It was a must-win game. Not so much in terms of avoiding relegation but certainly in terms of easing the strain on a manager whose arrival a few months earlier had been welcomed by most Hull City fans.
A poor start to the season, some wretched performances and an increasingly restless and vocal minority within the fan base were all adding to the pressure.
A midweek draw at Leeds was encouraging but not really enough given that City had lost their previous match at home to Scunny. It was hard to see how Nigel Pearson would survive if City failed to win at Preston North End. Some message board posters were even advocating a return for Phil Brown.
One of the big questions on the night was why Sky had chosen the game for live coverage, but they’re not to know when they draw up the list during the summer that the two sides will be in the relegation zone, and there on merit, when the cameras arrive.
That City ended their run of eight games without a win was seen as evidence only of Preston’s own inadequacies. They were awful. Worse than Sheff United, who had somehow managed to win at Hull the previous month. Between them the three sides were inspiring confidence in all the other teams at the wrong end of the table.
But as turning points go this was a significant one for City. They’ve lost only one League game since and now the talk is of a return to Wembley. The three Ps – Play-offs, Promotion, Premier League.
And one of the reasons for the rise is the remarkable form of Ian Ashbee, club captain, midfield general, all-round superhero.
There is more to it of course, and principally the takeover that untied Pearson’s hands and enabled him to shift a few players out and bring some in – the pace and tricks of Cameron Stewart, the physical presence and goal scoring threat of Matty Fryatt, the tireless graft of Aaron McLean.
But in the middle of the field it was Ashbee who was holding things together, leading by example, getting stuck in, motivating his charges, collecting yellow cards. It seems weird to think that when Hull and Preston meet again next week he could be lining up for the opposition.
Opinion among City fans is divided, but then that’s football.
When Ashbee was signed from Cambridge United in the summer of 2002 a mate of mine who had played in all four divisions and as an international and really knew his stuff summed up what City had bought: “He’s just a clogger but fine for the bottom division.”
And so we all thought. I’m not ashamed to admit I wrote him off more than once, but Ashbee handled the next division pretty well though, and the one after that – the Championship where proper midfielders lurked. Players who could pass a ball and beat a man. But everywhere City went, Ashbee raised his game.
Surely the Premier League would be a step too far? Not a bit of it. He played most of City’s games in that memorable first season in the top flight and his absence through injury for the second campaign was seen by many as a factor in the failure to avoid the drop.
My mate was half right. Ash isn’t the most gifted, cultured player. And he doesn’t score many goals but he did fire in the winner one memorable Saturday afternoon at Yeovil that secured a second successive promotion.
And he is one of the most determined and courageous players I’ve ever seen in more than 40 years of watching football. It is that determination that enabled him to cope with whatever classier, more stylish opponents threw at him as he set a record by leading Hull City as captain in all four divisions.
It was Ashbee’s drive and desire that lifted less committed players and dragged City over the line in some vital matches, particularly in that first Premier League season. It is his heart and passion that enabled him to return from two career-threatening injuries to resume his duties.
So that’s what Preston can look forward to, and Ash can surely expect the warmest of welcomes and the fondest of send-offs when he comes back to the KC with Phil Brown next week.
There are disappointing rumours of a fall-out with Nigel Pearson and with Adam Pearson, who heads-up the football business at the club. There is talk of a row over the club’s decision not to offer a new contract, of Ash subsequently being tapped up by Brown, of City being short of midfielders.
But after again battling back from injury rather than heading for the golf course or the pundit’s chair, Ash has earned the right to play for as long as he can, wherever he can.
And if City are short in midfield it’s because of the culture change that these days means they are prepared to part with players at the right time rather than cling to sentiment.
Dean Windass earned immortality for his winner at Wembley, but even during that promotion season about half his goals came from penalties and free kicks. He stayed too long and couldn’t deliver back in the Premier League.
George Boateng, a colossus during the first season at the top, and Geovanni, legendary match-winner at the Emirates, both came up short when City needed them in that difficult second season.
Under Nigel Pearson, Nick Barmby still makes an impact, but these days it’s from the bench and as a mentor to the young players. Jimmy Bullard has gone and Ash, now 34, has followed.
James Harper, too often a target for the boo-boys this season, stepped up to good effect against QPR. There are reports now of a loan bid for Jonathan Greening.
Bring it on. The pair of them against Ian Ashbee, captain of Proud Preston. And while I’d obviously want City’s boys to boss the game, there’s no way I’d write off Ian Ashbee.
