The calm before the media shitstorm

A leaked memo from the FA reveals Pearce's game plan for Holland (h)

I do like the look of this summer. Sure, Germany have plenty of fire-power, look to be favourites and we’ll possibly be a bit vulnerable early on, but help should arrive in the nick of time from trans-Atlantic’s Owen Hargreaves, the end of Wazza’s ban and Pearcey’s spine-tingling address to the nation. It’s all kicking off in Poland, and I can’t wait to see our fans partying like it’s 1939.

Three Lions and Best League in the World naysayers were made to look silly again this weekend, whilst righteous know it alls were thrust into further despair after a third goal against a porous Bolton at Stamford Bridge from stroppy egotist Frank Lampard acted as a poignant reminder of his unfathomable exclusion in Naples, where he obviously would have stifled their counter-attacking play with his loose passing and spent legs.

Theo Walcott provided the first false dawn of note since that hat-trick in Croatia to ensure that when he finally hangs up his no doubt initials/ soppy-motivational-acronym woven, woefully under-utilised boots, his career jigsaw will be comprised of at least two pieces. If you don’t believe me, his performance even garnered endorsement from the people who really matter: the media.

The headline to Paul Hayward’s typically astute piece – in which he referred to TW as a ‘gladiator’; surely the poorest character assessment since Chamberlain in ’38, and presumably in reference to the fact that he only showed up when his team was already in the lead, thereby rendering his goals effectively void – tells us: “Theo Walcott wins over the Arsenal fans.” God, imagine being an Arsenal fan today. Like Scousers in the good times, as the world sets about its daily buying and selling, speculating and acting, you’d be house-bound with shame.

Unfortunately for Theo, his critics will never have a case to answer in the light of his bringing out a book called T.J. and the Hat-trick. I mean if you’re going to do it in the first place, at least have the self-respect to publish under a pseudonym. Rumour has it Paul Scholes is dying to bring out Football Football Football, but Lord Ferg doesn’t want the OT faithful to start learning instead of turning up to games, which considering the gluttony of private tutors in South Ken is fair concern.

Liverpool are going in the right direction. Kenny Dalglish can now throw the criticism hurled at him for financial profligacy back in the faces of those who dared question him after success in Not The FA Cup. Cynics may assert that the only reason Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll and Jesus-Christ-really-didn’t-know-he-was-that-bad Jordan Henderson started the game was the presence of their patron, JW Henry, who would have been well within his rights to flog the club to a fit and proper arms-dealer had he seen 75 million quid farting on the bench.

Champagne aside, in reality this was a hard-fought draw against a good Championship side – that will serve only to prompt a spate of this-is-just-the-start copy and quote from amateur critics (*cough*) to Stevie Me – but in the spirit of the opening paragraph, I look forward to Liverpool’s England contingent adding their invaluable experience of high-quality silverware to England’s cause this summer.

The importance of the Carling Cup tends to divide opinion, the protagonists of which can usually be divided along the lines of fans whose team are and are not in the final. Players regularly espouse the view that one defines their career by medals – to the media/ fans at least –  but then again these are usually players who have a lot of them, and can consequently afford to spout such ‘it’s a team game’ tripe.

I can’t believe this is entirely the case, as medals appear to be handed out to anyone from dinner-ladies to Jesper Blomqvist in those drawn-out processions. I‘d like to believe that there probably isn’t a happier man in football – or one I’d rather be – than Matt Le Tissier, on the basis that he’s got the best highlights videos on Youtube, probably enough dosh to be happy ever after and works one day a week. He’ll also never have to worry about losing a medal he probably didn’t deserve in the first place.

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Place of Birth: Football

Atlas taking a throw-in.

Football has a propensity to talk about itself as a holistic entity, an integer with clearly defined boundaries, and this week’s meeting at Number 10 with various dignitaries and Mark Bright was no exception. Read the words of our own PM just a couple of days ago: “I think the achievement that you all made in getting racism out of football over the last 20 years, I think it’s been a fantastic achievement for Britain,” he flag-waved. “Lots of countries haven’t managed to do it.” Indeed they haven’t. Don’t think I’m being facetious; football has undeniably been “racism-free” for 20 years – just ask Stuart Pearce (… yes, as in England Manager Stuart Pearce).

Which makes it even more baffling how, after such a prolonged absence, racism has managed to rear its ugly head again. We’d taken the necessary injections of goodwill and funding. Britain had been immunised for life, we’d believed. Where now is the evil doer who sought to taint our harmonious game? Was it an inside or outside agent? Was the past 20 years really just delusion –  was Suarez vs Evra Britain’s Gatsby moment?

People talk about racism in football in the way others do AIDS in South Africa, or poverty in India – a problem that can be overcome with education and dollars. Football presumes to think that it can tackle racism as though it were beyond external influence. This belief is also perpetrated by Sepp Blatter’s Fifa, currently conducting an investigation into corruption in Fifa… through Fifa; a quite remarkable lack of perspective – if not unashemedly deliberate.

