Wednesday, 9 May 2012



We are somewhere in the bowels of a large football stadium. Several staff and 23 players – three lions on all their shirts – sit around looking nervy, or nervously applying ‘product’ to hair (hair shaped like one of those asymmetrical postmodernist sculptures named after abstract nouns – Courage, Trust, Camaraderie – and habitually found outside civic buildings, which, within a generation, have become discoloured, unloved, and appropriated by skateboarders).

We are with England, 30 minutes before the Euro 2012 final. Spain is the opponent.

Vice-Gaffer Stuart PEARCE checks the pocket-watch in his FA standard issue blazer – Gafferísimo, ’ARRY Redknapp, is late.

There’s an urgent knock on the door. It’s an F.A. BIGWIG.

PEARCE: Any sign?
BIGWIG: No. Must be in the air still. Let’s give it 10, then you’re gonna have to get Guvved up.

PEARCE paces nervously, those massive, lute-shaped thighs bulging from short shorts – an homage to Owen Coyle, recently OD’d on a cocktail of self-improvement manuals, sports psychology and Catholicism. ‘Psycho’ has only just finished his stint as interim coach – as in “Get fuckin’ inter ’im, Coley!!” – and the consensus is that he’s pretty “chuffed” about that.

To break the tension, PEARCE considers playing to type and giving it a bit of hairdryer, but that’s being monopolized by HENDERSON (whose 82% pass completion rate, 0.37 semi-difficult assist rating, and 4.2 box-to-boxery had impressed the England gafferarchy, the Cockneyocracy). He has just moussed his hair and needs to look good when stepping out on the biggest stage (“doesn’t get much bigger than the bench at the Euros”) with image rights at Beijing Kerching at stake.

Sounds: only squeaking bums and shallow, anxious breathing. Oh, and the seepage of JLS power ballads from THEO Walcott’s Sennheiser HD 800 headphones.

Smells: passion. And passion fruit moisturising cream. PEARCE has just sprayed Deep Heat on his glans, just to keep him on his toes. He runs fingers through his Nazi-chic hair and visibly decides to take charge of the moment.

First, he hands out ‘passionatronically engineered’ latex bulldog heads. Then he opens a box, out of which jumps Barry FRY. We may not have ’ARRY, but two cockney voices should suffice to invoke the spirit of Blitz-era music hall and rouse the Boys to victory. ‘Knees up, Michael Brown’…

THEO flicks through his mp3s and settles on Rhiddian. No Coldplay. No N-Dubz. No Jay-Z. By the time he decides, his opportunity to be Jah Selecta has passed. GERRARD slips on the Phil Collins. PEARCE faux-grimaces and suggests his Best of Oi! compilation, but there’s no cassette player. The boys put their bulldog heads on…



CLOSE-UP: PEP Guardiola’s inscrutable face (he has replaced Vicente del Bosque as head coach on the insistence of FIFA’s marketing team).

The Spain pre-match ritual consists of the midfield contenders, all blindfolded, throwing eggs to each other in a 6m x 6m square, PEP monitoring on a neuromapping device while simultaneously playing online chess with Marcelo Bielsa. Basically, it’s a knockout: the final six left from Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Iniesta, Busquets, Fàbregas, Silva, Mata, Cazorla, Javi Martínez, Muniain and Navas getting picked for their fluid 3-6-1-0 formation…



PEARCE stands in front of a flipchart, drawing out the crosses of a 4-4-2 formation over a diagram of a pitch, fully aware that, statistically, one of the team is ogling his arse. Saliva pours from FRY’s mouth; he looks like he needs a dogchew.

PEARCE: Right, we reckon the Spaniards are gonna play two banks o’ four, basically look to get down the sides and whip balls into the mixer.
FRY: Long diagonals from full-backs, in be’ind.
PEARCE: One of the two front men might drop off into pockets, link up, pop off passes. We need to be aware of that, yeah? Focus.

He looks at his watch again. The hour is approaching…



’ARRY gets into a taxi, clutching a large suitcase.

