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England 1-1 Germany (2-1 aet)

Women’s European Football Championship 2022, Final, Wembley Stadium, 31/7/22.

So, England’s women footballers have done something the men have not. Won a Euros.

This was a tight, absorbing game, fiercely contested between two well organised, well drilled and skillful sides, who both had periods of dominance.

Not much by way of expansive football, though, the two midfields kind of cancelling each other out.

The first goal was a delight. Even though the keeper’s advancement in effect made up Ella Toone’s mind for her the chip still had to be executed perfectly. And it was.

Germany’s equaliser was beautifully worked and excellently taken by Lena Magull. At that point the momentum could have swung behind them, but England saw it out to extra time.

The winner was scrappy. But they all count.

Who knows the difference a fit Alexandra Popp might have made to Germany? England’s defence looked more uncomfortable in this game than in previous ones, even the quarter-final against Spain when they fell behind. But that is as it should be. This was a final. In any case those are the breaks.

England’s coach, Sarina Wiegman, has a reputation for being a tactical genius. She certainly knows how to deploy substitutes and apparently has her side primed for what to do in any eventuality. On the evidence of this tournament though (albeit only in the one game) her tactic for being one behind with ten minutes to go is to put the big lass up front and get it up to her or at least allow her to distract the defence. (Mind you, according to Gary Lineker, that was Johan Cryuff’s preferred option in similar circumstances.)

Finally, it is to be hoped that this will not be harped on forever in the way a certain event which occurred in 1966 has been.

Uwe Seeler

One of the greats of German (well West German) football has died.

While not quite as prolific as his compatriot Gerd Muller, with whom his career overlapped slightly, he scored 43 times for his national side and 404 for his club side Hamburger SV.

He played in no fewer than four World Cups for West Germany but despite that country’s formidable record in the competition the closest he came to winning it was in 1966 when West Germany lost the final in extra time (to a somewhat dubious goal – and another when some people were on the pitch.)

It’s his equalising goal against the same opponents four years later in Leon in Mexico however that I remember most. That backheader is sublime:-

It seems he was a lovely man too.

While researching this I discovered Seeler’s grandson Levin Mete Öztunalı is also a professional footballer.

Uwe Seeler: 5/11/1936 – 21/7/2022. So it goes.

Streltsov by Jonathan Wilson

Blizzard Media Ltd, 2021, 157 p.

Wilson has made a name for himself writing non-fiction books on various aspects of football. (See my reviews here and here.) Streltsov is his first novel and takes a subject that at first sight seems a little strange – the career of Eduard Anatoliyevich Streltsov, the Russian Pelé. (An aside in the book has Pelé referred to in Russia as the Brazilian Streltsov.) This is even more of an odd choice when you consider that, at least since Lev Yashin (the only goalkeeper ever to win the Ballon d’Or,) and perhaps before, the quintessential Russian footballing icon has been a goalkeeper, not an outfield player. The narrator of this book Ivan, factotum/dogsbody and also sometime fixer at the Torpedo Moscow club, does not have such esteem, though; he says that Yashin made mistakes and was overblown. But goalkeepers do not tend to stir the heart on the field of play and Edik (as Streltsov was nicknamed) certainly did that.

On the other hand, fictional treatments of football tend to be unconvincing. In this light Wilson’s choice of a country, the Soviet Union, of which his readers may be less than knowledgeable, and a time which they probably won’t remember, the 1950s and 60s, might be shrewd. And it has to be said that the footballing details here are credible. Wilson’s familiarity with the game shines through. He also appears to have done extensive research on Soviet football in those times.

In this regard there was one assertion that confused me. Edik’s debut was said to come when he “was given twenty minutes or so at the end” of a game in 1954. I had always thought substitutes were not allowed in football until the mid-1960s. That was certainly the case in Britain. On researching their history it seems substitutes were formally introduced for the qualifying rounds for the 1954 World Cup. I take it on trust that domestic use in the Soviet Union was permitted at the same time.

While football is Wilson’s subject the novel is not essentially about the game at all. It is the tale of a flawed character dealing (or not as the case may be) with his demons, a tale not unknown to literature and always worth returning to.

Through Ivan, Wilson captures that brittle feeling of optimism occasioned when the future seems bright and a team is doing well. “We were young, we were exciting, we had hope. It was the most dangerous of times.” We all know where that leads.

In football, as in life, Streltsov’s story is a relatively familiar one – early unbridled talent, too much acclaim, the distractions of drink and fawning fans, the stumble and fall. Look at the careers of George Best or Gazza as a template. Add in that in Streltsov’s time and place individual expertise was frowned on in favour of the collective and his fate was perhaps inevitable. That he snubbed the daughter of a Politburo member could not have helped.