It was a must-win game. Not so much in terms of avoiding relegation but certainly in terms of easing the strain on a manager whose arrival a few months earlier had been welcomed by most Hull City fans.
There are a few differences between the off-air comments of Ron Atkinson all those years ago and the “banter” that led to the suspension of Andy Gray and Richard Keys by Sky Sports.
Big Ron didn’t actually use any profanities and his partner in the commentary box made a brave effort to avert disaster by warning of the possible consequences.
We’re not talking here about the 2004 incident which led to Atkinson’s departure from ITV and The Guardian. We’re looking at the episode that occurred on 1 July 1990 during the epic World Cup tie between England and Cameroon.
Along with millions of football fans around the world you may have missed it. After all it was another off-air comment, except in the relatively tiny community of Bermuda.
But for those of us watching live coverage of the game it was one of those “did he really say that?” moments. Fortunately we were recording the match so we double-checked later.
Sure enough as the players sat and strolled on the pitch in readiness for extra time with the score locked at 2-2, Atkinson and Brian Moore chatted about the action so far.
We know this because the resources of the Bermuda Broadcasting Company didn’t stretch to a studio or to hiring the services of “experts” on a sofa. They just aired the live feed sent to them by ITV and trusted such experienced commentators to do their jobs.
Atkinson turned his attention to Benjamin Massing, the Cameroon defender who was having a pretty tough time, whose challenge on Gary Lineker had brought the penalty award that kept England in the game and who would repeat the offence in extra time to give Lineker the chance to score the winner, again from the penalty spot.
The reprimand that followed from ITV was apparently for Atkinson’s suggestion that Massing didn’t have a brain. The pundit also described the defender as a camel, a comment which appears not to have been brought to the attention of ITV.
Finally, following a warning from the ever-professional Moore, Atkinson asked if he could be in trouble if Massing’s mother was watching at home “up a tree in Cameroon.”
ITV claimed not to have heard the comment because it was off-air, yet a many of Bermuda’s 60,000 and 60 per cent black population picked it up loud and clear.
So ITV blamed the Bermuda station for a lack of professionalism in putting the live feed straight to air. Bermuda blamed ITV for hiring unprofessional broadcasters.
A few Bermuda residents complained to the local newspaper, where we reviewed the tape and sought a response from ITV. Always eager to pick up a bit of extra cash I also touted it round the English newspapers with mixed, and in one case remarkable, results.
As I recall the Mirror used it, as did the Express and we got a front page slot in the Yorkshire Post that paid about a tenner – Atkinson was manager of Sheffield Wednesday at the time.
The Sun though rejected the story and claimed, some may say bizarrely, that they weren’t sure it was true. We told them we had the whole thing on tape but they still declined. Sitting in our island paradise some 3,500 miles away from the UK we weren’t regular readers of The Sun and it would be some time before we would learn that their star columnist for the World Cup was… Ron Atkinson.
Maybe Atkinson was dissuaded from expanding on his opinion of Massing by the steadying influence of Moore. And maybe the revered broadcaster would have kept his sidekick on the straight and narrow 14 years later, but sadly he had passed away by the time Atkinson, having failed once again to recognise the perils of those off-air moments, described Marcel Desailly and black footballers generally in particularly obscene and offensive terms.
And maybe Andy Gray would not have been so readily caught out had he been in the company of someone like Moore, or John Motson, or Barry Davies, or Clive Tyldesley, or Martin Tyler.
Some might say they are past their sell-by date, uninspiring, irritating, arrogant but they are all professionals who harbour a real passion for the game with far more respect, even off-air, than that demonstrated by the “lads’ night out” approach of Keys and Gray.
With the old guard’s experience comes deep knowledge of their specialist subject, substance over style. You wouldn’t catch them struggling to remember the name of the first female assistant referee to officiate in the English leagues. They’re also pretty solid on the offside law, unlike many of their more recent counterparts, many of whom moved into the media from careers as players and managers.
Is the controversy tough on Sky Sports? Have they made a significant contribution to the presence of women in the media? Or is that just eye candy?
It could actually be doing them a favour. Over the last couple of years there have been signs that the Sky presentation format is becoming a bit tired, along with the people who front the show.
It’s something Sky has in common with Match of the Day, and the current scenario presents them with an opportunity to make a change.
