events such the FIFA World Cup are protected under the terms of Independent Television Committee Code on Sports and Other Listed Events. This seeks to ensure that listed events are available to watch on free-to-air channels. For the 2010 World Cup in South Africa ITV and BBC shared the UK coverage.

Whether or not England is successful on Thursday, how wonderful would it be if the Government decided that from 2014 sporting rights for the listed events had to be bid for by ITV, BBC, Channel 4 and Five. The Bid would be to gain a contract to share the listed events for the next 20 years. Let’s see how the BBC would enjoy having their Bid put under scrutiny and damaging articles about the BBC’s Senior Managers and Sports departments spread all over the media just days before the contract is awarded.

As France found out in South Africa, after their controversial World Cup Play-Off win over Ireland – what goes around comes around. Who knows what is ahead for the BBC?

World Cup 2018 – 6 days to decision

The news that the South American Football Federation (CONMEBOL) have pledged their 3 votes to the Spain/Portugal Bid should not come as any great surprise, considering the historical and cultural links between the respective countries. Indeed the Iberian Bid team are in bullish mood, with the Spain/Portugal Chief Executive Miguel Angel Lopez confidently claiming they had 8 of the 22 votes.

With the Nigerian and Tahitian members banned from voting the 22 remaining votes are spread as follows:

Continent Organisation


Asia AFC


Central Africa CAF


Europe UEFA


North & Central America and Caribbean CONCACAF


South America CONMEBOL


Sepp Blatter FIFA President


 The method used to elect the successful Host Nation will be via the Exhaustive Ballot. In the Exhaustive Ballot each FIFA member casts a single vote for the candidate bid of their choice. However, if no nation receives an absolute majority of votes (in this case 12) then the bid with the fewest votes is eliminated and a further round of voting occurs. This process is repeated for as many rounds as necessary until one candidate has a majority. Sepp Blatter has a vote, with the FIFA President also having the casting vote in the event of a tie.

In this scenario a candidate who has the most votes in the first round does not necessarily win through. The trick is to avoid elimination and then pick up the votes of the nation just eliminated as the rounds of voting continue. To try and work out the numerous permutations of voting and the number of rounds it may take is a fruitless exercise in speculation.

This time next week, the England 2018 Bid Team will be waking up to face the morning after the night before. Hopefully they don’t awake to the sight of champagne still on ice.

World Cup 2018 – 7 days to decision

Over the years I’ve probably been to see England on about a dozen occasions. Two of those were World Cup Qualifying games. The first was against Switzerland at Wembley in November 1980. England lined-up as follows:

Shilton, Neal, Sansom, Robson, Watson, Mills (Captain), Coppell, McDermott, Mariner, Brooking (Rix), Woodcock.

It was a game that seemed to be all over and done with at half time. England had taken the lead on 22 minutes as Tony Woodcock’s shot was deflected in by Tanner. When Paul Mariner made it 2-0 on 36 minutes, it seemed that the points were safely secured and England would win comfortably. However, with the injured Trevor Brooking departing in the second-half Switzerland grew in confidence and were rewarded with a goal on 76 minutes by Pfister. Suddenly there was desperation about England and the Wembley crowd breathed a huge sigh of relief when the referee blew for full-time. My abiding memory of the game was provided by a group of Swiss fans. They supported their team with gusto throughout armed with the biggest set of cow-bells I’ve ever seen or heard.

 If the Swiss game was an uncomfortable experience, then worse was to follow in April the following year. Romania were the opponents as England lined-up as follows:

Shilton, Anderson, Sansom, Robson, Watson (Captain), Osman, Wilkins, Brooking (McDermott), Coppell, Francis, Woodcock.

 It was a game in which England never got going and struggled with a resolute Romanian defence. The game ended 0-0 and the England players were booed off at the end of the game, with Qualification looking difficult in a Group that was turning out to be very close.

Things got worse for Ron Greenwood’s team as in May 1981 they went to Switzerland and lost 2-1. This left three games left in which to salvage their World Cup campaign. England had two games in June of that year. The first was away to Group front-runners Hungary and they swept to a stunning 3-1 win in Budapest thanks to two goals from Trevor Brooking and one from Kevin Keegan. Just three days later England travelled to Norway and all seemed to be going well when Bryan Robson gave the visitors the lead on the quarter hour. However, by half-time Norway had stormed ahead 2-1. England found no way back and it led to the infamous commentary at the end of the game on Norwegian TV by Bjorge Lillelien. “…Lord Nelson! Lord Beaverbrook! Sir Winston Churchill! Sir Anthony Eden! Clement Attlee! Henry Cooper! Lady Diana! Maggie Thatcher – can you hear me, Maggie Thatcher! Your boys took one hell of a beating! Your boys took one hell of a beating!…”. The final game in the Group came in November 1981 at Wembley against Hungary who had already booked their World Cup place. An early Paul Mariner goal settled the nerves and England won 1-0 to seal Qualification for the 1982 World Cup.