How does one begin to define the ‘Football Community’? Does a long suffering “fan” at Sixfields, who goes to the game every fortnight or so, just “to get out the house for a bit”, constitute a portion of football’s community? He may not even like football, going solely to keep a record of how the cost/ ingredients of a pie has altered over the past thirty years to give his whining an unshakeable foundation in fact, or to spy on which stewards are “ball-watching” as opposed to monitoring the increasingly anaemic crowd. In such a case, were he to be involved in a racist incident at work, would it be an issue for the Football Community? I fear he’d be thanked for his contribution to Northampton’s innumerable relegation-ending seasons, and cut loose.

As to why football would want to think itself apart from the rest of society I’ve no idea. Racism, for example, is an intrinsically human problem, apparent in every society on Earth (oh dear – what a ridiculous statement.) Historians are more or less unified in the belief that it began in 1734 at a pub in Bath – long before the first football match took place at No Man’s Land in 1914. By officially acknowledging this, football could quite easily devolve itself of the blame for racist behaviour amongst those who play and follow it, by accepting the notion that this is a problem that might just, possibly, go “beyond football.” But they can’t, because that would entail humility; an acceptance of limitation. “Beyond football” simply doesn’t exist – for what is the Solar System if not a collection of footballs?

The only alternative to this incessant self-grandeurisation that I can see, stems from a misinterpretation on my part; with what I refer to as ‘football’, in fact being ‘Football’. That’s right: the place. As in: let’s go to Football. It’s sunny all year in Football. My Amazon delivery’s been held up in Football. People clearly don’t play football, they live there. There’s too much evidence: David Cameron went on to refer to “problems that have crept back in” to football – emphasising further the notion of ‘Football the country’ in borrowing from the lexicon of border control. We are now officially at war: Football is being invaded.

“If everyone plays their role, then we can easily crush and deal with this problem,” DC battle-cried from atop his noble steed. “I’ll sit in front of the defence,” he unfortunately didn’t add. With this poorly-conceived idea confirmed in my own mind, I decided to go to Football and see the disrupted tranquillity for myself, to try and gauge whether its empire was indeed entering its inevitable (… or is it?) final phase.

Having initially had little idea of where Football was in the world, I rang up the Foreign Office. They faxed me over some phrases William Hague found useful on his recent trip to promote British-made steel studs there, and directed me to the Ryanair website, who have commendably held firm to their principle that there’s no place on Earth too shaming to fly to. Equipped with a highly-esteemed guide book written by Clarke Carlisle, I departed.

With my pockets full of Ambition (the local currency ; i.e. “I’m leaving the club because of a lack of ambition” is an overtly financial statement of intent), I strolled around aimlessly, casting an inexpert eye over what went before me, in much the same way as I tend to do in Britain.

There’s more than a touch of the ancient world in Football. Gods are not confined to temples, and can be seen milling around with the common man – though as a result tend have a transient value. As it started to rain, a woman ran outside screaming the lyric: “There’s only one Tony Pulis!” Whenever rain falls over Football, the citizens pay homage to this 54 year old God of Rain, who has reportedly achieved great things in adverse weather conditions. I was fortunate enough to bump into a God myself, Paul Merson, whose fortunes have seen him fluctuate regularly between various degrees of divine status – much to his own intense confusion.

“I was a God at Arsenal, but then became an alcoholic and cocaine addict. I was sent to rehab, and had my God status temporarily suspended. I got it back at Villa, only to lose it again when I back to rehab for my gambling addiction. But then I got it back again – my work on Sky Sports propelling me back into fans’ hearts. But then I lost it again; after a drink-driving ban. But then I got it bac… Actually, did I? I can’t really remember where I am now to be honest. Pub?”

It would be remiss of me not to recount some of the unsavoury sights I saw; for while Football is undeniably the modern day Olympus, it is fundamentally still on Earth. Every building in Football is built in the style of what we know to be a stadium; “I’m having supper at Joe’s stadium, mum,” etc. Whilst perusing a dodgy neighbourhood, I learnt that due to war between Liverpool and Everton in the 1980s, several stadia had had to be re-erected overnight, with a capacity unfit for purpose in many cases. Jerzy Dudek, who used to work as goalkeeper (all the men in his family had done since time began) in the part of the country called Liverpool (yes, after our very own), said that things were so bad in his, that some of his children had to share seats, and there was only enough underground heating for one penalty box – and even then, that only lasted 45 minutes. “When a player knows he is a slave, he’ll never give his employer his heart,” he reflected solemnly (actually true.) Crime is a concern, and the prisons are bursting at the seams. There’s a huge problem with diving (25 years), accidental diving (15 yrs) and not leaving everything out there (at the judge’s discretion – often the fan mob.)

