Gherkins and the Golden Boot – Ukraine 1 Wales 0

She nailed it. My pal Anya, 33, from Kyiv, first game ever, said after 85 minutes: “You guys need to practise scoring.”
And so it rumbles on. Who’s the number 9? Given our national intolerance of others’ opinions I fully expect this issue to start punch-ups in the fortnight before the Euros.

It was Simon Church, then Hal Robson- Kanu. Sam Vokes fluffed his biggest audition yet and couldn’t score against Andorra.IMG_5183-0

Then Tom Lawrence looked to have played himself into the squad against Holland, but didn’t really shine across Easter. It’s difficult to see him starting. The Euros look a couple of years too early for him.

Tom Bradshaw looked OK for 18 minutes but selections show he is not being seriously considered – unless he managed to nutmeg Ashley Williams loads of times in training.
In three hours’ play there was one goal, netted by the sole No 9 to create and take a goal, but bizarrely, people think the only striker to score since October 2014 should miss the ferry to France.

So who will start against Slovakia is anyone’s guess. HRK or Church being ahead of the rest.

Dixie McNeil in Kyiv
Wrexham legend Dixie McNeil was at the game. We should’ve asked him who should start up front. Ta to Craig for spoiling the picture

What’s clear is that the starting 9 usually doesn’t take a grip on the game for whatever reason, usually lack of service. The replacement, whoever it is, always seems to be a slight improvement.

So the logical outcome is to play the starting 9 for, say, nine minutes, and then substitute him. Worked against Cyprus. But, somehow, can’t see this happening.

It looks as if the first striker to net in France – if indeed any of them do – gets the job for the entirety of the tournament.

There have been so many auditions, it’s like The Voice. Why not ask Boy George to choose one and be done with it? We can disputatiously drone on about something else then.

Sometimes sides don’t fully form until the month of the tournament so let’s hope one player – anyone please – rises to the occasion.

Here in Kyiv, the 400 or so fans entered a new phase of evolution unknown in our 150 years’ existence.IMG_4713

Our post-traumatic success disorder has mellowed into a post-qualification, post-coital, blissful reverie – we have entered Cymru am Myth. We’re honeymooning, bonged-out, tra-la-laing down the street, I even found myself whistling Zombie Nation on the marshrutka to the airport. Hopefully this state of mind will never end.

I never knew qualification would feel this good.

As for the games, the past three friendlies are almost like Zenica never happened, was it a figment of our imagination? Without Gareth Bale we’ve reverted to the norm of the last three years. Looking good at times but losing out.

Joe Allen pulled lots of strings but couldn’t cross for toffee. Jonathan Williams took his usual kicking but looked like he was getting used to the treatment. Hopefully better refs in France will protect him. Solid defence was only breached by Yarmolenko, a class act, who should do really well in France.

Defeat was greeted with the old-time shoulder shrug of yore. Nobody minded. Maybe we should have done better but drunken oblivion was only a fiver away and that was top priority for 95% of the Welsh horde.

Overall, it was just like the last game we played here only this time the police smiled.

Shake Oleg

Not often that Welsh footballers play against a World Cup Golden Boot winner but that happened in Kyiv.

The Welsh fans’ team lined up against an all-star Ukrainian team packed with crack players from yesteryear. It was Hotshots v Headbangers (some still drunk).

There was a sumptuous spread to die for – tomatoes that taste of something, cheese, choccies, nuts, oranges, salami, bananas, gherkins, cans of Lvivska grog. Pop. Sandwich-toting Pensioners heard the running commentary by the Ukrainian FA’s press officer over the PA, and came to watch. The sun came out, I’d brought it with me in my draw bag. It was paradise.

We found out at halftime that the impressively robust No 9 was Oleg Salenko, who scored six goals for Russia at USA 1994, joint equal with Hristo Stoichkov. He now lives in Kyiv. No wonder the score was 3-0 though it should have been 6-0.

Oleg Salenko plays against Wales fans
Tom Bowen, left, took the chance to offer tips to Golden Boot winner Oleg Salenko and was photobombed. Next time, Paul Kinsey and Gazz Dainton, piss off.

The match at the Lokomotiv stadium near the central station ended 3-3 as an unlikely comeback secured a draw. We ‘won’ a jokey penalty shootout.

Most of their players were good, cheetah-sleek ex-pros, ex-Dynamo Kyiv etc etc, in their 40s and 50s.

The vid includes Salenko’s crowning glory – the moment he scored against us. You can retire now Oleg, your career has peaked. I wonder who he’d pick up front for us, perhaps we should have asked him.

I still have a spare gherkin if anyone wants it.

The Best bit

Anyone who’s spent a weekend in Cardiff city centre will know this – the new patron saint of Wales is, or should be, George Best. He set the bar high and Wales is looking to scale it. Let’s all raise a glass to him.

Looks like he’s popular in Kyiv too.

Ukraine is full of surreal surprises and one of the latest sprang up last year, clearly owned by a Man U fan. Barry John’s butty has inspired a bar by the name of Bestia, about half a mile from the Olimpiski stadium. Full address is Shorsa 44.

I got you some pix:

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T******* S*******

It’s time to make a stand. I hate this slogan. Witless junk. Supremely inane. Faux profound. It’s the most bleedingly obvious bleeding obvious crock of crud marketing ever devised. And if you don’t get where I’m coming from, I’m afraid it’s bleeding obvious, can’t help, sorry.

And you know the smug idiot who had a ‘moment of inspiration’ in his hashtagged black hole of a brain is still slapping themself on the back, wondering if a marketing award is winging its way towards them cos it was No5 on a Twitter trending list in Dakar.IMG_5198

The news it would be the Manic Street Preachers song title for our France single left me close to tears.

Even worse, it is now on course to be the official slogan on the team bus. And some bugger will get free match tickets, slap-up stuff and goodie-bagged to the gills for his or her ‘genius’. The person who entered it had only the wit to cut and paste the entry, and doesn’t deserve reward,

It’s like the thickest pupil in class being rewarded for learning to count to two. I urge you to vote for the alternatives, which are, admittedly, nearly as gut-wrenchingly bad. Go here.

Together we can defeat the T******* S******* mafia.

Stockholm syndrome

The Swedes colonised Kyiv during Euro 2012. Women took the minibus from villages outside the city to ogle the men, swooning in droves.

The Scandinavian scallies spread happiness, joy and Viking helmets all over the shop. They were literally revered.

On Trukhaniv Island, in the middle of the river Dnipro, sand was imported for the beach by city authorities. The Swedes turned it into a huge camp site.

It’s now an all-frills-spared dreary dump again – scruffy cats and windowless buildings abound. but there is evidence of the Scandinavian occupation still.IMG_5214There was a polite little nod to local hero Andriy Shevchenko, now retired, but helping the national team out.IMG_5221And of course the monumental ego of Zlatan Ibrahimovic – I call him Ham Sandwich, it’s less of a mouthful – gets his own monument.IMG_5217He’s next up – we’ll finally see a top-class striker on the pitch – on June 5.

See you there.

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