Masks, monsoon and Mariachi – Mexico 1 Cameroon 0

Mexico v CameroonIf we come back again in another life – don’t worry I’m not a believer – maybe it would be good to be Mexican.

So many questions. Are they born with the wrestle masks on? Are the Mitchell Johnson moustaches for real? I was tempted to tug one to test it. Are they always like this – hyper-crazed monomanical footballholics.

What an amazing day out you get with the Gimp Nation at the football. They were absolutely bonkers bazonkas.

Continue reading Masks, monsoon and Mariachi – Mexico 1 Cameroon 0

Hail Bale – Wales 2 Scotland 1

 

 A million wows. Brain-boggling Bale blasts a brilliant goal to salvage Wales – and a nation’s sanity – from the shredder.

For me, the best Welsh goal this millennium. Also, let’s just over-egg the pudding – one of the most important goals in our history.

Coming away from the spineless, September stinkathon in Serbia it seemed we’d taken a blow so painful that I feared recovery would be impossible.

It really seemed that the side didn’t give a monkey’s. Pitiful performances – well we’ve seen plenty of them, take your pic, there’s dozens. But last month was the worst of the lot.

Novi Sad was crisis-bad. Maybe the worst defeat in my lifetime and it seemed to spark knives out for Coleman and more turmoil than I can ever remember in my lifetime. Even worse was that the national side seemed to be again becoming a favoured topic of national ridicule.

A story appeared suggesting Coleman, to appease the FAW, would have to win against Scotland and Croatia and I thought: ‘Hang on, while you’re at it why not ask him to climb Everest too and then ski down stark bollock naked?’

So, full marks then to all the players. Novi Sad was all their fault, I figured. So all credit for this win must go them – and in winning they presumably have settled the insidious Coleman question for the moment.

The game

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Matches at the CCS are rarely without a pointedly chosen pre-match record . This time it was Secret Affair’s Time for Action. Mod anthem message to gee up the troops – an unusual choice.

Morison’s miss in the first half, followed by an immediate Scottish goal looked like it was going to sum up Welsh football history in 30 seconds. So close to glory, then sucker-punch humiliation just to remind you that the Welsh always lose. It’s in our genes.

At half-time, a mutual wail of woe with Iwan from Cardigan about strikers and the ‘How on earth aren’t we winning? chat.

And then a second-half swelling tide of Bale, Bale and more Bale. He’s absolutely fucking brilliant isn’t he, in a way I don’t think I’ve seen in any player play, bar Pavel Nedved at the Euros in 2004. If he raced a stag, you’d fancy his chances and then push the poor creature over.

Looked a penalty to me – in fact we should have had two before I reckoned, for fouls on Ramsey and Davies.

And then the goal that many of us felt was our due – like we’d earned it because we were driven mad in Novi Sad to the point where you question why you ever bothered starting to watch Wales play away and all those people who roll their eyes when you explained might have a point. But we were owed something big, something beautiful, something you would remember for the rest of your life. And about bloody time, we got it.

We got all that and more and the relief was immense. It resonates so much especially with the classic Wales v Scotland heartbreaks over the years. And fair dos to the Scot who admitted he clipped Bale therefore spiking the guns of the scurvy Scots who accused our man of diving.

Not really revenge as I reckon that it will still only, once the dust settles be the difference in a parochial play-off for fourth place in the group.

Great stuff and I bet Steve Morison must have been relieved his miss was an irrelevance. If you see a better goal at the CCS in the next 50 years then maybe it will have been scored by Messi beating seven players in the ninth minute of added time.

They all played, they all bust a gut, there are no complaints from me. The pain has been purged.

‘Coleman out’ codswallop

No prizes for guessing where I stand. It was brave to select Price, Davies and Ledley and all performed well. I can’t remember Price ever being less than excellent and if he was several inches taller he would surely be first-choice somewhere.

Quite brave to replace Ramsey as skipper too – though after Novi Sad where he appeared rudderless, a very sensible and obvious decision.

Seems to me that Ramsey, missing for Tuesday, could be replaced by an extra defender. Scotland still had several good chances and there was often lots of space in the box.

Let’s hope that whatever happens on Tuesday, the unsettling cloud over Coleman – a guy who has only three competitive games so far and in two of which (Belgium, Scotland) his side have played well, has been dispelled.