I’m not saying here that Keys and Gray should necessarily be sacked for what they said, although short-term suspension seems a bit of a let-off given that such a punishment would be appropriate for offensive comments about any match officials made by any member of the “football family” and the sexist nature of these rants is clearly an aggravating factor.
But as further evidence that Sky’s star men are out of touch with the real world and consider themselves bigger than their audience it does at the very least move them nearer to the exit door. Time to ease them out and get Gabby Logan in.
But it was one of my first late shifts. Start at 2pm, an hour’s break in the Hull Cheese about six-ish then back to the desk with a Yankeeburger. And fries of course. Read the papers, bash a few stories out, ring round the police, fire and ambulance contacts.
“Oh. Er… I need to know about that then.”
My first murder. There had been one or two to cover at my first paper in Doncaster but I’d never been involved at the sharp end. Now I was the only person on the Mail who knew about it; it was up to me to lead our response.
Thankfully there was only so much I could do at getting on for 10pm on a Friday in late autumn. I say “thankfully” because you never really get used to covering murders, and because this being a Friday the aim was always to get finished at 10 on the dot, head back to the Cheese and then down to the Waterfront Club.
So we covered the bases. A snapper went and photographed what he could from the scene at Earles Road, the lane leading down to the old Victoria Dock. He didn’t get much, a few coppers milling around, one or two police vans. I typed up a holding story for the morning, when we would be able to get more information.
That came from a police press conference. I can’t even remember now whether it was at Queens Gardens or Tower Grange. But what I will never forget is the question from a freelance journalist who I would get to know quite well over the years. Jim Goodrick must have been well into his fifties then and always looked older, silver-haired and immaculately dressed, very proper with no time for Fleet Street wide boys or anyone who adopted their approach.
“Was she a sporting girl?” he asked. Even at the age of 21 I thought it a strange term for a prostitute – rough sex on a remote part of the dock estate right up there with football and rugby league, hockey and lacrosse.
Sporting girl, prostitute, sex worker. She was all three, and met her death at the hands of a trucker, lorry driver, punter.
The episode got me thinking, as young reporters do, that there was an in-depth feature to be written about prostitution. I chatted about it with colleagues and we decided, as young reporters do, that we would have to carry out some independent research before presenting the idea to the news desk. So on my day off, as young reporters do, I headed to begin my inquiries in a sleazy pub known to be at the heart of the sex industry.
Waterhouse Lane, across the main road from what is now Hull Marina, was always lined with women offering sex for sale. The infamous Earl de Grey pub stood on the corner at the end. In later years there were stories of the girls conducting their business in the pub toilets because some Middlesbrough football fans were running amok in the lane outside. The whole hooker operation was very visible.
On this Thursday lunchtime the place was packed. I’d just been paid and by the look of the lounge bar so had everyone else. The air was thick with cigarette smoke and there was just once vacant seat. I didn’t think for a second why no one would want to sit next to the big black man, the only non-white face in the room and first person I’d ever seen with tattoos on his face. He confirmed the seat was free so I joined him and we chatted.
And we chatted and drank and smoked until last orders, 2pm in those days. And then, new best friends, we climbed into a cab and headed a mile or so down Hessle Road to Gillett Street Club, one of the few places in Hull where you could drink all afternoon.
On such occasions it’s perfectly possible to spend an entire afternoon with someone yet learn next to nothing about them – work, family, even age, although I’d have guessed at about 10 years older than me. In the Earl de Grey I established his name was Ray. On arrival at the club I watched as he signed me in, carefully scratching out “Raymond June Harvey” like a kid tagging their homework.
“Weird,” I said, as I told my colleagues that evening.
“You could’ve been killed!” they responded.
Turned out Ray was a bit of a bad lad. Fancied himself as the hardest bloke in Hull and not many were up for challenging him.
The next time I saw him was a few months later when, covering proceedings at Beverley Crown Court, I spotted the name Raymond June Harvey on the sheet just as he arrived in the dock. I forget the charge and I can’t remember whether he got sent down or was let off with a suspended sentence, but it was all down to him threatening a lad of about 12 somewhere on Beverley High Road. Ray put a replica gun to the boy’s head and pulling the trigger. The lad was scared witless, but someone told the police.
A couple of years after that I found myself sitting in another pub with another big black man who enjoyed – no, that really is the right word – a reputation for violence.
