I was originally against expanding the European Championship. I thought bringing in “small” (in footballing terms, I intend no disrespect) countries would lead to a bloated, overlong tournament. I was right wasn’t I? Having 16 qualifiers from 24 led to stultifying games where the object was not to lose, rather than to play scintillating football, and an extra round that really wasn’t necessary, except for the money merchants and TV companies.
Bear with the clip. It’s a Breton musician , Alan Stivell, singing Brittany’s version of Land of My Fathers, also its anthem as it is Cornwall’s, on to which he has superimposed a spine-tingling rendition by the crowd at Cardiff Arms Park … leads nicely into Pete Sixsmith‘s tribute to all Wales did at Euro 2016. Monsieur Salut’s non football-playing daughter loves internationals – ‘no interest in local teams’ – and quite fancies Gareth Bale, while finding Ronaldo an amazing player but ‘gross’.
Pete also has words on Big Sam and England, and a touching tribute to a great SAFC and Durham County Cricket Club supporter, Davey Dowell, who is feared lost …
It was sad to see Wales bow out of the tournament last night, especially to Portugal who, up until this game, had resembled a Tony Pulis team on a wet afternoon in the Potteries/West Midlands.
I had sat through their game with Poland on Saturday night until I lost the will to live and departed for an early night, aware that the extra half hour would probably turn me into a football hater for the rest of my life.
I was more than a tad disappointed when I woke up the next morning to hear that they had won the penalty shoot-out. Drat and double drat as Dick Dastardly would say.
Wales’s victory over Belgium was the exact opposite as they ran the fancied Flemings into the ground and showed what a well drilled, well coached and highly motivated team can do. A semi-final win over Portugal did not look beyond them and I, like many, relished Gareth Bale and Co forcing tears from Cristiano Ronaldo, the man child who drives the Portuguese team.
Except it didn’t work out like that. Shorn of the outstanding Aaron Ramsey and the highly competent Ben Davies, Wales found this a step too far.
Add to that a Portugal side that, while not playing a great deal of football, are playing the tournament, and it was a night of disappointment in the coal miners, steel workers and sheep farmers of the Principality.
It reminded me of the 1992 FA Cup Final in that an outsider had made progress through the competition by playing attractive football and upsetting several apple carts on the way there.
Team spirit was as strong among Malcolm Crosby’s boys as it was with Chris Coleman’s and Malcolm’s Gallant Lads hoovered up the support of neutrals as they put out Port Vale, Oxford United, West Ham United, Chelsea and Norwich City before facing Liverpool in the final.
Unfortunately, it went wrong at Wembley as, despite creating two good chances in the first half, we were beaten by goals from Michael Thomas and Ian Rush. Liverpool won without playing particularly well – “just another day at the office” as one fan described it.
Wales didn’t create the chances that John Byrne missed in 92 but they were the better side in a quiet first half, although they never rattled the Portuguese defence in which Southampton’s Jose Fonte looked very comfortable facing players he has marked in the Premier League.
In the second half, we saw exactly why Cristiano Ronaldo is so good. The header for the first goal was as good a header as any I have seen. Charlie Hurley would have been proud of it and even the greatest Welsh footballer pre Bale, John Charles, would have struggled to leap that high and put as much power into it.
As the ball hit the net with poor Hennessey nowhere, I thought that Wales would not come back from this. For once in my life I was right as they lost their concentration and allowed Nani to turn in a wayward shot from Ronaldo.
Coleman did the right thing in pushing on attackers. However, as willing as Vokes, Church and Williams are, they were not going to bother Portugal, who turned in a last half hour straight from the Jose Mourinho text book and closed the game down.
It has been a great three weeks for the Welsh team and supporters.
Unlike England on the field, they showed a willingness to listen to their coach and carry out his instructions. Off the field in Lyon, Lens and Lille, their fans have avoided the worst excesses of the small minority of English fans and, instead of singing about German bombers and the RAF have thrilled us with their renditions of their moving and powerful anthem with its references to poets, singers and warriors.
Compare Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau with the dirge that England’s players are forced to sing, where they swear allegiance to an unelected head of State and which contains no reference to the national characteristics of the British. We should have a National Anthem that extols the virtues or orderly queuing, tea shops and a distrust of all things foreign.
It’s Germany v France tonight which should be interesting. Hopefully, whichever one goes through will cause Ronaldo, Nani and Pepe to win the award for Biggest Cry Babies at the Championships.
The search for the next patsy to take over the England team appears to be moving closer and closer to the Stadium of Light. One national tabloid has Allardyce as a clear favourite as do many bookmakers and, in the absence of any other suitable candidates (Southgate – do me a favour) we may well lose the best manager we have had since the last good one.
For Sunderland supporters who care not a jot about England, this would be a major blow, but for a man like Sam, it would be the pinnacle of his career.
Hopefully, the FA will regard him as too old-fashioned and will appoint some young tyro to transform the fortunes of a team that fewer and fewer people care about.
Finally, some sad news. David Dowell, a Sunderland supporter of great renown, went missing from home two weeks ago and has not been seen since. Known to many as “Dabber” David was a permanent presence at Sunderland games and also at Durham CC. I last spoke to him after the 4-2 win at Swansea, where he was attempting to drink the Wetherspoons where we ended up, out of lager. He was a lovely lad and will be sadly missed.
* Martin Emmerson, great friend of this site and BBC Radio Newcastle commentator on Durham CCC, posted the photo you see above at Facebook on June 28, saying: ‘This is really sad to see. On The Wear Bridge today. Davey Dowell was a lovely bloke. Always good for a chat about footy or cricket. He loved Durham and Sunderland. Last week he disappeared. Friends feared the worst and now this. The last time I had a chat with him I was telling him about the Durham commentaries. I used to see him at a few games. He never listened. He didn’t have a computer or a mobile. He just did his own thing.’
There is something very special to Monsieur Salut about the first of the three games in the headline. It will be his debut for the season so far at a Sunderland game.
SO it was quite a proud night all round for Sunderland players on international duty, and 79 was a magic number.