On the plus side, racism doesn’t exist in Football. “It’s like the falling tree in the rain forest,” said Liverpool’s Kenny Dalglish. “If no one talks about it, did it actually happen? Haven’t you asked me this before?” What we may perceive as racism in the UK is referred to as ‘banter’ in Football. It’s a telling sign of the country and its citizen’s integral honesty in the face of the media, that no one has ever really come out and said that “there might be an issue with racism in football”; such loyal inhabitants are but a dream in the UK. As the octogenarian Jimmy Hill himself said, amidst all the righteous hysteria of the Ron Atkinson ‘scandal’ (another UK-only phenomenon that doesn’t even have a corresponding word in Football Talk, or FT):

“What about jokes about my long chin? I mean, nigger is black – so we have jokes where we call them niggers because they’re black. Why should that be any more of an offence than someone calling me chinny?” (Yep, verbatim.) Such considered reasoning has propelled Hill to ‘National Treasure’ status, alongside the Carling Cup and Robbie Fowler’s nasal strips. Similarly, Football is lucky enough to have no concerns with homophobia; a prejudice the kids haven’t even heard of, by virtue of there being no homosexuals in Football. None… zero… zilch.

Physical abuse is also easily negated. The problematic issue in the UK of geezers seeking excitement on Saturday nights through fighting can’t occur here. As one sage told me, what looks like fighting is in fact a series of ‘challenges.’ He advised me: “When you see two people that you think are fighting, ask yourself this question: Is he that sort of player? Invariably you’ll find that he isn’t, by virtue of no one in history ever having being publicly labelled ‘that type of player’, ever. Football is one of the most socially progressive countries in the world – and if it’s not top of the league, it’s certainly in the play-offs.”

Education does follow a similar subject model to the UK. I jollied round a school for a day at the Headmaster’s invitation. A history test was a chronological quiz of various battles, much like our own.

“In what year did Benfica defeat Manchester United in the European Cup?” parped Mr Tyldelsey.

“1968,” offered one eager student of the game.

“Wrong. It was another one of my trick questions – Manchester United won. Obviously. Stay behind after training and write out ‘That Night in Barcelona’ till you feel like you were there.”

Just as I was becoming fully convinced in my own mind as to Football’s enduring stability, its never ending empire, I popped into a Maths class, where the hugely respected Mr Motson was demanding nothing but the best from his attentive charges.

“If I score two goals away from home, and the opposition score five, what is the minimum number of goals I need to score at home to guarantee progress through to the next round?”

“But sir, can you guarantee anything in football?” one girl asked.

“Aha! And therein lies the beauty of Maths, my dear,” Mr Motson beamed, gazing whimsically out the window. “Nothing is ever certain.”

A Life in the Day: Garth Crooks

Garth Anthony Crooks OBE, 53, is a moral, well-behaved winner of two FA Cups and one Uefa Cup.

I’m up at the crack of dawn, and straight onto the BBC Gossip Column, sifting through the nonsense with my in-built bullshit detector. If I’m not up to date, how can you be? It’s hugely enjoyable working on Final Score, and the banter is just right. I’ve seen a wide variety of banter in my time, some of which I approve of, and some of which I don’t. I’ve always believed good banter is good for the work environment, and that bad banter is bad for the working environment. Brighty (Mark Bright, CF) and I never knowingly overstep the mark.

In the studio, I like to open my eyes as wide as possible, as this gives the best chance for you the viewer at home, to see exactly what I’m seeing. I used to feel slightly sorry for BBC viewers who don’t have/ can’t afford Sky Sports, but now… well, I don’t. With the games reflected clearly in my bulbous eyeballs, as well as mine and Sav’s (Robbie Savage, CM, though it could be Matt Holland, also CM, depending on availability) insight, I can’t help but feel you’re getting a better deal.

When interviewing players, it’s imperative to speak incredibly slowly, as this allows you to cater for the least able viewer/ player by way of giving them time to comprehend the question, and enables the more intelligent observer to mull over the hidden depths inherent in my multi-layered questioning. It’s critical to remember that over-analysis is impossible, and is used as a throw-away defence mechanism used by the ignorant who can’t debate for extended periods without losing focus. I’ve never understood the appeal of Chris Kamara. He certainly seems to enjoy himself, but he’s simply incomprehensible, and at times downright frivolous.

After Final Score, Brighty (Mark Bright) and I will stay on the sofa for hours discussing who’s going to have the nicest weekend, by which time, when the lights are turned off in the dead of night, it’s usually been declared a draw.

Last weekend I went and sat in a park after I’d clocked off for the day, having hugged Gabby goodbye (N.B. entirely appropriate behaviour – I’ve known Gabby for years, and she’s become as much a friend as a colleague – though is still primarily a colleague, undeniably.) I mulled over the games I’d seen that day, the goals. Headers, left foot chips, right foot bullets. The yellows that could have been reds, the reds that could have been yellows. This constant collision of fact with my own opinions has driven me to explore the potential for an orange card – an initiative I intend to bring up in the next PFA meeting. “An orange card should be shown when the challenge is deemed to be too severe for a yellow, but undeserving of a red,” the print should read. I’ve no doubt that in time people will start referring to ‘The Crooks of the Argument’!