Giggs v Bale

The debate is edging towards Bale. Both men were men of the match in about half the first 25-30 games they played for Wales. Bale’s better goalscoring record and crossing ability edge it for me.

Play another seven or eight years and he’ll probably beat John Charles as the best Welsh player ever.

Roger Speed

This campaign will always be overshadowed by Gary Speed – can’t the anti-Coleman campaigners see the poisoned chalice he has accepted and give him credit for trying to turn it around?

So, it was heartwarming earlier in the week to hear Roger Speed urge people to get behind the side and Coleman in particular. He nailed his colours to the mast unequivocably and rather bravely, given the mutterings of the last month.

Simple common sense from a bereaved father bewildered by what he saw.

So, quite bizarrely, the spirit of Gary Speed is still with this team in the form of his father – a benevolent grandfather figure to the national side.

It occurs to me that Roger Speed, with a humane, compassionate sentence or two of support for Coleman, is a man wise beyond words.

Penalty pic courtesy of Jack Fleckney

Mad, bad Novi Sad – Serbia 6 Wales 1

Seven years ago I gave up drink. Last night I came close to starting again.

It wasn’t the worst I’ve ever felt at one of our games but it was one of the worst defeats in our history. The manner of it was excrutiating and it came at the worst possible time. The last year must have seemed like a constant crisis-management exercise for the FAW and it’s hard not to feel sympathy for officials.photo (1)

Now the crisis is on the pitch. Last Friday it seemed the players wanted to play – last night nobody seemed to want the ball once we fell behind. Good players had really really bad games. All this against I team I read had scored only twice in ten games. Local Serbs after the match were as stunned as we were. Father Christmas had flown in from Cardiff to deliver a wonderful present.

The mad

The dream opening to this piece that I had in store would have been a tale of divine retribution for Wales after our 2003 trip to Novi Sad to see the under-21s play. That night our keeper Jason Brown, now of Aberdeen, was racially abused and players James Collins and David Pipe were elbowed, according to our then coach Jimmy Shoulder. It was sickening. In fact, the evident  racism in the country, not just in the match, was a shock.

Before the game, a friend reporting seeing balaclava-clad Serbian ultra-nationalists parade through the town, about 40 of them.

Keep smiling
Keep smiling

Add to that that the volcanic Sinisa Mihajlovic, who called Patrick Vieira a ‘fucking black monkey’ back in 2000, is now Serbia manager and I had hopes that Ashley Williams could score a last-minute winner to somehow make amends. Sometimes it’s a bad thing to over-romanticise football.

The bad 

Well this would apply to the entirety of the match from the moment we kicked off in a grey kit that I can only describe as horrible. Reminded me of my old school uniform. Each to their own, my mate Tim then informed me he had bought it.

We knew our coins would be confiscated but I never figured a souvenir Serbia pen would be snatched off me too. I couldn’t be bother to argue. It set the tone.photo

No point in going into a blow-by-blow account of what went wrong. Pretty much everything of course.

Sometimes that’s easier to bear because we have such a good time on the terrace that the on-field disappointments are water off a duck’s back. Eindhoven 1996 comes to mind.

A worse defeat (7-1) but the last 20 minutes was a roaring crescendo of Welsh defiance, by us not the players, and the locals clapped us out of the stadium, so impressed were they. And at least Vinnie Jones didn’t play much for Wales after that fiasco.

But I have to say that the seven minutes between Serbia’s second goal and Bale’s free-kick rank among the blackest spells of watching Wales in more than 100 games.

Many fans failed to contain their boiling anger at the players – something I’ve rarely witnessed – and the nature of the Serb second goal probably had something to do with it. It was like a comedy dribbler was being helped out by freakish ricochets and mistimed attempts at tackles. If the guy had been wearing a clown costume and two-foot long shoes it couldn’t have looked more stupid.

Bale’s goal took the edge off the anger. Serbia’s third goal didn’t spark the same outrage – you sort of knew the game was up with the second goal, the third was greeted as absolute proof. The remaining three goals hardly registered.

Couldn’t bring myself to join the boos at the end of the nor the ‘What a load of rubbish’ chant, though that was true. We even chanted ‘Ser-bee-ya’ as a mark of respect to our hosts. That’s how bad we felt.