’ARRY (on phone): Barry? It’s ’Arry. I’m on me way, mucker… No, no. I had to catch a plane, ditn’t I. There was a bit of traffic on the Bournemouth ring road. Bloody triffic! Got stuck behind a tractor coming through the Ardennes. By the time I reached Berlin I had no choice but to catch a plane on to Kiev. This little wally from Wizzair wouldn’t let me take the suitcase as hand-luggage. Summink about dimensions or summink… What’s that? Yeah, the suitcase. Anyway, I fort I’d been given Wizzair as part of the Lewandowski deal? … Yeah, yeah. Half an hour or so.

He hangs up. A call comes in from BIGWIG. While the opening questions are being asked, we stay on ’ARRY’s twitching, puffy face, then cut between the two.

’ARRY: Look, Geoff, it’s important to feel at home during tournaments. Rosey and me like our walks in the mornings along Sandbanks. They’ve been a big part of my season with Spurs, you know, and I did tell you lot: I stay in Poole or you get someone else in. Simple as that.
BIGWIG: Didn’t you consider changing your routine, just this once?
’ARRY: Yeah, I did. I was considering Odessa, to be fair, but was given a dodgy file. Jamie’s suggestion over dinner wasn’t exactly table talk: “Dnipropetrovsk?” he said. I said, “Yeah, chuck us 15 gallon in there, it’s a bloody long drive!” “Kharkiv?” “I gave ‘em ya”. We thought about Poznań, Geoff, but the place turned its back on me when I left the West Ham job. Joe Jordan suggested Warsaw, but they’ve not been great since Merse left ‘em… It’s a brutal commute, for sure, but you can’t say it’s not been for the best. We’re in the final. Look where we were when I come on board compared to where we are now. We were in the doldrums really, Geoff, you know. Anyway, there in about 20 minutes.


They are playing backgammon, reading broadsheets, meditating, writing Catalan nationalist pamphlets…


They are playing snap, bantering on Twitter, trying to learn the words of the national anthem, getting PASSION neck tattoos…

FRY is stirring the bulldog spirit – repeatedly saying “Oh Yesssss” in an unconvincing generic Northern accent. Churchillian stuff. ‘In the morning we’ll all still be drunk’, he hopes.

WELBZ and MICAH are loving FRY’s banter. ADAM JOHNSON is playing Wedding Present cover versions on his guitar. Jordan HENDERSON is being implored “hard-ah!” by Andy CARROLL, who he’s stabbing in the neck muscles with a biro as a warm-up. The symmetrical luminosity of Gary CAHILL’s Beverley Hills 90210 teeth reflect the light from WAZZA’s Camel Lights, but all’s not well in the Chelsea corner: TERRY has that ubiquitous expression of shamelessly fronting something out (but nobody knows what, exactly); COLE’s lips are curled into a sneer; LAMPS peruses a statistical breakdown of his shots and prays Uncle ’ARRY gets there soon, otherwise he’ll nail them to the flipchart à la Martin Luther at Wittenberg. STURRIDGE, oblivious, is playing ‘Kumbaya’ on a tambourine, pupils occasionally disappearing behind tremulous eyelids.

PEARCE: Right lads…

Silence. All eyes turn to the Vice-Gaffer. The moment of truth.

…As I said, I don’t really know what to say.
90 minutes, the biggest game of our careers,
all boils down to today.
Either we put our bodies on the line
and show pride in the shirt, you know,
or these lot’ll literally murder us…
Every last-ditch tackle,
every selfless run off the ball,
minute by minute,
half-yard by half-yard,
till we’re out on our feet,
dead in the water.
To be fair,
we’ve been a bit of a joke in past tournaments.
Obviously we can let the occasion get to us
and drown out there,
or we can climb out of – you know – a watery grave,
and literally breathe the air.
But we’ve got to work our socks off for it,
one half-yard at a time.

We pan across the players’ faces. WAZZA looks like Henry II prior to Agincourt.