I then engage my brain into processing the day’s games through the “What If?” paradigm, which can be exhausting. In brief: would Crystal Palace have conceded that late equaliser with ten men on the pitch? Had the referee (I don’t name referees on principle) given a throw-in instead of a corner, would Sheffield Wednesday be in the predicament they now find themselves in? It’s no surprise thinkers find solace in suicide. I woke up on Monday afternoon, with £3. 27 p on my lap, my trousers saturated in someone else’s Lambrini and my own urine. Having conducted some research, I concluded that this was an acceptable sum for the average London tramp over the time period (46 hrs, 25 minutes) – for while I was in an affluent area, I had been asleep the entire time, and so hadn’t been begging per se.

After filming draws to a close my football focus switches over to the individual as opposed to the team. Sure, I get quite a lot of stick about my Team of The Week (TOTW), but as I’ve said, and I’ve heard Sav (Robbie Savage) and Brighty (Mark Bright) say on occasion too (note to self: start copywriting phrases), football’s a game of opinion. I’ve received some total filth down the years, but people seem to have mellowed somewhat in recent seasons, from which I infer a coming round to my line of thought amongst the general populous – I concede I may have been slightly too leftfield initially. If I had a penny for every time I’d been asked: “Garth, why don’t you become a manager?” I’d have a perfectly reasonable sum of money.

It’s been levelled at me before that I select players on simplistic reasons such as goals scored, commendable behaviour and smart haircuts (isn’t Mario Balotelli awful?), but I can honestly say that selection is based on no non-footballing variables – it’s just Garth and the statistics (which would be a very good, but perhaps not quite top level band name.)

One of the best bits of the job is ringing the players up to tell them they’re in TOTW, which I do from the Director General’s office on Skype. I’ve heard a rumour that Bradley Johnson’s agent secured him an extra five thousand pounds a week based on one assessment I made of him. As I’m sure you can imagine, I now get bouquets of flowers and dinner offers galore from agents – but it’ll never wash. I’ve come this far on my own judgement – why stop now?

Players awarded the honour receive a surprise house visit from me (license fee moaners: I pay for the train myself – any perceived dearth of Sunderland/ Newcastle players is woefully misplaced conjecture), at any point during the working week, a signed photo (me usually, Brighty (Mark Bright) if I’ve run out, of me), and a proper “old school” cap which I present them with, in a small but dignified ceremony (family, close friends).

I’ve watched many great players over the years – and verbally water-boarded most of them – but my absolute favourite has to be Alan Shearer. I never once saw or heard of him being drunk, and he gave 100% every week (and most importantly, still does.) It brings angry beads of sweat to my brow to hear lesser pundits and players talk about giving 110%, 120%, and occasionally even 200%, because I know this to be impossible.

As a fervent believer in the values of hard work and academia, I’m currently exploring the possibility of running an Open University course in Football Studies, my (admittedly expensive) contribution to the Big Society if you will. It’ll probably take three years to complete; for there is infinitely more than meets the eye to the 4-4-2 system. The course would emphasise tactical progression, transgression, and interview technique. I foresee Brighty (Mark Bright) conducting a ground-breaking module on ‘The False Nine’, whilst I would specialise in subjunctive history amongst other things (I’ve already written a thesis exploring the ramifications of Bulgaria winning the 1994 World Cup.)

It’s my ambition to one day join Gary Lineker in the Match of the Day studio; he never got a yellow card. Brighty (Mark Bright) and I have good, healthy banter about this, because that’s what he wants too! I’ve said to him that if (or rather, when) it happens to either of us, there’ll be no hard feelings, and that professionalism must at all times be maintained. I’m positive he understands this, because he’s a product of the old school, from which I too take my not inconsiderable values.

Values are often what I think of lying in bed. Was James Collins good value for TOTW? He was, after all, playing West Brom at home. Having invariably decided I was right to go with my instinct, I’ll drift off, away from this world of certainty into frighteningly surreal slumber, where I could encounter absolutely anything; from the total rejection of the offside rule to midget goalkeepers, or studs made from cork.

Manchester United 2 Liverpool 2

A rugby player, looking down on all of us. Naturally.

Honours were shared at Old Trafford this weekend as Liverpool moved a step closer towards winning the Barclays Immoral Premier League.

Luis Suarez got the match off to a flyer on minus one minute, when he turned down the opportunity to shake the hand of Patrice Evra to give Liverpool a 1-0 lead. Evra then in turn, through a dynamic piece of hot-headedness nearly negated the deficit immediately, by clawing at the in-form Uruguayan’s arm, possibly looking to start a confrontation. Lesser players would have simply ignored Suarez’s reprehensible behaviour, and left him to bear the consequences of his actions in a show of moral superiority and embarrassment at such a staggering lack of contrition. But then I suppose that’s why he’s the Captain of Manchester United and Michael Carrick isn’t.

Unsuprisingly it was Evra who scored the equaliser at one minute after the final whistle; stylishly goading Suarez by celebrating ostentatiously in his peripheral vision, cannily never facing him directly. Such an act of cowardice was a fitting way to end the players’ involvement in the match. Suarez could have given Liverpool the lead in dramatic fashion by putting Evra on the deck, but bizarrely spurned this open goal, choosing instead to walk off the pitch minding his own business. Evra then had his ego massaged further by match referee Phil Dowd, who accosted him with an almighty bollocking.

