TV View: Unnatural arm movements from Breffni Park to Nice
Undisputed result as Scotland flounder on England’s rock-solid performance
Scotland’s Chloe Arthur (left) and England’s Karen Carney (right) battle for the ball during the World Cup. Photograph: John Walton/PA
While that business over Rockall might have left us doubting our Celtic allegiances ahead of the Women’s World Cup clash of Scotland and England, all it needed for us to set fishing rights aside for 90 minutes plus added time was that blast of Flower of Scotland at the Allianz Riviera stadium.
It never fails to go through you, that tune.
And this time there was the promise to send proud Phil Neville’s army homeward, to their team hotel at least, to tae think again, so there was a hint of a sequel to the Battle of Bannockburn in the Nice air.
It had, of course, already been an historic day for English football after the lads finished third in the Nations League by beating Switzerland on penalties. Gary Neville couldn’t hide his enthusiasm when the game went to extra-time after 90ish scoreless minutes. “I’ve missed me flight,” he said before falling silent, for all the world sounding like a man who had mislaid the will to carry on breathing.
There was, though, much more at stake in Nice, Scotland making their World Cup debut against, of all people, an England side with World Cup-winning aspirations.
And the very best thing about it was they hadn’t been called the “Jockesses” or the “Tartanettes” en route to this famous day. Although there was quite a bit of tilty-headed ah-bless-ness towards their appearance in the tournament, the expectation being that the Lionesses would do unto them what your average lioness would do unto a lost gazelle: gobble, devour, burp.
“Scotland just have to go out and enjoy themselves,” said Sue Smith in the BBC commentary box, so the tone was set, but by half-time Scotland weren’t enjoying themselves at all, them being 2-0 down.
The first goal came as a result of an unnatural arm movement from Nicola Docherty – ie her arm was protruding from the shoulder to which it is attached – VAR deciding that that was worth a penalty. Hope Solo sent a death stare Gabby Logan’s way when she suggested the decision might have been correct, her Scottish punditing colleague Gemma Fay wearing the frustrated look of a woman who’d be happier to cede Rockall to us than cede that it was a pen.
Scotland had a think again at half-time and came out fighting, pulling a goal back late on, but despite holding out England’s performance after the break left Phil anything but proud.
“He’s reading them the riot act,” said Gabby on spotting him hollering at his charges on the pitch after the game.
Quite right too, Alex Scott reckoned, the former England international skewering the display, thereby enhancing her burgeoning reputation as a pundit who desists from telling us, “ah sure look, they gave it everything”.
“I’m questioning Fran Kirby – what impact did she have today,” she asked, before tearing in to England’s fitness levels. Hope, who can skewer better than most, nodded. If England carried on playing like that, “they’ve no business making it to the final”. No punches pulled.
Unnatural arm movements, as it proved, were a theme of the weekend, from Kingspan Breffni Park to the Allianz Riviera, two stadiums that, to be honest, you don’t often see mentioned in the same sentence.
When Tiernan McCann unnaturally used his arm to insert his hand into Stephen McMenamin’s mouth, Joe Brolly intimated that he wouldn’t be offering his services to defend the fella. “It’s long overdue coming to that boy,” he said when Joanne Cantwell suggested a meaty punishment might be coming his way.
Donegal did the business in the end against Tyrone, Michael Murphy having a decent day of it. Colm O’Rourke even conceded as much.
When Joe had lauded Murphy pre-match, Colm was having none of it.
“Joe has put him up as the best player of the decade, he was beginning to sound like Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson on drugs [Michael Gove: “Hello?”]. If you keep saying something often enough, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the truth.”
“You’ve a bee in a bonnet about Murphy,” said Joe, “you can never give him credit!” And so peeved was he, he almost used an unnatural arm movement to slap Colm in the mush and send him homeward to Meath to tae think again.