Absent from the North East, missing from Euro 2008, Salut! Sunderland is lucky to have Pete Sixsmith to turn to back home. And Pete’s wit and wisdom have been spotted far beyond Coutny Durham; his delicious teacher’s advice* to the geographically and historically challenged David Pleat, already hailed by Shane Breslin of the Irish eleven-a-side site (“brilliant, Pete, love it,” he wrote), was one of three “quotes of the tournament” chosen by my sports colleagues at The National in Abu Dhabi. Perhaps they should have got him to do the “Euro Notables” round-up, too. Here is Pete’s version, his award ceremony verdicts on an absorbing footballing treat …….
Well, what a tournament. I don’t think that I have ever enjoyed a major championship as much as this one. Everything seemed right. The number of teams, the venues, the way the groups worked out – it was just brilliant. Never mind the Oscars and the Grammies, what about some Sixies?
Player of the tournament
The choice fluctuated as the tournament went on. In the group stages it was difficult to see past Wesley Sneijder of Holland but then Arshavin stepped in. I saw him make his debut for Zenith in an Inter Toto tie at Bradford City in 2001. I didn’t realise it at the time but I did! However, he was neutralised by a wonderful Spanish midfield and they had me scratching my head as to who to give the title to – Iniesta or Xavi. I thought Iniesta was the perfect midfielder until I watched Xavi in the final. He played three passes of Jim Baxter like quality and had the added advantage of Torres, Iniesta or David Silva running onto them rather than Allan Gauden, Nicky Sharkey or Ralph Brand. So, Xavi it was,closely followed by Iniesta with Portugal’s Deco coming in third.
Flop of the Tournament
Ronaldo is up there with his pouting and his step overs which achieved nothing. Luca Toni showed that scoring in the Bundesliga is only slightly harder than shooting fish in a barrel (Gomez of Germany was similar) while any French player you care to name would be a fine contender. However, I thought that Freddie Ljunberg was absolutely awful and that his retirement from international football is not a day too soon.
Best and worst goalkeeper
Spoilt for choice with the first category. Casillas, Boruc and Buffon were all outstanding while I liked the Russian keeper although he was a bit small. I would give it to Buffon, partly for his goalkeeping but also for his magnificent rendition of the Italian anthem before the crucial game against France. His face was a picture as he rose in a stirring crescendo, urging his fellow Italians on. As for the worst, look no further than Turkey as both keepers gave very good impressions of Kelvin Davies and/or Seamus McDonagh.
Goal of the tournament
Has to be van Bronckhorst’s against Italy where he cleared the ball off his own goal line and then a few seconds later put it France’s. Great goal which showed all the athleticism one has come to expect from the Dutch. I also liked Torres in the final, which was very similar to that scored by Kenwyne Jones against Portsmouth. You know, the one that prompted David James to gain his revenge by wiping Kenwyne out in T and T and causing us to even think about signing charlatans like Andy Johnson.
Best and worst Commentator
As always, Mike Ingham on Five Live who describes, informs and assesses all in one. Brilliant. Compare his performance with Clive Tyldesley’s, who uses execrable puns and who was forever looking for a Premier League angle. He tried to turn each game into Chelsea v Manchester United or Liverpool v Arsenal. Where is Hugh Johns when you need him?
Best and worst pundit
A toss up between boyhood Sunderland fan Martin O’Neill and Sunderland fan Chris Waddle. O’Neill suffered from being in the same room/country/continent as Shearer (see later) but he still managed to be perceptive and sharp and occasionally there was a little bit of Cloughie there. Waddler was outstanding in the final, where he acted as a critical observer and foil for Ingham and Green and was able to enlighten listeners to the tactical changes that Aragones kept on making. I used the digital option and got pictures with radio commentary – much better than Motson’s farewell and Lawrenson’s gags.
No competition for worst – Shearer. Anodyne, boring, bland, insipid, unexciting – all appear in the Thesaurus and all could describe Shearer’s performance. His attempts at analysis are laughable and creosoting the fence is preferable to listening to him. Actually, creosoting Shearer would be a better option.
And it’s not just me; the excellent Martin Kellner in Monday’s Guardian did an even better hatchet job on Gosforth’s favourite son.
Best former Sunderland player involved
Worst former Sunderland player involved
So, it’s all over for another four years. Here are some suggestions for Michel Platini and his pals at UEFA:
* Don’t extend it to 24 teams. 16 is just right and it means that there is less chance of England appearing if it stays like that.
* Hold it in Austria/Switzerland all the time. It’s easy to get to, the stadiums look canny and the scenery from Innsbruck is quality (even if Joan Dawson doesn’t remember going there).
* Don’t allow the BBC to show it unless they give Shearer the bum’s rush. Back to creosoting for you, my fine friend.
* Tell Spain that they will not be allowed to have words for their national anthem as the sight and sound of the team and their fans going “hmm,hmm,hmmm” is a real hoot.
Can’t see any of these happening – shame!!!!
* The National‘s “Quotes of the tournament”
‘The only positive thing about this season is that it’s over.’
Petr Cech after his mistake in the Czech Republic’s 3-2 defeat to Turkey.
‘Whatever happens, they’re going to make the most of it under a brooding Transylvanian sky.’
Jake Humphrey, the BBC football presenter, appears a little lost with some Turkish fans.
‘ITV’s David Pleat refuses to accept the relatively recent territorial changes in Europe and persistently refers to the Czech Republic as Czechoslovakia. Does this mean that if Turkey play Spain he will be describing the Kingdom of Castille versus the Ottoman Empire, while any Russia v Italy encounter would surely be Muscovy versus a ‘mere geographical expression’?
‘Keep it up David, but don’t EVER go to the African Cup of Nations.’
Pete Sixsmith, writing on www.salutsunderland.com