Ordinary Boys

When Ron Greenwood became England Manager in 1977 he tried to replicate the success of the English Club side of the time by picking a team with six Liverpool players in his first game in charge. At the same time Roy Hodgson was in his first Managerial role, in Sweden, at Halmstead, but something must have stuck, because thirty five years on, Hodgson’s first match had five Liverpool players appearing at some point in the game for England.

Rather than being League and European Champions the current Liverpool side of course finished eighth in the League, a position that reflected their performances, which cricket commentators would describe as “ordinary”. And the tone of Hodgson’s overall squad selection – average and uninspired – was also the style of a pedestrian 1-0 away to a Norway side currently managed by long-ball advocate Egil Olsen.

Ashley Young continued his good England form, looking lively, as did Andy Carroll, although there was no real spark in the final third and the lack of a real match-winner, such as the ignored Aaron Lennon, could really be felt when this England squad enters the tournament in Eastern Europe in two weeks time.

Saturday’s opponents, Norway, lacked quality themselves, meaning England’s wasteful lack of possession, particularly in the second-half, wasn’t punished, but the most serious crime in International Football – giving the ball away – is all the more frustrating considering Michael Carrick was probably enjoying a bar-b-que somewhere in the sun, passing the sauce beautifully no doubt, rather than being at the centre of an England midfield that has been crying out for him for the last six years, a period in which he won 18 of his paltry 22 caps.

But it is not a new problem to English football. Everyone who is an England fan of a certain age, and knows their football, knows Glenn Hoddle only won 53 Caps for his Country. On Saturday, in a statistic that overshadowed the rest of the game, television viewers were reminded of that by ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley when he pointed out that it was a figure being equalled by Gareth Barry as he came on in the second-half. That sentence masterfully and subtly told every England fan why there has been no success for 46 years while downplaying any expectations over the next few weeks. If you are going to tell a child Father Christmas doesn’t exist, pick Tyldesley over Geoff Shreeves any day.


The Substantive Football Columnist Mel Gomes’ new e-book ‘Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to buy for a Kindle from Amazon for £4.27 inc VAT, and for a number of other formats including as a PDF, an online download and for Apple, Palm and Sony hand-held devices from Smashwords. With recollections of matches including Clasicos, Milan Derbies and Diego Maradona’s one appearance at White Hart Lane, it covers a journey over land and sea in the 2010-11 Champions League. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.