“Didn’t you used to hang around with Ray Harvey?” I asked Les Hilton
“Oh. I thought you two were…”
“Ray Harvey used to hang around with me!” finished Les
Years later Ray became a regular at the Adelphi Club, turned a few heads with a pretty bizarre and probably drug-fuelled dance style that involved a lot of staring into space. But he was never any trouble.
And the last time I saw him, in early summer 2008, he was positively frail as he stepped out of the Cross Keys pub into the early evening sun and shuffled off to watch another band in another bar at the Springboard music festival in Cottingham.
His dreadlocks were as immaculate as his dress, but his stick was evidence that he wasn’t well, as was the black and white check coat, too thick and long for such a warm day but inadequate to conceal the stoop of a man who looked much older than he was. I helped him across the busy road.
It all came back to mind at the launch recently of Scream If You Want To Go Faster, the new book by local author Russ Litten, and full of the flavour of Hull.
Eddie Smith, formerly the singer with The Gargoyles, kicked off the proceedings with some of his poetry – the same crackpot style of his old band, just without the music.
And his first poem was about Ray, Eddie suggesting that the one-time tough-guy would have terrorised his way through the pearly gates and would now be bullying Jesus while God turned a blind eye to try and keep the peace.
“Is he dead then?” came a voice from the crowd.
“Well they cremated him last week,” replied Eddie.
And I just thought: “He’d better have been dead, because you don’t fuck about with Ray Harvey.”
Or maybe it was all talk. We’ll never know.
The Earl de Grey is still there, spared by the delayed redevelopment of land next to the Princes Quay shopping centre but boarded up and not looking like opening any time soon.
And Waterhouse Lane is there as well, but the girls have moved on and there isn’t even a street sign at either end of the road or hanging from the derelict buildings. Oversight or an attempt to ease the notorious knocking-shop of a street out of the memory?
There is one sign though, in the car park next to the Earl de Grey. It says: “PAY & DISPLAY WATERHOUSE LANE.” Which sums up its history as well as anything.
The question posed by myself and my contemporaries after watching a ropey performance by an England football team used to be whether we thought they could win the World Cup again in our lifetime.
Now it’s whether we think England can host the World Cup again in our lifetime.
The prospects are not good.
When we hosted and won the World Cup the combination of my being seven and living abroad with no telly meant all the excitement passed me by. Returning to the UK in 1967 it would still be a couple of years before I got the chance to watch a film of England’s triumph.
They showed it one evening at the local miners’ welfare club. Maybe the bingo caller was badly? Seats were arranged theatre-style and the action was projected onto a big screen – no, silly, one of those that you roll out after fixing the tripod – in flickering black and white.
If things don’t go England’s way this week then the World Cup won’t be coming back here until 2026 at the earliest, which suggests that far from football coming home it can’t even remember where it parked the car.
Ignoring the European Championships – our players normally do so why shouldn’t we join them? – that will make it 60 years since England welcomed the world. Germany hosted in 1974 and 2006. Mexico in 1970 and 1986. Spain, hosts in 1982, are fancied by many to have a better chance than England of hosting in 2018.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that however bad we are at playing the game, we’re even worse at playing the politics. Although to be fair when Robert Green threw the ball into the goal against the Yanks last summer there wasn’t the merest hint of interference from the Sunday Times or Panorama.
If England’s bid fails the media will be the scapegoats. If FIFA don’t blame the journalists directly then someone within FIFA or FA ranks will leak the rumours that Panorama’s expose was the latest England penalty that flew wide of the mark.
A counter-argument is that we shouldn’t be too upset if England is once again overlooked by an organisation that has the nerve to call itself a “governing body” when all the evidence points to a murky pool of corruption, the den of the slippery “Blatter the octopus,” who has tentacles reaching into every football federation and who always knows precisely what will happen next.
Another is that England’s players were embarrassing enough in South Africa earlier this year; why on earth would we strive for the chance to let them dump on our own doorstep?
One suspects the real reasons for a failed bid would be the arrogance around the English game, and more than a little jealousy from outside.
There are three major powers within world football – FIFA have the edge over UEFA, but both of them are frustrated by the English Premier League, an organisation increasingly viewed as a law unto itself and one which treats international football as an inconvenience at best, a threat to revenue at worst.
Club banners at an England match demonstrate how supporters generally lose interest in the national side the higher they climb up the league table – plenty from the Hereford Uniteds, Accrington Stanleys and Northampton Towns of the world, none from Man United or City, Chelsea or Arsenal.
