Welcome to Striking the Angle, a selection of topical ramblings from our resident no-holds-barred editor Bryan Moore. Check out his stunning photography at bryanjmoore.com – don’t take our word for it, just check out the featured image above. For now though, strap yourself in and enjoy the ride…
Football is a funny old game. It can very quickly make you become something you hate. “A great game for the neutral…” is always a phrase that riles me. Football isn’t for the neutral. Football is for the passionate. Football is for the die hard. I have always despised the ‘Neutral Supporter’, but here I sit, enjoying the Euros spectacle, very much a neutral.
Passion and heart are what make the game great. But despite the hoards of neutral fans tuning in and expressing their unqualified opinions, somehow, peering through the half empty stadiums, through the corporate greed, through the footballing injustice of home advantage, and rainbow flags, has shone a fleeting ember. An ember of passion.
For me the passion in this tournament can be summed up by two individuals. On the one end, Scotland’s John McGinn. The man is basically the nation of Scotland packaged in a vaguely human shaped bag of skin and hair. On the other end, the Harry Potter-esque Swiss supporter exchanging sorrow for unbridled fervency within the space of a few minutes.
Beautiful moments such as Xhaka’s rallying cry before the penalty shootout that knocked out France, Henderson’s first England goal and Denmark’s response in honour of Christian Eriksen should prove that football exists for passion. Not for neutrals – even if you find yourself in that group through no fault of your own.
In Ireland we have a website to help us keep track, but the result is always the same. A quick check on arethebritsatitagain.org before writing this article has confirmed that yes, the Brits are indeed at it again, in this case the English specifically. Of course you are probably asking yourself what “it” is. “It” is an intangible, enigmatic term that can be recently summed up by a song. It is a nice song. Catchy. And who doesn’t like Frank Skinner. But whether or not football makes it home is irrelevant.
The English footballing journey is reminiscent of a pensioner driving through the suburbs in a Honda Civic. The flat paved surface of routine wins against lesser opponents, encountering a myriad of metaphorical speed bumps on their journey to mediocrity. Except on this jaunt the speed bump is the glimmer of hope. Raising spirits briefly before crashing the nation back to reality.
I am regularly asked why I don’t support the English national team considering my love of Liverpool. Firstly there is the obvious history between our nations, the 800 years slightly trump the “30 years of pain”. But then there is the bi-polarity of the response to anything the team does. Booed at the start of the tournament, calls for the manager to be sacked during the group stages, to being called for a knighthood by the quarter-finals.
At the time of writing England have just defeated Ukraine by four goals to make the semi-final. At the time of reading they may well have played another game, maybe more. Football may well come home, or indeed will. But god help us if it does. The sound of the speed bumps are bad enough, I don’t think there are enough decibels in the world to handle the noise of the Civic flying off a cliff.
The enigma of the third-choice keeper
It is always said that a person must be crazy to be a goalkeeper. Even crazier still to be the backup keeper. But how can one sum up the enigma that is the third-choice keeper? Andy Lonergan said of being Liverpool’s third choice keeper that he was happy to train for Liverpool,. happy in the knowledge he would never play a minute of action, all in the name of the team.
Gareth Southgate name-checked his unused players in the Euros, telling the world how important they are to the team. Two defenders and more tellingly, the two backup keepers. Roberto Mancini was praised for giving minutes to his whole team. The one player not to see any action was of course the third-choice keeper.
Wayne Hennessey seems to be the latest in the group of “home-grown” ‘keepers that have secured a huge deal late in their career to proudly ‘train’ with a major team. He joins Alex Manninger, Andy Longergan, Lee Grant, Richard Wright and Scott Carson to name but a few that have seemingly ‘happily’ given up on the chance of more action to become the enigmatic third-choice keeper.
Tony Warner failed to make a single first-team appearance in five years as a pro at Anfield. The ultimate number three goalkeeper, Stuart Taylor, made a grand total of 95 appearances in his 19 years as a professional. Third -choice international keepers are deemed the luckiest men in the world. They are on holiday with their friends with the added bonus of great seats for their nations’ games. The life of a third-choice goalkeeper must be a strange one.