The second half saw the match move to the interview area, Lord Ferg stirring up the incident nicely by exercising his divine right to comment on anything he feels like. After all, he’s got a title in front of his name and the FA paying extortionate sums of money to lease the area ten feet up his backside, rendering him never in danger of falling into the trap of taking the moral high-ground.

“Suarez is a disgrace to Liverpool Football Club,” he one-upped, offering a vintage sound-bite to the media morons who he knows full-well interpret what he says literally. “He should not be allowed to play for Liverpool again,” he huffed in self-parody. “He could have caused a riot.” They don’t hand out knighthoods for nothing: 2-1 United.

In the Sky studio Darren Fletcher then rather bafflingly did his team mate a huge disservice, demonstrating a breath-taking ignorance of the aims of Immoral Football. “Credit to Patrice Evra, I think he’s come out (and) he’s the bigger man,” he said, at once calling into question his team mate’s sexual orientation and whether he actually watched the game.

With Liverpool in trouble, Anfield hero Dalglish stepped up to ensure the draw with a typically pugnacious finish. Dalglish has been in great from of late, securing all three points and propelling Liverpool to the Moral League summit with a clinical lack of judgement against Spurs on Monday, when he said that Suarez “should never have been out in the first place”; proving that class really is permanent.

His undignified rebuke of the Sky pundit asking a perfectly reasonable question about the behaviour of his player guaranteed football supporters across the world finished the afternoon with the increasingly familiar bad-taste-in-the-mouth – undeniably the mark of a satisfactory day. It finished 2-2.

As a result of the latest round of North West “banter”, talk of a European Immoral Super League has resurfaced. Representatives from both clubs have confirmed they’ve been invited by various Italian sides (corruption/ arson) at the heart of the concept, and the Old Firm (sectarianism/ alcoholism) to discuss how such a breakaway could materialise.

Chelsea’s seat at the top table of European Immorality is thought to hinge on the outcome of the JT trial, though AVB has been doing his best to promote the case for his club’s inclusion by defending his captain blindly, and being a petulant idiot in interviews. Should his noble efforts go unrewarded however, Roman Abramovich is reportedly prepared to lift the lid on how he accrued his personal fortune in rouble-by-rouble detail, which if speculation proves even partially correct should see Chelsea finally become top dogs in Europe.

Spurs fans have been left deflated by the surprising Not Guilty verdict gifted to England’s ‘Arry this week, though are optimistic about qualifying for any potential European elite competition through their participation in the Unfair Play League, which they were invited to join following their conduct during the Olympic stadium debacle: they’ve had four people arrested on suspicion of spying on officials during the bidding process… hang on in their Spurs fans.

Real Madrid and Barcelona are also expected to be in attendance, though critics have dismissed their attempts to be involved at all; citing their respective lack of scandal. The clubs lay the blame at the door of the Spanish FA, who they feel are guilty of dereliction of duty by not acknowledging, let alone punishing, incessant racist chanting across the country. They hope to qualify through spending abhorrent amounts of money and subsequent debt levels, and consider their application to have more weight behind it in light of the juxtaposition with their country’s economic plight and previously unheard of rate of unemployment. Barcelona’s recent sponsorship deal with the Qatari Foundation is ostensibly to draw attention to the plight of vulnerable foreign workers brought in by that country’s government to complete various vanity projects, and they hope the deal will render them implicit in the guilt. In addition, obvious efforts have been made to ramp up unsightly behaviour at games, particularly El Clasico. Madrid say they are doing their bit by employing the odious Jose Mourinho and Pepe, but Pep Guardiola has proven to be a fairly decent sort; much to the dismay of the Barcelona board.

The media are certainly behind this idea, and notorious shit-stirrers News International are naturally in favour of the move. One of their lesser respected titles, The Sunday Times, did their best to improve standards of dismal journalism by including an arbitrary selection of “tweets” (sorry – the most awful noun) on the Suarez vs Evra affair, from such suitably irrelevant figures as Mark Foster (Olympic swimmer apparently – not your club’s reserve left-back in 94/95), ex-Westlife current-Lowlife Bryan MacFadden, and Ugo Monye, a player of that most sickeningly self-conceited sport, rugby.

Monye displayed a self-defeating naivety in tweeting (sorry – the most awful verb) “Suarez is a total disgrace […] would never happen in rugby.” What exactly he was referring to he didn’t let on, reconfirming Twitter as the forum of choice for total and utter worthlessness. Now let’s assume that it was either race related, or to do with the non hand shake. In 2003, South African rugby international Geo Cronj refused to share a room with a mixed-race team mate, Quinton Davids. He wouldn’t even share a bathroom, loo or shower with the player. When that happens in football Ugo, don’t forget to tweet: “wow – football years behind rugby,” or some other idiotic self-affirming reflection to that effect. The tragedy here is that one suspects many will have read Monye’s sanctimonious statement and nodded in agreement with a sense of irreproachable superiority.

In a parallel universe, Manchester United beat Liverpool 2-1 in something called the Barclays Premier League, and something called Johnny Evans had a “good game”. It’s just so hard to care.

