Rough Guide: Opposition
Rough Guide: Club History
Rough Guide: Boston
Rough Guide: Who's Who
Classic Service Stations
Inept Defending Of Our Time
My (Bankrupt) FC
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not a lot as it happens. If you're tuning in for a hilarious tale of
cavity searches by burly immigration officials or a wacky ladyboy brothel
mix-up, you might as well go back to bbcnews.com or whatever Facebook
profile you were browsing a few seconds ago. It was a tediously straightforward
Ok, so in hindsight.....
we arrived outside the Dome just as the England team pulled up in their
team bus. We fought our way through the crowds thronging the players’
entrance - well, okay, a blonde kid wearing an Everton shirt and a couple
of other mildly interested England fans – to catch a glimpse of
untouchable celebrities such as James Milner, Matt Derbyshire and future
megastar Ben Alnwick.
"Ee's watchin' the Serbia game! Ee’s gotta be, ain’t he?" another replied, as though this might be some kind of astonishing revelation. But whatever Psycho was watching was certainly NOT the Serbia game as we discovered when he unexpectedly started singing along to something on screen, toe tapping away. A dozen eyebrows collectively raised and a few puzzled glances exchanged as Pearce, displaying not an ounce of self-consciousness, carried on intermittently bursting into song for a full ten minutes before dragging his i-pod posse off the bus. What he was singing along too will remain a mystery.
“Vaughanie! Vaughnie!!” the blonde kid shouted, waving a black marker pen about. No reaction. “Nugent!! Nugent!” No reaction. “Milner!! Milner!!” Nothing doing. England were soon gone, the only acknowledgement of the small number of fans huddled around the entrance being a yellow garment flung in the vague direction of the supporters by Scott Carson. Probably a pair of soiled hipster briefs.
“Ignorant cunts,” spat the Cockney. Then the Italians pulled up. Gianfranco Zola sprang off the bus, all smiles as usual, prompting the one and only wave of camera snapping, as various other people who may have been footballers or the kind of people who grace the pages of style magazines, the type which Jim Rodwell reads, strutted about managing to make even the task of picking up a bag look utterly cool.
the stadium it was immediately apparent that no segregation was in force
for the game, which we had already expected given the way UEFA handled
the ticket sale. An England fan behind us took his seat and surveyed
this novel experience. "No segregation then," he said to his
mate. "Nah, no need for U21 footy," his mate replied. "Good
mix of fans. Should be a good atmosphere. We're all friends at this
immediately, the England players emerged for their warm up and an Italian
fan three rows down leapt to his feet, waving his fist furiously.
“Let’s go grab food,” the English fans said in unison as Mental Italian turned around and clocked us in our England shirts. Muttering darkly under his breath he returned to his seat, only to leap up on top of it and whoop, holler and applaud the Italians as they joined the warm up under the guidance of Pierluigi Casiraghi, at 38 the youngest coach in the tournament.
With Mental Italian’s hysterical screeching still reverberating around the stadium, the rain began to fall as a huge thunderstorm rolled in over Arnhem. The roof began closing virtually imperceptibly until we were no longer sat in a stadium, but an arena. The atmosphere at U21 games is usually far less passionate than senior fixtures, and the Dutch had kept their part of the bargain by ensuring a block to our right was given over to squealing schoolchildren with hooters. With the roof closed, the stadium now sounded like a swimming pool with only the mental Italian trying to disrupt the tame ambience by reeling off a number of Italian insults as his team took turns trying to hit the roof with a number of booted balls. None succeeded, and the game was called off as the players’ attention was suddenly drawn to the big screen, where a Serbian player was buried beneath a mound of celebrating team-mates in Nijmegen with ninety three minutes showing on the clock. Not what they wanted to see.
Singing Stuart Pearce started with a 4-4-1-1 formation that was actually far more attacking than it looked on paper; a daring strategy against absurdly talented opposition. Initially it worked brilliantly. The Italians hadn’t a clue how to deal with it. They were especially troubled by the amount of space Ashley Young kept finding, and after Taylor’s header was saved well by Emiliano Viviano after prolonged pressure from England even Mental Italian had been silenced.