One reason is that fans of the bigger teams really don’t want to see their star players risking injury by turning out for an irrelevance and thereby threatening the club’s chances of securing the glory that comes with third or fourth place in the table. Another may be the cosmopolitan nature of top level football in England; with a dozen different nationalities cheering on a team, and almost as many among the ownership, why should anyone expect sympathy for England?
All of which leads to some good reasons why the World Cup should come to England, and the sooner the better.
The one most likely to sway FIFA is obviously money. With bums on seats in state-of-the-art stadia that are easily accessible to real fans, corporate cash cows and rights-buying media there’s no reason why Blatter and his boys shouldn’t celebrate the mother of all World Cup bonanzas. A down side might be that even FIFA’s most creative committee men might find it difficult to divert the takings into their own pet projects.
Less important to FIFA but becoming vital to England is development of the game. Whether we really haven’t got the players or whether they just aren’t being released in a fit state by their clubs, it’s a fact that the England side now is as poor as it’s been for a while. Fans within a few feet of Fabio Capello must be tempted to reach for the phrase books to see if the Italian’s latest outburst translates as: “Do I not like that!”
There’s just a chance, however slim, that by granting us the World Cup FIFA could help England revive interest in the game, attract and develop the stars of the future and prevent the slide to third-world football status.
And mention of rejuvenation leads to a third reason. England gave the beautiful game to the world, delivered a successful World Cup in 1966 and then paved the way for FIFA’s gorging by leading the commercial expansion of football.
Now England is better placed than any nation to set about restoring the game’s shabby reputation, to save football before football eats itself.
Is it too late for England’s 2018 bid team to revamp the presentation planned for this Wednesday? To add a few lines about how they would use the World Cup to give football back to the fans?
To propose a legacy that encourages people to play the game fairly instead of simulating injury and swearing at officials?
To advocate a system whereby the millions of pounds that floods into football is used not to further inflate superstar salaries and fund committee-man pay days but to develop players and officials of the future, provide more and better facilities for playing and watching the game at all levels and ensure ticket prices are affordable?
Somehow I can’t see it. Not in my lifetime.
A couple of years go me and a mate were chuffed to bits to be invited to one of football’s great occasions. More exclusive than the Cup Final or an England match, after all there are 80,000 tickets up for grabs for them. And more front-line than the look behind the scenes a few years previously at Sky Sports and Match of the Day, for they only report the news while we were in a place that was making it.
We were in the offices of the FA, at that time tucked into a corner of Soho Square. The occasion was the draw for the Third Round of the FA Cup. Some people we’d chatted to on the Sunday morning train to London really couldn’t understand our excitement, but they’d never joined a crowd huddled round a transistor radio in the playground in the days when the only live coverage of the draw was by the BBC on a Monday lunchtime.
So we were buzzing. Looking forward to meeting Sir Trevor Brooking, and then gobsmacked by his football knowledge – he actually knew Hull City had been denied three points the previous day by Cardiff City’s late equaliser at the KC!
As a kid I’d watched Kevin Beattie and Sammy Nelson play; now I was going to watch them do the Cup draw!
And that’s when it started to go a bit pear shaped. As we arrived they were doing a rehearsal… “Oldham Athletic will play Hull City.”
“Nah. Boring. Don’t want that in the real draw,” I said.
Our hosts from the sponsors led us to a hospitality suite, gestured to a table the size of the six-yard box, groaning under the weight of a buffet that would sustain us through our night on the town, and then nodding at the plasma screen in the corner: “And you can enjoy a drink while you watch the draw on there – obviously we can’t have all these people in the studio.”
Gutted, but they were right. Especially when the boring rehearsal of “Oldham Athletic will play Hull City” was replaced by the real-life, three-week round-trip of “Plymouth Argyle will play Hull City” and prompted an expletive of disappointment.
But we had our pictures taken with Sir Trev and the Cup – the real one, not one of those imitations they take round the fan gigs – the Cup, not Sir Trev, although he was real as well – and went to the pub to talk about football, and in particular the magic of the FA Cup.
Three years on, the conversation today would have been somewhat different. Ever innovative with their penalties to settle Cup Finals, turning a blind eye to weakened teams and giving the Premier League Champions a year off, the FA came up with Noel Gallagher and Sergio Pizzorno to pull the balls out of the velvet bag.
Now while I wouldn’t throw money at their stuff I don’t have any huge objection to Oasis or Kasabian as tunesmiths or musicians, and I can’t say they did a particularly bad job of retrieving the balls and revealing the numbers – except when Gallagher could only manage “What a draw!” instead of letting us all know he’d just sent Liverpool to Man United.
