Fever pitch

For the past 14 months I have been searching for the quintessential English experience. I have drunk in pubs older than Australia, saw the Queen in her Diamond jubilee and rambled along the raw British coastline, but nothing has seemed right. Nothing that is until tonight.

Tonight was the Euro 2012 quarter final between England and Italy. All tournament the atmosphere had been muted here. Nobody gave England a chance. ‘A coach with a month to prepare? Wayne Rooney suspended for the first two games? Bah, we have no hope’. That was the overwhelming atmosphere on the streets. But then, England held France to a draw, defeated Sweden and followed up by knocking out the hosts in Ukraine. All of a sudden, England had topped the group and a date with the Italians awaited.

England believed. The papers started talking about the path to the final. People at work were fighting to get England in the work sweep and even Sir Stanley Matthews, darling of the ’66 World Cup team predicted that England would be unstoppable if they knocked off the Italians.

So as kick-off approached and the atmosphere approached fever pitch, I headed to the local and climbed up the stairs to two rooms – A small bar staddling them both with 250 raucous locals on either side.  We settled in at the back and within 2 minutes De Rossi had a ping for the Italians from outside the box that curved like a boomerang and smacked into the bar.

Minutes later, England respond, a cross comes in and somehow defender Glen Johnson has a shot from well inside the box. He could have put it anywhere but instead he shoots at the Keeper and the game remains scoreless. For the next ten minutes England press but nothing comes from it, despite the pub getting louder and louder. From here, Italy start to take control of the ball and have more and more possession. Some how, the game remains level at Half time.

I start chatting to a gent in his 60’s who is wearing his heart well and truly on his sleeve. His name is Colin and he was born in the area. He now lives up North and is in town as his Father had passed, but at 90 he’d had a good innings. A hard core Chelsea fan, he liked the signs so far. Chelsea had been dominated in the final and yet they picked themselves off the canvas and had won the Champions League. England would do the same tonight.

Throughout the second half Italy continued to press, moving forward and attacking with menace, but somehow England held on, repelling raid after raid into their box.  An Italian shot rattles the bar. ‘Well left Joe’ yells Colin. Every half chance for England is greeted with a roar that threatens to lift the roof. Alas there are 4 shots for every English one. Yet somehow the score remains 0-0 at the end of regular time.

There’s a line for the mens, as we wait for extra time which is odd but not unexpected, and onfield it is a case of business a  usual. Italy dominate for the first 14 minutes before a single English chance comes. The by line is cut. Carroll at the back post heads across goal and Rooney nails a bicycle kick. The pub erupts, but he hasn’t, he’s mistimed his leap and hit the ball about 2 inches too low as the ball flies over the bar.

We’re going to Penalties is the pervading sense amongst the masses. But, we almost don’t, with minutes left, an Italian cross comes in. It finds an unmarked striker who nods it home. Italian fans cheer but it is all for nothing. He was offside by about 30cm and the goal doesn’t count. The English coach, Roy Hodgson rubs the left side of his chest and I’m worried he’s going to have a heart attack. The pub doesn’t care as they erupt into chants of ROY, ROY, ROY on the sight of him.

Extra time comes to a close and what seemed preordained has happened. England are going to penalties. The atmosphere ramps up again as I’m handed a beer by the guys in front of me ‘Here mate, you’ll need this’ they say. Gerrard gets England on the board and the paintings on the walls shake. Montolivo misses everything and the paintings will need straightening in the morning. From there though, it all starts to go wrong. Andrea Pirlo audaciously chips home a penalty whilst Ashley Young has the keeper beaten but rattles the cross bar. Ashley Cole has his penalty saved by Buffon and England is in a big hole.

The anticipation is electric. England, losing on penalties. Surely nothing could be more English, but it’s not over yet. The West Ham striker Diamanti steps forward and England need a save to stay in it. 500 Englishmen roar as he strikes it.

Silence.

 

Comments

  1. If we can just get the next ashes series in England into a penalty kick situation we are a ‘monty’ to win them.

    Poms had a bad weekend. Lost the horse race to a broken down antipodean equine and then lost the quarter final on penalties…………….again. That’s 7 out of the last eight.

  2. Dennis Gedling says:

    Great stuff. A pub full of fans on a knifeedge with a game like that is always a unique experience anywhere in Europe. I’ve been listening to the BBC 5 606 Phone in on the ride in to work during the Euros and the more England progressed the more the lid came off.

    ‘Rooney should start up front with Carroll and Wellbeck because we’ll easily beat Ukraine and should experiment in that game’

    ‘If there was a World XI Rooney and Terry would be in there’. etc.

    Can’t help themselves. Seeing another Germany V England semi would have been good but, alas, Germany will have the chance for revenge on the Italians for 2006.

    I don’t think Sir Stanley Matthews would have been in the press this week about Euro 2012. He’s been dead some 12 odd years. Probably Charlton.

  3. And Dennis, durable and all as he was Sir Stan hadn’t kicked a ball in anger for several years prior to England’s World Cup success in 1966. He had a remarkable career and finally won an FA Cup at the third attempt when he was almost 40. Most improbably, he enjoyed an Indian summer when he was just shy of his 50th birthday, winning the League with Stoke (bloody Stoke of all the unlikely teams*), and being named footballer of the year.
    * This would beapproximately equivalent to say Nathan Buckley or James Hird returning to play for Western Bulldogs next year and winning the Brownlow and/or Norm Smith as the Dogs win the premiership.

  4. Tim Ivins says:

    Yes my bad, it was Charlton. This is what happens when you write after half a dozen beers.

    Oops!

  5. Love it, the Poms are out early again, with drama as it always is.

    If it isn’t a controversial star player send off like Rooney or Becks, it’s a penalty shoot out that consigns yet another group of English players to nightmares.

    They must dread these, and I wonder if teams play for draws knowing their have the psychological wood on them in a shoot out.

    At least the Italians attacked, whcih made a game of it, and the better team on the day won.

    But glorious to see the Poms go down in a ball of flames.

    Nasty I know, but loved it

    Sean

  6. This piece made me wish I was there. I’m not sure if its your words or the overwhelming part of me that, as bitter as it sounds, would love to be in a pub watching England lose a semi-final on penalties. Great reading nonetheless.

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