Family activity, a friend’s wedding and football have all featured during a brief visit back to Britain.
No, I didn’t get to Wembley, or at any rate I didn’t get there until after the Champions’ League final, the playoffs and the international.
England’s failure to beat Switzerland did nothing to spoil my enjoyment of Flare Path, a pre-Father’s Day treat in the West End with Sienna Miller, James Purefoy and Sheridan Smith starring in Terence Rattigan’s wartime RAF comedy. The curtains at the Theatre Royal rose minutes after I had checked the result on my mobile.
Had I been at Wembley, I might have allowed myself an unworthy smirk at the Darren Bent misses. But I would have been loyal enough to want him to put them away and for England to make a better fist of keeping the ball out (not Joe Hart’s fault, Mr Bob Wilson declared on TalkSport).
Next day, I did make my debut at the rebuilt national stadium.
The occasion was the UmbroFives, a rolling series of five-a-side games with teams bearing such names as Inter Mevan, Scouting for Goals, Kidz From the Drive and Top Draw competing on eight small pitches, urged on by enthusiastic entourages of relatives and friends in one stand.
Formidable Wembley catering prices – £4.50 for a tiny glass of wine – meant there was not too much competition for attention from inside, so the crowd was big enough to make some noise. But it was possible to move freely along most of the length of the stand and choose a seat for a better look at the game that held particular interest.
I saw some good football. Top Draw had some sharp players, especially a lad in SuperKev mould who scored some decent goals in the games of theirs that I caught. And they ended the day FA UmbroFives champions, beating Kidz From The Drive 3 – 2 in the final.
My interest, however, lay with the ladies. Perhaps I should rephrase that.
My younger daughter, Nathalie, was with her team, Old Actonians, and they had what might be called a testing day, losing three of their four games and drawing the other.
But what an honour to have played on the Wembley turf. I once kicked a ball at Roker Park, having gone there for no playing reason but to interview players ahead of the 1992 FA Cup Final, and that was magical in itself.
Among the women’s teams were Arsenal, Lincoln, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton and Birmingham, though they were mostly kept occupied in a mini-tournament of their own, the FA Women’s Super League section (the very title reminding me of the scandal of Sunderland’s exclusion).
I watched Arsenal brush aside Doncaster Belles and deal clinically with Everton and Bristol Academy to win. The Fly Emirates girls, all looking suitably athletic and avoiding the crisps-between-games of certain others I noticed, were impressive in each of their matches, the keeper Rebecca Spencer (one error aside) and a dangerous striker, Danielle Carter, especially catching the eye. Leeds Lighting beat Mad Dogs – I am not making these names up – to take the separate women’s Umbro Fives championship.
From the UmbroFives Facebook page, I learn that PlayFootball beat Goals in the final of the men’s Corporate Cup, while the women’s Corporate Challenge trophy went to FA Ladies, victors over Umbro Ladies.
There was no shortage of will to win. Blue cards (meaning sin bin) and red cards were brandished by the hard-workings referees, who came in sizes from lithe to portly, in some of the men’s games and indiscipline on the part of a few players drew a headmasterly rebuke in one of Tony Cottee’s spots of onfield analysis of the action.
But it was all enjoyable enough as a spectacle and I bet most of those present, from players to onlookers, had more fun than those in the bigger gathering the day before. And if the drinks prices were at rip-off levels, I dare bet I’d have paid a lot more than £2 to park for the Switzerland game.