Ivan tells us, “there is no doubt to me that his gift became at times a burden,” and asks the question “Why did he drink? Why does anybody drink? Everybody drank in those days.” In many ways alcohol is a prop – and not just to footballers, “Sober he was a shy boy. The attention of fans troubled him.” But, “The drink and the talent and the shyness, they were all related. Take away one element and you change the whole.” It was part of his character. Like all coping mechanisms, when it breaks down turmoil usually follows. In Edik’s case it led to prison for a crime committed in circumstances shrouded in murk.

But how much does having a charismatic player actually mean? In 1960, while Edik was away serving his time in the gulag, Torpedo actually won the Soviet league. The season after his return, 1965, they won it again – but the game had changed, his individualism was no longer the point, team play was, and pressing was on the rise. As far as Ivan is concerned Streltsov’s later redemptive phase never quite makes up for his loss (nor for the crime he served time for.)

The choice of Ivan as narrator is perhaps odd novelistically, leading as it does, since he was not present at many of the crucial points, to a high degree of telling rather than showing but it gives the text distance, objectivity of a sort – and the perspective of a football fan.

Among the ifs, buts and maybes, Ivan wonders if the Soviet Union might have won the World Cup in 1958 had Streltsov played and would the world then have lionised a different teenager than it did? And again in 1966 might his presence have led to the USSR beating West Germany in the semi-final? An interesting counter-factual one ramification of which Wilson does not address: where would the perennial English football obsession with Germany ever since have gone without that defining bench mark?

Streltsov is a slim novel but it packs a lot in to its 157 pages. It is not only about the pitfalls facing a young man blessed with an innate ability which many people idolise, but also about the hope and dejection, the lows and (temporary) highs of following a football team. Above all it is about transitoriness. Like all of us a footballer’s life is fleeting; but his (and increasingly her) active phase is packed into a relatively short time span. How much crueller, then, when part of it is truncated?

Pedant’s corner:- fit (fitted,) dirver (driver,) “but he still a powerful figure” (but he was still a powerful figure,) Konsmoskaya Pravda (usually spelled Komsomolskaya Pravda, as it is later,) “neither keeper covered themselves in glory” (covered himself in glory,) “Chisninau Moldova” (Chisinau.) “That final 34 minutes were agony” (either ‘those final 34 minutes” or, ‘was agony’,) “Konsomolskaya Pravda” (Komsomolskaya Pravda,) novocain (novocaine,) “stoved in” (staved in, or, stove in.) “We won 2-0 win a goal in each half” (with a goal in each half.) “We never see the end till it is passed” (past.)

Stadium of Light, Sunderland

On one of our visits to friends in the North-east of England we happened to pass the Stadium of Light, home to Sunderland AFC.

A replacement for the famous Roker Park its naming was immediately derided by fans of Sunerland’s great rivals from up the A19 and amended by thme to Stadium of (something that rhymes with light.)

Football champions of England six times, Sunderland AFC have, of course, recenty fallen on relatively hard times.

The stadium sits above the River Wear:-

Stadium of Light by River Wear

Stadium of Light (Part)

Part of west stand:-

Stadium of Light, Close up on Stand

From north-east:-

Stadium of Light, Sunderland

Sunderland, Stadium of Light

East and north stands:-

Part of Stadium of Light, Sunderland

Stands at Stadium of Light, Sunderland

Stadium from Sunderland city centre showing west and south stands:-

Stadium of Light

A New Perspective on Gayfield

Gayfield is the home of Arbroath FC.

In May 2018 Sons played Arbroath in the semi-final of the Tier 2 relegation/Tier 3 promotion play-offs. We won there 2-1 and drew 1-1 at home to reach the final where we lost in extra time to Alloa.

Since then it’s fair to say the two clubs’ paths have taken very different courses.

The next season Arbroath absolutely strolled to promotion. Their sojourn in Tier 2 has been even more successful than ours. They have already reached the promotion play-offs this season and might even finish first being only one point behind with two games left – one of those a difficult one away to Kilmarnock, the only team above them.

It’s a magnificent achievement for a part-time club in these times but their performances this season should make them able to approach the game with no trepidation – and the pressure ought to be on Kilmarnock as favourites and a full-time team.

As for us, we could easily be relegated to Tier 4 in our forthcoming play-offs.

The photo below, showing Gayfield in all its lower league football ground beauty, is taken from a private blog I frequent.

Gayfield from the air

We Wuz Robbed!