Stuart Pearce 13/2

Poor metaphor: 'Arry noses round the wreckage of England FC, previously abandoned by Captain Capello

Fabio Capello has just left the Most Important Job in The World. Of his own accord. Having now read the story 736 times on the BBC website, I’m beginning to think it might be true. The press conference was undeniably persuasive.

Capello’s mental state aside, the JT saga seems to have provided him with a last-ditch opportunity to salvage what’s left of his mangled reputation post the 2010 South Africa Tour of Shame, and skive off from leading England to another display of ineptitude abroad, a place we haven’t truly bossed anyone in since the Nineteenth Century. To give him his dues, he’s played an absolute blinder, utilising years of experience and tactical nous, and – one assumes – The Capello Index.

Having previously asserted that he didn’t see what all the fuss was about regarding The Armband – thereby offending the Wembley faithful as well as reigniting the debate around immigrants and their disinterested approach to cultural assimilation – he apparently now feels it’s an issue worthy of resignation.

“For me the performance of the player is important, not the armband. It is not a priority for me. The armband is not important,” he said in 2010.

I wonder if The FA are regretting informing the Italian of the supposedly widely-held belief that the England captain is the moral standard-bearer for the British public? Well of course they’re not, indeed the FA have never once encountered regret – for what is regret to the righteous arm of divine intervention? These days such shamelessly specious logic has my intrinsic cynic alarm ringing instantly, though I have to admit I was once duped by such claims.

It was just after Euro ’96. I was nine. Wembley played host to 80, 000 souls – some of whom had been at war just 51 years previously. Amidst the gunfire, gentle Gareth Southgate passed the ball to the German keeper. A switch in me just flicked. I was propelled headfirst into a seven week bender; mainly lager. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that day, and if anyone else has fallen victim to the condition known medically as ‘Following the Example of the Current England Captain Because You’re Ridiculously Impressionable and Incapable of Taking Responsibility For Your Own Actions’, I’d encourage them to seek help at The Sporting Chance Clinic. I’m now fine.

Tougher times aside, the timing of Capello’s resignation is certainly suspicious. Only hours after ‘Arry gets out of jail free for NOT fiddling his tax returns, Fab imprisons himself in HMRC Bitter-Resentment, a most unforgiving prison situated in the pre-frontal cortex of all hot-headed-and-I-drink-too-much England supporters. It’s almost as if he’d been waiting for the verdict, a Machiavellian ruse to see media darling ‘Arry’s name dragged through the dirt after yet more Three Lions shame this summer. (Yes, very clever Fabio, but you’re forgetting one thing: ‘Arry got to the Quarter-Final of the Champions League.)

‘Arry would obviously be insane to take the job now, and I’m sure is far too sensible to even consider jeopardising the success he’s having at Spurs. Besides, even if the FA wanted him to lead England into Euro 2012, they’ve only got about five months. In light of these innumerable gifts to Arsenal supporters: “I can’t work a computer, I don’t know what an email is, I’ve never sent a fax and I’ve never even sent a text message. I’ve never wrote a letter in my life. I couldn’t write a letter, I write like a two-year-old and I can’t spell,” it’ll be a stern test of the FA’s resources to get hold of him in time. Protesting too much ‘Arry?

Well, in keeping with the Luddite picture ‘Az eloquently paints of his life (though I’d give the autobiography a miss), I’d suggest enlisting the services of a gang of East London pick-pockets, who would have the best chance of reaching ‘Arry in time owing to their inherent knowledge of hard-working London’s dimly-lit backstreets and extensive contact network – as after all, ‘Arry’s just a normal guy.

However, whilst rightfully the first choice, ‘Azza’s credentials have been dealt a severe blow by long-shot rival Alan Shearer, offering his no-one-really-knows-why sought after opinion on the matter: “I would go along with Harry Redknapp as the outstanding candidate. He’s a genius at motivating players.”

It remains to be seen whether Shearer’s assessment was made in light of any self-awareness as to just how poor a mind he possesses. If so, one has to suspect he’ll go about getting his prolific goal-scoring feet in the door by assessing each and every candidate to the nation on MOTD, extolling their suitability for the job and unparalleled expertise in the field of football management – thereby subliminally curtailing their chances.

“He’s not just a motivator of players, he’s a motivator of great players,” he continued…

But back to Fabio, and the kerfuffle of having to select another captain, let alone losing one, must have contributed to his disillusionment in his role. One suspects the appearance of Gareth Barry on various speculative shortlists in itself may have been enough to force this Italian into abandoning ship; a stark reminder of just how disparate England’s self-worth and anything approaching realism really are. The sight of Mesut Ozil ghosting past a statuesque Barry in Bloemfontein was a tragi-comedy in itself, and it’ll be interesting to see whether critics can possibly infer more comedic angles from that particular sketch, should England collapse limbless, bleeding to the point of hallucination, out of the groups and into the knockout stages.

