Hodgson's unsung heroes are looking the part
SIDELINE CUT:There is no denying they have rediscovered something of the old stuff in Poland. The impossible can’t be discounted now, writes KEITH DUGGAN.
WHAT HAS happened to England in these European Championships? When and how did it all go so right? Tomorrow night, England play Italy in an eminently winnable quarter-final match. Just one more win will give them an opportunity to compare those virtues as traditional as Yorkshire pudding – hard-work and athleticism and honesty – with the dazzling new order offered by Spain and Germany.
If England are still in the championship on Monday morning, their summer will have been an unqualified success. There have been no humiliations on the field or scandals off it.
The English fans have been conspicuous by their anonymity. Word is that those English supporters who made the long trek to the Ukraine have been royally welcomed and have enjoyed themselves. No snarling, no riots, nothing to be ashamed of. Luck, too, has smiled on England in the match which saw them eliminate the dashing Ukraine team.
Their captain, Steven Gerrard, has revelled in the responsibility of wearing the armband. And for now at least, the Fleet Street brigade seem content that Roy Hodgson is the right fit for the nation.
Already, the Fabio Capello era is becoming a distant memory and the clamour for Harry Redknapp to be handed the crown has also quickly faded away. The appointment of Hodgson, the sensible journeyman, seemed to promise that England would just muddle through these championships and then begin again. Instead they are on the verge of turning their June in Poland into something special.
The strange thing is that in the very summer when England have had to operate on the hoof, they have behaved impeccably.
The tone was set when the squad visited Auschwitz before the tournament began.
They weren’t the only squad to do so – the Germans, the Italians and the Dutch also paid a visit to the former concentration camp.
It is very easy to be cynical about the idea of gilded millionaires bowing their heads appropriately in front of the snappers for an easy public relations exercise. And there is something disconcerting about the idea of Wayne Rooney, source of so many indecorous and daft headlines down the years, visiting such a solemn and sombre monument to a barbaric period in history.
There was always the danger too that someone would say or do something inappropriate. More than one veteran English football writer recalled the disastrous outcome of a visit to the camp by a national under-21 team a number of years ago. The players tried to joke their way through their unease and were subjected to a lecture afterwards from a livid Peter Taylor.