Now, I can’t make you do it,
even though I’m still tasty,
cos’ my legs have gone.
I look around and see these young faces
and think: ‘I wish I’d’ve played now,
when even Mikey Muppet gets £40 grand a week’,
but I pissed away all my money, believe it or not.
I’ve gone through the back of everyone who’s ever loved me,
and I can’t stand the mush I see in the mirror.
You know, when you get old in life,
things get taken from you.
As I say, that’s part of life, you know.
Obviously, you only learn when you start losing stuff, as I say.
Basically, you find out that life’s about little half-yards here and there.
So is football.
Because in either game,
life or football,
it’s a very fine line between winning and losing.
I mean, not emptying early enough, you play the lad onside;
one half-second too slow, too fast, and you miss that chance at the back stick. 
These half-yards we need are in the channels,
between the lines,
in the final third,
our box, their box,
they’re in every bounce of the ball,
every minute, every second.

TERRY and GERRARD nod their heads, as does THEO, trance-like. 

On this team, we close down that half-yard!
On this team, we stay compact and stop them getting a half-yard!
We work the channels for that half-yard
because we know when we add up all those half-yards,
that’s going to make the FUCKING DIFFERENCE between winning those key individual battles or losing them. Yeah?
And I’ll tell you this: in any game of football,
it’s the guy who’s willing to get it down
and knock it about in the right part of the pitch
who will find the half-yard.
And I know that if I’m going to keep this job, moving forwards,
it’s because I’ll run through brick walls to deny them that half-yard.
That’s what living is: that half-yard you operate in.

FRY looks like he’s on the point of an aneurysm. CARROLL pats him on the back, as you would a fat, immobile old dog still with a sprightly puppy’s glint in its eyes.

Now, I can give you the hairdryer,
but that ain’t gonna make you do it.
You’ve gotta look at the guy next to you
Rio, JT; Wazza, Theo…Theo, headphones!! –
look into his eyes.
Now, I think you’re going to see a guy who will run all day
and close down that half-yard,
a guy who will show for the ball when he’s only got a half-yard to work with, 
because he knows, when it comes down to it,
you’re gonna show and close down for him.

RIO and TERRY share a wordless mutual gaze of reconciliation.

That’s the Bulldog Spirit, lads.
That’s our advantage over these fuckers.
And, basically, we either heal – now! – as a team,
or we will die as superrich individuals,
laughed at in the tabloids for a week or two
before everyone forgets.
At the end of the day, that’s what football is, guys.

PEARCE looks into the eyes of his key men.

So – moving forward – what are we gonna do?

The players are frothing at the mouth by now. They scream and holler and run around the dressing room as though in Brownian motion. Then, like the blind molecules obeying thermodynamic laws (PASSION for their country) that they essentially are, they seek out the dissipative possibilities of the stadium, barrelling down the tunnel and onto the pitch. We track them with hand-held camera.


…The equilibrium state they achieve is still quite precarious, however, and the anthems and handshake are like double history for people with ADHD.


PEARCE has stayed in the dressing room to gather his thoughts. Eventually, he gets up, strides down the tunnel and then, just as he’s about to emerge into the low evening light, apropos of nothing, head-butts a concrete wall, causing blood to gush down his face in a narrow yet fast-flowing stream of red. With a team to oversee, he simply smears a horizontal band across his face – making a bloody Cross of St George – and heads for the bench, looking like he means business. In his short shorts.

From a low-angle shot, we track behind this gladiator as he walks up and out into the arena.


The game gets underway. Barely a quarter of an hour in, England find themselves 3-0 down and in deep trouble. At this point ’ARRY saunters over to the bench, a little weather-beaten (not so much Al Pacino weather-beaten as turnip-sat-absorbing-rain-in-the-gutter weather-beaten, swollen and soapy) but pretty relaxed. He sits down next to PEARCE. They look like Arthur Daley and Terry from Minder.

By half-time it’s four. The midfield battle is like Man versus Mosquito – and unfortunately the game is neither living by superstition and prejudice nor mindless violence (as opposed to killing humans, at which they, um, slaughter us), but agility and poise (a game at which they’re also much better, obviously). Scotty PARKER is in there on his own – and being swamped by passing as crisp and precise as his parting – principally so as to allow PEARCE’s controversial tactic of playing CARROLL and three left-backs (no doubt a similar logic at work here as to when ’ARRY selected the breed of his pooch).

