England feel the fickle finger of fate yet again


VIEW FROM THE COUCH:THE EVENING had started with Gary Lineker advising his viewers to “feel the weight of history, but do not fear it,” just before he treated them to a montage of past England calamities, including a missed penalty or two. That, you’d imagine, left his audience half-buckling.

A couple of hours later, they’d buckled entirely, a bit like England’s Euro 2012 hopes, maybe concluding that this football lark is way, way too cruel to be endured any more.

Having been marooned, for cost-cutting reasons, in Sunny Salford since the start of Euro 2012, while their ITV colleagues luxuriated on their decking overlooking Warsaw’s Castle Square, the BBC team finally got to travel east in time for last night’s game.

The Daily Mail, predictably enough, was delighted for them – “BBC charters private plane to fly star presenters into Kiev for Englands Euro 2012 match against Italy!” – before returning its focus on immigration, left-leaning hypocritical comedians and women with wrinkles.

While it’s ITV that’s historically been accused of jinxing England in major tournaments, this was a risky move by the Beeb, if the arrival of Lineker, Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson in Ukraine coincided with England’s first – and last – defeat of the Championship, the nation might never forgive them.

Come the end of the evening? The English nation will never forgive them, ITV surrendering their jinxy crown. What would have happened if the Beeb had remained in Salford? Forty-six years of hurt might well have been ended.

It had all started so hopefully. Shearer, for one, was buoyed by the inclusion of Mario Balotelli in the Italian team. He had, after all, achieved nothing in his career, he said.

(Al? Psst. Wikipedia):

Mario Balotelli, age 21: Serie A titles: 2007–08, 2008–09, 2009–10; Coppa Italia: 2009–10; Supercoppa Italiana: 2008; Uefa Champions League: 2009–10 (granted, he sat on the bench for the duration of the game, but still, he has the medal); English Premier League: 2011–12; FA Cup: 2010–11.

Alan Shearer: English Premier League: 1994–95).

Anyway, moving on.

“He’s a headbanger, Bill – you can’t trust these guys,” John Giles was saying about Mario over on RTÉ, but it was Wayne Rooney who was the target of Eamon Dunphy’s discontent, suggesting he’d “never really done it” for England at a major tournament.

And with that Bill O’Herlihy introduced one of those flashback sequences, this one highlighting the 2004 European Championships which “18-year-old Wayne Rooney took by storm”. Hate that.


Liam Brady: “I think it’ll go all the way to penalty kicks, Bill.”

Dunphy: “A low scoring draw, maybe no goals, the first no goal match of the tournament.”

Bill: “Penalties?

Dunphy: “Could do?”

Which one of us, then, didn’t expect an 8-7 triumph for one or the other?

“Will the fickle finger of fate finally point England’s way?” said Lineker as he handed over to the stadium. We’ll see Gary, we’ll see.

A lively start, a middling middle and a rubbishy end. Both sides afraid to lose, although, in fairness, that was a happy contrast to France’s effort on Saturday night when they didn’t break in to a sweat for fear they might actually win.

Full-time. 0-0. Brady and Dunphy were lighting up cigars.

“England have given Italy a hiding,” said Dunphy.

“Huh,” said his colleagues.

“No, Italy have given England a hiding,” he corrected himself.

“He’s getting tired, Bill,” said Brady.

And so were England, worn out from losing at this spot-kick lark. Balotelli, both panels confidently predicted, would miss. Balotelli. Steps. Up. Scores. Light a cigar, young man.

And, well, you know yourself. The weight of history is a fearsome thing.

“We’ve been there many times before, but it doesn’t make it any more palatable,” Lineker sighed, before himself Hansen and Lawrenson packed their bags and headed back to Salford.

And then the BBC acted all weird, calling it for what it was.

“We were given a footballing lesson,” said Shearer, “we were lucky to get to penalties in the first place, let’s be honest – Italy should have been out of sight in the 90 minutes, really.”

“The quarter-finals was about their level,” said Lee Dixon.

“Justice was done,” said Hansen. “It shows you how far away England are from competing at this level.”

Cripes. If you looked out yer window you’d have seen Porky flap his wings.

Semi-finals: Germany v Italy, Portugal v Spain. And apart from confidently tipping the Dutch and French to fill two of those slots, which one of us didn’t expect that foursome?

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