Liked the dry comment in the second half: “What a waste of four quid!” (the price of the match ticket).

Chris Coleman

I was disappointed to hear ‘Coleman out’ chants just five games into a reign that began in circumstances that no one would wish on any manager. One of those games, you could argue, was Costa Rica which was more of a memorial service than a match.

Seems to me he has acted with genuine humility and real respect for the position. It needs to be repeated that he has taken on the post in the most appalling situation and needs to be given credit and time for that.

Surely it’s a man management nightmare. If he’s dealt with Diana conspiracy theorist Mohammed Al-Fayed on a regular basis while at Fulham, then he should have the credentials for the job.

But it’s also fair to wonder about a few decisions – as Ralph from Brno insists – why did he start Church wide left for two games? To no obvious effect. Will he persist with Morison up front.

Football fans’ increasing lust for what I call ‘lynchmobbery’, heads on plates after bad runs and easy target victims (why not blame the players ahead of Coleman?) has got progressively worse.

And the early knives out for Coleman are the last thing we need. If we are in crisis now – and arguably we are – then surely his departure would make it worse. Any new manager might think he’s only got 4/5 games to get results. The FAW would be revealed as a poor employer. Any good manager would surely not risk his reputation or even want the job.

Positives

1 If you were banking on watching Wales in Brazil, well looks like you’re five grand better off already.

2 Given we are effectively out of the running already – unless five wins come out of the next six games – there’s a great opportunity to skip the Belgium trip and save even more money. This is a personal view on the attractiveness of Brussels, having been threatened by police there in 1992.

Five at the back?

Is a four-man defence the future for Wales? Will Coleman consider five? We did it a few years back under a certain Mr Toshack – and we created far more chances back then than we have done recently. And missed pretty much all of them.

Legacy

I am still in Serbia at the time of writing, so know nothing of the reaction back home. But it seems to me this result is knocking the stuffing out of football in Wales.

We’ve already returned to the days of: “What are you watching Wales for?”, asked in a tone of eyebrow-raised astonishment. I had the chat with an Aussie friend last week and he did wasn’t persuaded by the answer.

What’s worse is that there now seems to be a disconnect between our players and the public. The FAW have got a lot of things right over the last 10-12 years but the most interesting chat I had this week was with well-known Cardiff fan Corky.photo (3)

It was a surprise to hear from him that, running Trelewis kids’ football, he is struggling to get support from outside to promote soccer for about 20 kids.

Meanwhile the WRU machine rolls relentlessly on in his nieghbourhood, bankrolled by an admirably efficient, well-oiled set-up. So Corky can’t compete with many clubs taking an interest in y0ung children.

Recently the FAW has ramped up its marketing. ‘Time to Believe’ and all that. The Uefa Supercup coming to Cardiff. A glossy mag dished out with the Western Mail. I applaud that but it seems superficial to me. To a certain extent it has to be done, of course. But I am then left wondering if more support at grassroots might be the next priority in the more deprived areas of Wales.

So, say, instead of a game in November – surely the last thing we need – there needs to be a team-bonding and a ‘connectedness’. Take ’em to Trelewis, Mr Coleman.

This might bridge the other issue I think is a factor in recent Wales’ up and down performances and that’s the ‘disconnect’ between the players and the fans. Nothing new here in this argument. But, having returned to Wales after 20 years in England, it seems to me  that parts of the valleys are Second World in infrastructure and quality of life. Blaenau Gwent has one in six unemployed.

Contrast that with the lesser lights in this Wales team being capable of settling seven thousand pound bar bills on holiday I hear.

The FAW charge a fiver for kids’ tickets, they would say. Which is good, not knocking it. I’m not qualified to judge but I have noticed a lot of glossy marketing which is being fatally undermined by the poor results.

What now?

After the match, it was time for a drink (non-alcoholic – I didn’t succumb to temptation).

Next to the Novi Sad stadium is a fine bar called Camelot. Sitting there, it was hard not to conclude that after a night of such high disappointment at a game I genuinely thought we would win, we need an Excalibur-wielding King Arthur and his knights of the Round Ball to emerge to turn this around.

Because that’s what we need.