I suppose the other point to acknowledge here is the effect Capello’s decision will have on humility’s JT. I’ve already ordered my signed copy of ‘Capello: My Part in his Downfall’, the sure to be successful sequel to best-seller ‘Capello: My Part in his Rise.’ The incremental increase in pressure on current Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas will surely not have gone unnoticed by altruism’s JT, and it would be a mark of his unwavering class if he were to put his arm round the shoulder of the beleaguered Portuguese in the not too distant future, and tell him that he has no plans to sack him via club puppet Roman Abramovich.

Great Scott

Kids. No doubt dreaming of wearing it...

I already feel a profound sense of pity for JT’s successor as captain of the England football team. Particularly with a view to his initial promotion to the role, when hacks will pose asinine nothings such as: “How will your approach differ to JT’s?” and others, to procure their requisite quantity of dead copy.

“JT’s his own man, and is a great captain. We’ve all seen that over the years at Chelsea and England. He’s a great pro and a big act to follow, but I’ll be looking to bring my own leadership style to the squad,” he’ll say, not offering so much as a smidgen of explanation as to what that style entails (though this is not his fault – it’s tough to differentiate between methods of shouting at corners.)

Unfortunately he won’t say, with palpable relief: “Well thank God for that. Honestly, what a truly terrible bloke that John Terry was, eh? Shagging his mate’s son’s mother; staging a coup in South Africa… Anyway, no worries, he won fuck all and embarrassed himself against the Germans in a performance of sustained parody, so the bar’s not exactly high, is it?”

The Sunday Times’ Jonathan Northcroft wants Scott Parker to be given the role. The graphic accompanying his piece this week – all of one centimetre away – states that Parker is “too quiet and too new and too inexperienced at top level”; a minor oversight from the sub-editor, perhaps. Still, though I strongly doubt it, I’d like to think that these two views are not on an entirely different wavelength.

By bestowing the lofty honour on such a softly-spoken chap as Scott, the commotion surrounding it will hopefully be forgotten, perhaps even The Armband entirely; to the extent that the FA are finally forced to acknowledge the ridicule poured over their unflinching grandeurisation of the job, and make England the first country to overtly eschew the position of captain altogether.

Others have already done so in all but name; some using the Age Test to determine who gets The Armband dumped on them – which unsurprisingly involves giving it to the player who’s had the most birthdays. As the nostalgic survivors of WWII and 1966 become evermore depleted, let’s hope England eventually follow suit.

The selection process for someone to call heads or tails and shake Johnny F’s hand – which I’d like to think JT did admirably, never failing to look down with noble pity upon the poor wretch from Somewhere Else (before sliding said coin down his sock) – could be granted to the first man out onto the pitch, in a bid to replicate the long-forgotten unbridled joy of the lunch-queue, where a first-come-first-served mantra reigned supreme. “I don’t care if you did have a violin lesson Francis, there are no more Chicken Kievs”/ “I don’t care if you were being beaten up in the toilet Darren, there are no more Chicken Kievs.”

It could even offer the chance for Three Lions’ fans to see tactical ingenuity from their heroes. Nauseatingly self-conscious patriots such as Lamps would no doubt bid embarrassing sums of money for the locker nearest the dressing-room door in a bid to get out first, whilst nippier lads on smaller wages such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may look to surprise taller team mates by crawling through their unsuspecting legs in the tunnel. Anyway, you’d be mad not to watch.

A more obvious suggestion would be to find out if anyone had an uncanny knack for predicting the outcome of said Coin Toss, or a pseudo-intellectual way of deducing its eventual upside through observing the ref’s technique. That way our boys could deliberately play into the sun in the all-to-play-for second half, giving them a more noble/ tangible excuse for defeat than current favourite: “tired after a long Premier League season.”

In the one-in-a-million chance that someone actually has to lift a trophy (probably the only other job of note), the lucky sod could be decided by a quick on-pitch keepy-uppy competition at full time; a popular pastime that could briefly unite out-of-touch-with-reality players with the kids on the street they all claim to have once been.

This would in tandem offer fans and broadcasters more football for their money (cue modernity-cynic Lawro’s typical dismissiveness; Sky daringly but naively going all out), as well as a few laughs when the nation realises that Theo Walcott really is That Bad. Advertisers would be keen to get involved (Wazza/ JT to plug Viagra in the brief interludes? “It certainly keeps-me-uppy!” etc.), and some of the more socially-conscious players (dear God what planet am I on?) could even donate a certain amount of money per kick-up (keep-up?) to a child in need; expect hard-up’s JT to muster three at most before unconvincingly collapsing to the ground feigning cramp.

Also, as no one really cares about England anyway, this way fans could revert to normal club allegiances, offering vitriolic abuse to rival’s players, thereby satisfying the main reason they bother watching football in the first place (though admittedly backing any team Ashley Cole plays for would induce self-loathing in even the most conceited of fans.)

Another option would be to reverse English football’s now rarely seen penchant for player-managers. Instead of having the manager on the pitch, have the skipper off it, and let him pick up the trophy; a ceremonial captain of sorts. Aside from spending 90 minutes shouting at the players and thereby doing the captain’s supposed job anyway, he’ll clearly deserve the honour of picking up silverware the most, due to having had to go abroad for an extended period with 30 philistinic morons struggling to work out the conversion ratios needed to evaluate whether prostitutes are more or less expensive than in the UK.