In marked contrast to the aftermath of his famous, cathartic penalty against these opponents in 1996, ‘Psycho’ PEARCE shows not a flicker of emotion when INIESTA slots in the fourth after a 719-pass move lasting 18 minutes, a reaction that’s akin to … well, that of a psychopath. FRY has a pop about his lack of passion. They nearly have a ruckus. 

Getting up from the dugout at half-time to make his way to the dressing room, ’ARRY gashes his head, his cheeky chappie persona slipping as he looks angrily round about for some “fackin’ dugout designer” to blame. He instructs FRY to take a couple of the left-backs off and get Bale a passport sorted, sharpish. He’s soon feeling dizzy, discombobulated. 


Back in the sanctuary of the rooms, away from the catcalls of their passionate travelling support, the players know they are halfway to abject humiliation. Passionately, they promptly reach for their smartphones to check a live graphic representing their net worth on the Nikkei. They aren’t happy.

ADAM JOHNSON scribbles something on a pad: “Idea for an indie ballad: We once ruled the world because of stiff upper-lip stoicism. Now we accuse the foreigners of not having enough passion. Paradox? Class basis for differing ‘British’ mentalities?”

’ARRY pulls a sheet from his pocket. The room falls silent. THEO slides back one of his headphones to check out the Gaffer’s ‘chat’.

’ARRY: Lads, you can turn this round. Just keep passing it. Anyway, you wouldn’t believe how the airline has tried to mug me off. Listen. Here we go: Article 9.1.2. Conditions of Carriage: Cabin Baggage. Der-de-der-de-der… Here we are: “Items which exceed our cabin baggage dimensions may be carried in the cabin if a seat for it has been reserved and an appropriate fare paid.” Blah blah blah. “To book an extra seat for an item the word ITEM SEAT must be entered as the surname and EXTRA must be entered as the forename. EXTRA ITEM SEAT will then be entered on the carriage reservation and on the boarding pass”. So far, so good. “You must also fully comply with Article 7 of our terms and conditions of carriage.” You look in there and it doesn’t say nothing about not taking a suitcase full of dosh on the plane, only that it is at your own risk or summink. I ask you…

The players look bewildered. ’ARRY, bleeding, screws the sheet of paper up and drop-kicks it into the bin, like Romario in a Nike ad. He then breaks out into song: 

The Grand Old Duke of York / He had ten thousand men / He marched them up to the top of the hill / And he marched them down again / And when they were up, they were up / And when they were down, they were down / And when they were only halfway up, they were neither up nor down.


With PEP ever keen to see the sport evolve, Spain decide to play a game of chicken – ‘Chicken Kiev’, The Sun will call it, inevitably – in which they don’t allow themselves to travel more than 20 steps in a single run, and must wait for 10 seconds before each new run. England take advantage to nick a couple, making it 4-2. FRY, chained up by the dugout, barks ferociously at FÀBREGAS, who is attempting to warm up.

As England wait for Spain to kick off, we cut from an imploring, snarling TERRY to a close-up of ’ARRY’s distracted, oasis-foam visage. BBC summariser and man with loyalty to his hairstyle, LAWRO, spots a ‘merment’ to impart wisdom to his 24.4 million audience:

LAWRO: I don’t know what the manager said at half-time, but it has obviously worked.
MOTTY: Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.
LAWRO: …As they say in Barcelona.

The goals are a false dawn. PEP shouts something in a mixture of Finnish and Tagalog (a means of communication devised in case England had brought along Becks to interpretate what they was saying and everyfink), and after a quick re-jig Spain roar away to a 7-3 win: an appropriately symbolic scoreline.



We are with FRY, standing atop a skyscraper, bulldog costume burning behind him. As the Interim Deputy Vice-Gaffer, stood a half-yard from the ledge, contemplates the final display – and final extinguishing – of his PASSION, we pan up from his face – St George’s Cross face paint smudged by tears of melancholy – to a blue, blue sky…


This was originally published at The Run of Play 

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