This post’s title is the perennial cry of the lesser spotted Scottish football fan.

However, Saturday’s Scottish Cup game against Dundee largely hinged on a red card being shown to Ross MacLean for violent conduct as a frsult of which we played the whole second half with only ten men.

This red card has now been rescinded.

How we might have fared with a full complement on the park is of course unknowable. But given we pushed Dundee fairly hard with only ten men it’s a reasonable assumption that we could have done even better with eleven on the pitch.

The ref has perhaps cost us a place in the next round – and the revenue that would bring – and a possibly lucrative draw in that round (though Dundee got Peterhead away – a tie which could have been negotiated by us into a quarter-final.) We were punished for an offence that in effect never happened. He was seemingly due to be fourth official at a Tier 1 game tonight and is due to do the same at another on Saturday. It doesn’t seem equable.

Scottish Books I Read This Year

It’s that time of the year when people post ‘best of’ lists.

This isn’t a best of, merely a list of the books with Scottish authorship or Scottish flavour which I read this year. A round 30, of which (since Scotland in Space was an anthology* containing stories and articles** by both men and women) 14½ were by men and 15½ by women, 28½** were fiction (Snapshot being about Scottish Football Grounds.)

The Corncrake and the Lysander by Finlay J MacDonald
Light by Margaret Elphinstone
Snapshot by Daniel Gray and Alan McCredie
And the Cock Crew by Fionn MacColla
A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh
Ringan Gilhaize by John Galt
The Gates of Eden by Annie S Swan
Close Quarters by Angus McAllister
Vivaldi and the Number 3 by Ron Butlin
End Games in Bordeaux by Allan Massie
The Gleam in the North by D K Broster
A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark
Scotland in Space Ed by Deborah Scott and Simon Malpas
Being Emily by Anne Donovan
The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson
Big Sky by Kate Atkinson
Their Lips Talk of Mischief by Alan Warner
The House by the Loch by Kirsty Wark
Summer by Ali Smith
Glister by John Burnside
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Scabby Queen by Kirstin Innes
The End of an Old Song by J D Scott
The Rental Heart and other fairy tales by Kirsty Logan
Republics of the Mind by James Robertson
The Dark Mile by D K Broster
Highland River by Neil M Gunn
The Clydesiders by Margaret Thomson Davis
The Last Peacock by Allan Massie
A Day at the Office by Robert Alan Jamieson

That last one was of course my final (unless I ever get round to Trainspotting) book on the Best 100 Scottish Books list.

I am part way through George McKay Brown’s collection of short stories, Hawkfall, which would make the above sex ratio of authors 1:1 but am unlikely to post about it here before the New Year. (I’m four behind as it is, though one of those is for ParSec.)

* It was also the only one to be SF or Fantasy.

It’s Cup Time Again

Or it will be on November 27th.

Sons have been drawn at home against Sauchie in the Third Round of this season’s Scottish Cup.

Sauchie is a former Junior club (their full name still incorporates the Junior tag) who joined the migration to Senior football on the recent establishment of the extended Scottish football pyramid and now ply their trade in East of Scotland League Premier Division (Tier 6.) This is their first season in the Scottish Cup.

In the First Round they beat Highland League leaders Fraserburgh 2-1 away so must not be taken lightly. On Saturday they beat Dunipace of East of Scotland League First Division Conference A (Tier 7) 2-1 at home in the second round.

They will therefore go into the game with Sons with no pressure on them, so the tie could be tricky.

Outbreak of Flags

Scots are not generally given to flag-waving from their properties.

Exceptions come when the national football team qualifies for a major tournament; as it did for Euro 2020 (due to Covid, played in the summer of 2021.)

Maybe there was an extra excuse this time because the previous occasion when Scotland graced a big tournament was in 1998!

Scotland Flags Again

More Scotland Flags

The flags have long gone now.

Roger Hunt

And so another name from that small number of Englishmen to grace a World Cup final, Roger Hunt, has finally left the pitch.

His 244 league goals remain Liverpool’s best ever. Only Ian Rush has scored more goals for the club overall. Hunt also scored 18 times for England in 34 appearances – including three in the group stages in 1966. When Jimmy Greaves was fit again for the final it seemed it might be Hunt who would make way for him but manager Alf Ramsey decided to stick with Hunt and Geoff Hurst. By raising his arms and turning away Hunt looked in no doubt that Hurst’s shot off the bar had crossed the line for his controversial strike in extra-time that in effect won the game.

That Liverpool supporters called him Sir Roger shows the esteem and affection in which he was held.

Roger Hunt: 20/7/1938 – 27/8/2021. So it goes.

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