Leroy Lita soon changed that with a moment of sheer comic genius. From deep within his own half, Mark Noble hopefully booted the ball forward and somehow managed to find Lita perfectly, the ball neatly slicing the Italy defence. Lita’s pace carried him beyond the last Italian defender and towards a certain goal. He did the hard work, sidestepping Viviano and then, well, God knows what happened. He took his time, lined up the simple tap in and…. and….. shanked the ball tamely into the advertising boards. The stadium erupted. The mental Italian celebrated as though he’d suddenly realised his country won the World Cup. “BASTARDO!” he screamed at Lita as the Reading man skulked back, trying to block out the howls of uncontrollable laughter from the cosmopolitan mishmash of fans inside the Dome. It was certainly by some distance the worst miss I have ever seen in the flesh.
The roof closes and the temperature rises
But however fortunate it was for Italy there was a sense of inevitability about the direction the game was taking, and when we were treated to a sudden two-goal burst midway through the half, courtesy of Nugent and – thank God – Lita, it was of no surprise whatsoever. As Lita buried his chance, the mental Italian slumped into his seat twitching and squirming, so incandescent with rage he couldn’t quite squeeze an insult through his contorted features. Even his friend looked concerned, right up to the moment Italy scored. It was an ugly goal, Chiellini deflecting a corner pinball past Carson with the top of his leg.
The second half was entirely different. Italy pressed and harried with more urgency. The air inside the arena became hotter and more humid, and soon England were straining. If Reo-Coker was supposed to be anchoring the midfield Stuart Pearce obviously forgot to tell him. He occupied the right space, vaguely, but kept running out of the way. Italy soon began dominating possession and England began their retreat, practically inviting Aquilani’s equaliser, a low driven shot to Scott Carson’s right. Carson really should have saved it.
And so, after an evening in Amsterdam, onto Nijmegen and the de Goffert stadium hidden in the woods south of the town. Walking towards the stadium you feel like you’re taking a lazy summer stroll in a picturesque nature reserve. A nature reserve populated by medieval-era fascist ultras in Serbian shirts chanting vile racist abuse, that is.
Being a Sunday, Nijmegen was deserted during the day, so we headed over to the ground stupidly early to check it out. It’s not a huge place, holding just 12,500 fans and resembling, from distance at least, smaller cookie-cutters such as the Keepmoat. The stadium is home to NEC Nijmegen, a club apparently proud of the ground’s ‘distinctive design’. This, of course, is a euphemism for ‘hopeless design’. Not only does the ground boast a fully fledged moat masquerading as a concourse, but the access stairwells from said concrete trench virtually block half the pitch to those unlucky enough to have secured seats in the first three rows. Moreover, the tops of the stairwells provide a perfect vantage point for spectators wishing to pause to watch the game while on their way to the burger bar, just out of reach of those who may wish to give them a hearty boot up the arse to move them out of the way. It’s not an old stadium, having opened in 1999, but whoever designed it needs shooting. Twice. Still, at least the seats are heated, so you won’t get a cold arse reading the programme when you finally give up watching the steel bars in front of you.
Much has been made of the racist chanting during the game, but it’s important to note that the offending remarks came from a group of myopic Ultras situated in the caged ‘away end’. Presumably this was a special arrangement given the lack of segregation elsewhere in the stadium. There were a large number of Serbians situated around the ground who were as appalled as the rest at the chanting and who roundly applauded the stadium announcer politely telling the ultras to shut up or leave. It’s just a shame that the hot air balloon hovering over the stadium prior to kick-off didn’t crash land in block B and wipe out the monkey-chanting dregs of humanity hiding behind their ultra flags and twisted ultra mentality. At least we were spared a repeat of the Croatian human swastika.
itself was devoid of any real skill. Serbia, already through to the
semi-finals, tossed out a rag-tag reserve outfit and still gave England
a decent game. Lita’s initial goal ensured he more than made amends
for the Arnhem miss, and Matt Derbyshire showed commendable composure
by not reacting to the Serbian players running after him like enraged
zombies from 28 Days Later after he made the monumental error of playing
to the referee’s whistle.
Sunset over de Goffert, Nijmegen
one to watch
one not to watch
impsTALK goes to Germany 2006
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