A rejection of captaincy would provide football with the opportunity to lead other industries into a post-PR era, a rejection of predetermined interviews and pandering to thick fans. Never one to underplay its importance in the community, the FA could possibly even convince itself that politicians and the like could be enticed into following their trail-blazing lead. The timing would be most apt; this being a week when more than one repugnant, promiscuous self-serving abomination had his job taken from him.

Parker doesn’t seem unduly bothered by the media and its purported purpose, and one would like to think he’s suspicious of it – so if anyone’s ‘worthy’ of The Armband it’s probably him. He also has an admirable haircut.

99 Problems

*violins/ cellos* etc.

The news that JT is to stand trial after the European Championships has come as a welcome surprise to Hate England supporters, who will now be able to rest assured that there will indeed be tangible repercussions for international failure. Or so holier-than-thou media types would have you believe, as they appear to have decided that his being found guilty is as inevitable as England playing the long ball. In formerly respected broadsheet The Telegraph, Paul Kelso has today called for JT to stand down from his role as England Captain – foolishly ignoring the fitting ambiguity around the letter ‘c’ appearing next to his name on the team sheet.

You can just hear the sager pundits and commentators now, questioning with the aptitude of a pub drunk whether a fractionally mistimed tackle was due to JT’s mind being “elsewhere.” Yes Clive, of course I mean you.

As a champion of the individual, and adhering to the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ legal bedrock, I believe it is for JT to decide whether he wants the furore that will inevitably surround his left bicep in Eastern Europe, and whether he feels the rest of the dressing room is likely to be affected by his continuation in the role (the importance of which escapes me.)

If, believing himself to be innocent, he continues as skipper and is then vindicated in court, he will receive praise for his fortitude and self-belief; qualities painfully lacking in most England players. The allure of this praise should ensure he doesn’t Stand Down.

JT is the doyen of adversity. So regular are the crimes he’s accused of, it’s hard not to feel that the significance of this particular episode has been somewhat lost in the mire of his other misdemeanours; a same-shit-different-day scenario, if you will. JT and his people will also be wary of any potential effect standing down as captain will have on any sponsorship deals he may have/ hope to have, rendering his resignation all the more unlikely.

However, the delay of the trial has provided JT with a priceless opportunity to go one-nil up on the prosecution and irritable message-board types even before it all kicks off. He now has six months in which to garner public favour, and gain the psychological upper-hand. I admit it’s no small task, but I’ve had some thoughts on the matter that I’m sure his legal/ PR team (fairly cosy bedfellows, one would imagine) have already pondered:

@JT4worldpeace

Having commendably refrained from committing his vile urges to electronic print thus far, JT now has the opportunity to entirely reinvent himself through the choice medium of the day: Twitter. England’s captain can rise above the vacuous torrents currently saturating the website, and engage solely with politicians and other lofty thinking folk on all issues surrounding race, football’s role in promoting tolerance, and how we can successfully channel funding from banks and government into deprived areas.

The African Cup of Nations

Now his people need to act quickly here, obviously. The final is in 11 days. What better way to get in the jury’s good books than be the man who hands over the trophy to the winning captain? (Who  then in turn could be a character witness.) JT should don national dress for the duration of his stay, which he could then take back to some of the more Bohemian spots in West London to continue the facade. However, JT should be sure to avoid talking to/ at anyone, for fear something along the lines of “Pele is probably my favourite African footballer ever” emanates from his trap.

John Terry’s Aboriginal Pranksters – 9.00pm, ITV4

In the spirit of football-media hybrid Rio Ferdinand’s Rio’s World Cup Wind-Ups, JT could explore the possibility of producing his own show in the run up to Euro 2012. But where Rio’s subjects were (supposedly) the butt of the joke, JT could offer his (uniformly black) subjects the chance to pull his chain in the name of fun; thereby subverting the traditional colonial narrative.

Producer’s note to JT: DO pat them incessantly on the head/ put battle-weary paternal arm round their shoulders.

Euro 2012

Obvious points here. Surreally over-zealous celebration of goals, clean sheets and headed clearances with Ashley Cole – not letting him go for at least 2 minutes, or without kisses and salty English tears all over his face.

I expect JT to lead us admirably out of the group stages, to a heroic penalty shoot-out defeat in the quarters. In his final sweat-soaked chat to the media before court proceedings commence, JT should offer a heartfelt spiel on how immigration has contributed to the national team over the years, and come forth with a concept proposal for Euro-Afro 2016.

***

With a unanimous NOT GUILTY decision, JT will be able to switch all his attentions to the 2012/13 season with Chelsea/ Highest Bidders, safe in the knowledge that his aura will have grown tenfold, and that he’ll be able to plug various consumer goods off the back of the verdict.

In turn, his lawyers will then be able to crack on with their next case: defending JT against allegations of mercilessly raping a Polish hotel maid with Wayne Rooney and Ben Foster.