football’s-coming-–-to-a-glorious-finale-on-sunday-evening?

My week: I’ve had a busy week this week but an enjoyable one. It’s been one of those weeks where several things have all demanded my time: Wild Justice discussions with lawyers, accountants, donors and each other; World Land Trust papers for the next trustee meeting; the first visit of our five-month-old grandson to our home (and he brought his mum and dad with him); and I’m writing a book (now at 45,000 words). So, as relaxation for me, I’ll just write this one blog post for today – and it’s not on nature, it’s on football!

The quality of the football: I reckon it’s been a really good football tournament to watch. VAR has worked well, the refereeing has been a very high standard and there have been many good matches, and a lot of skilful play. I haven’t watched every match, or every minute of the games I have watched, but I’ve rarely been bored. That must be because of the football, but the commentators deserve some credit too. And so too do the pundits – Rio Ferdinand used to be pretty dull but has come into his own over the years and in these last few weeks in particular.

The two semifinals were excellent. Italy v Spain was a great game of skill from the Mediterranean and England v Denmark was rivetting because of decent football and emotional involvement. Whether or not they all get and transmit COVID, the larger crowds coming back through the weeks has made it seem like events were building to a crescendo.

Who do I want to win?: I can’t help wanting England to win, although Italians are people too, so I feel slightly uncomfortable about my choice. Why should I want ‘my’ team to win over ‘their’ team? I’d have to say that it isn’t really a matter of life and death to me but I do feel keen on England winning tomorrow evening.

I’m sure that one reason I want this England team to win is that I admire them, and their manager, more than I have cared about many other England teams of the past. These footballers and the team around them do encapsulate, to some extent, the values of present day England (and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland), or at least some of the values that we ought to admire. Their insistence on taking the knee shows character and leadership and principles, and I admire that (right or wrong). Their style of play is a mixture of sensible caution and sensible ambition, and is not marred by too many fouls or too many dives (but that has generally been true of the teams involved throughout Euro2020 in 2021). They are a good team and better so than the sum of the individual skills might suggest. The colour of skin of the players is diverse, as are the tattoos on the skin, and that says something about our society. Compare this squad with the famed and wonderful 1966 World Cup squad and our society has moved on, and there is more moving on to do. Sterling is a great surname for a British sportsman and Raheem must be one of the very few England internationals, across all sports, to carry that name – and he scores goals.

And Gareth Southgate is great role model. I’m sure he isn’t perfect, and if some dark deeds ever emerge from his past life I’ll be disappointed, but right now he looks a far better role model than many other public figures, for example in politics. He is good at his job, he makes the right decisions most of the time, he can talk sensibly and clearly about his job and the task ahead without dropping into cliches and he has created the environment which has got the best out of his players as individuals and as a team. I’d like us to win so that his approach can be thoroughy validated, although it is already.

But then, the Italian squad and manager seem pretty good too.

How would a UK football team perform – discuss?

Who is going to win?: I don’t know, and my judgement is clouded by wanting England to win, but from their very first game I have invested in an Italian victory and now I win a modest amount of money whatever the result (to add to financial gains along the way through the tournament). I’d say it’s pretty evenly matched with Italy being the slightly better side, and so they should win six times out of 10, but I’m hoping tomorrow night might be one of the four. Given that Italy is slightly odds against to win the tournament they are the better betting prospect in my humble, but experienced, view. A draw in 90 minutes look quite tempting at 2/1 but I’ll keep my money in my account and not invest further tomorrow evening (probably).

1966 and all that: I watched the 1966 World Cup final on a black-and-white TV and I can still tell you the names of that team far more easily than those of the current squad (although I am getting there). These are only Euros and not the World Cup, there is a massive difference, and England has had a lot of home games to ease the way as in 1966, but I’d like to find out what it’s like to win as the memory of 55 years ago is fading slightly.

The national anthems and my tip for Gareth Southgate: if it were a contest of national anthems tomorrow then Italy would win hands down. I’m impressed that England players do actually sing the so-called English national anthem – some may be tuneless but that doesn’t matter. A vigorous sing is good for the head and the heart. So my tip to Gareth Southgate is forget practising penalties and practise singing – not just our anthem but also the Italian one. Imagine the impact on the opposing team if their opponents sing both national anthems respectfully, loudly and with gusto. And it works in whichever order the two anthems come. For a slight psychological edge, at the very beginning of the game, sing the other team’s national anthem. It’s a sure winner.

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