The location for the 1982 World Cup was Spain. With a week to go to decision day, could that country be co-hosting the event in 2018?

World Cup 2018 – 9 days to decision

The reality is that this time next week the BBC Panorama programme into FIFA will have been aired and the England 2018 Bid team will be trying desperately to deal with the repercussions. Panorama have been here before with this subject matter with Jack Warner coming under the spotlight previously.

Jack Warner is currently the Trinidad and Tobago football executive, FIFA Vice-President and CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean  Association Football) President. His first brush with Panorama came when Warner was accused of corruption for repeatedly taking advantage of his position for financial gain. FIFA’s auditors, Ernst & Young, estimated that his family made a profit of at least $1 million from reselling 2006 World Cup tickets that Warner had ordered. Minutes of FIFA’s Executive Committee show that a fine of almost $1 million, equal to the expected profiteering, was imposed on the family.

Of the impending Panorama programme due to be screened on 29 November, the CONCACAF President has said it was “…deliberately designed to negatively impact…” on England’s bid and claims the programme is nothing more than “…a personal vendetta…”.

The England Bid team are aware that Warner holds the key to three votes which could be crucial to their chances of winning the 2018 decision. Previously, Warner was critical of the England Bid and caused controversy when he said  that “…England invented the sport but has never made any impact on world football…” he added that, “…for Europe, England is an irritant…”, and that “…nobody in Europe likes England…”. However, he has since been seen as an advocate of the English Bid. Indeed England have courted Warner over the last few years. In June 2008 England played Trinidad & Tobago in Port of Spain and as recently as this September this year, David Beckham was in Macoya (Trinidad) coaching youngsters and pressing the claims of the England 2018 Bid with Warner. This month too has seen more attempts to secure Warner’s support as Prime Minister David Cameron invited the CONCACAF President to lunch.

However, the Bid team know that they have to do more than focus on Jack Warner to ensure they get the 12 votes necessary and as the clock ticks down to decision day England 2018 representatives are out around the world. This week the Bid team is in the Paraguayan capital Asuncion staging a safety and security seminar at the home of CONMEBOL (South American Football Confederation) as part of its campaign to gain support from their FIFA Executive Committee members. Elsewhere, David Dein, the former Arsenal and FA vice-chairman, travels to Rio de Janeiro for informal meetings with FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Brazil’s FIFA member Ricardo Terra Teixeira. Finally, England 2018 chairman Geoff Thompson, Chief Executive Andy Anson and Ambassador Paul Elliott will travel to Kuala Lumpur with Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, to see the four Asian members of the FIFA Executive Committee.

Gentleman good luck, the hopes of the nations bid rest with you.

World Cup 2018 – 15 days to decision

Fancy a flutter? England to be successful and get the nod from FIFA to host the 2018 World Cup? The wonderfully whiter than white moral guardians that are the English media in the guise of the Sunday Times and the BBC, have done their best to undermine the bid. The Sunday Times through an undercover sting, exposed two executive committee members, Amos Adamu of Nigeria and Reynald Temarii of Tahiti, who it is alleged were willing to offer their World Cup votes in return for money for football projects. The two men concerned deny the charges and face a FIFA Ethics Committee hearing this week into the newspaper’s claims. The BBC (in its wisdom) has decided to screen a Panorama special just 3 days before the FIFA awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, into the World Governing body.

It has now left the England Bid team having to write to FIFA distancing themselves from corruption allegations made against football’s world governing body by the British media. The fact is that in a country where there is free speech, then everyone is entitled to their opinion and speak out. The Sunday Times and the BBC would argue that they are merely expressing that right and looking to help FIFA by exposing corruption. However, do these organisations think they will wipe out corruption through what they have done? What happened to investigative journalism? Can stories only be obtained through deceit, or as the Qatar 2022 Committee Member said by “…washing dirty linen, with dirty water…”.

However, the England Bid team will be heartened that Evaluation Reports on the various bids released today, were at least positive on the English proposals. The report released is only an Executive Summary of the full report which is used as part of the decision process. However, a World Cup in England is viewed as “low risk” and was praised in relation to, transport, stadia, IT, security, marketing, and legacy. There are some issues around venue-specific training sites, venue-specific team hotels and training base camp hotels, which numbers wise don’t currently meet the FIFA requirements. Nevertheless, the England camp are saying that theses areas of concern are already in-hand and being discussion with FIFA in terms of resolution.

Of the other Bids, the joint Spain/Portugal bid and that of Russia, are also given a low risk rating, whilst the joint bid from Netherlands/Belgium has received a medium risk assessment.

The England Bid needs all the support it can get right now. Therefore, it is hoped the media in this country are as vigorous with the positive news about the Executive reports as they were negative in the feeding frenzy of the Sunday Times story.