But have we really run out of FA Cup heroes to do the draw? Or were they just busy? Maybe Dave Beasant was at home watching telly, rehearsing a few moves of his own ready to bid for stardom in next year’s Strictly Come Dancing, while Ronnie Radford rooted round his garden for the sort of bushtucker ingredients that might get him into “I’m a Celebrity…”
The reality of this show can only be that FA Cup heroes are now considered too boring by a governing body struggling for new ideas to put a shine on their biggest tournament. And that can only lead one way in a nation now so desperate for a lift that it pushes celebrities into every corner of every life.
Maybe for the Fourth Round draw we’ll get Ant and Dec, Paul Merton and Ian Hislop or Cheryl Cole and Simon Cowell.
And maybe when celebs have taken everyone else’s jobs me and my mate will get invited down to the FA again and asked to do the draw because Rolf Harris is reading the news, that kid off Harry Potter has just got the Blue Peter gig and Vanessa Feltz is auditioning for the brand new series of pro-celebrity bus driver.
There is of course another option. Just complete the sell-out by offering favoured customers of the sponsors the chance to do the draw, or by wheeling out their chief exec and his beaming offspring, or by charging people a few quid for their opportunity to make the Cup draw. It works with match-day mascots and would be simple to organise. They pay their money, they are given a shiny new FA Cup football kit and they make the draw – maybe even from their front room or another location of their choice.
The only tricky bit is how to price this once-in-a-lifetime experience. But however you place a value on the magic of the FA Cup, it’s falling all the time.
In most curry houses of my acquaintance a dull thud after dinner is usually evidence of a drunk passing out.
But at Curry Corner in Cheltenham it’s a sign of confidence as the waiter drops a hefty comments book on your table.
And this is no ordinary comments book. The leather binding renders it mightily impressive from the outside, and a flick through the pages reveals some glowing endorsements from people who would claim to know their bhuna from their bhajee.
They include some very satisfied locals, a few tourists and even a small handful of celebs. Indeed the pages are printed with the testimonials of Rick Stein, Richard Branson and Gordon Ramsey.
It’s all a bit bogus of course because good manners dictate that you don’t spice up the comments book with fiery feedback. If the curry isn’t up to scratch surely you just tell them? Or do a runner?
Imagine Stein writing: “I’d rather have fish and chips.”
Branson: “Powerful enough to fly my balloon.”
Ramsey: “******* brilliant!”
But we know that’s what Ramsey really thinks because this place was the second-best curry venue in his TV challenge last year for local restaurants, beaten only by an even trendier joint in Birmingham.
While I wouldn’t say I have a problem with the concept of Michelin-starred Madras, it is a fair step from my curry house comfort zone.
My long-time favourite, Ray’s Place in Hull, has its roots in Bradford, a city where if you want cutlery you generally have to ask. The norm was, and still is in many places, to dip and dunk with your naan, chapati, paratha or house equivalent.
In some ways Ray’s is more sophisticated than that; in others not. With us it became a tradition during the 80s – plenty of beer in the local, top live music at the Adelphi club and then a curry at Ray’s, same day every week. We called it Ruby Tuesday.
And then there was a place in Attercliffe, just outside Sheffield city centre. I remember the food was great, the cutlery was absent and there were No Waiting cones on the tables, so it must have been a stag night.
In both of those places four or five of us could have eaten handsomely for the prices charged at Curry Corner, but they were much more modest establishments and it was nearly 30 years ago. The beer was plentiful, not that we hadn’t knocked back enough before we arrived. Indeed if someone had presented us with a comments book we’d have struggled to write our own names.
At Curry Corner we couldn’t fault the food or, given the surroundings, the price. But the beer selection was limited to bottles, which always means higher prices, and the serving dishes, when not quite empty, were whisked away before you could decide whether to dip or dunk.
So if we’d contributed to the comments book it would have been with three tips that may (or not) help the place take first prize in Ramsey’s new TV challenge.
- Let’s have some draught beer please instead of just bottles.
- Slow down. It’s not speed-dating (unless it is on a Tuesday night in Cheltenham and no one told us).
- Let’s have a nicer pen please. I bet Gordon Ramsey wasn’t offered a pound shop ballpoint with a broken clip.
Who’d have thought it? A knighthood for Fabio Capello after England’s heroic comeback to win a second World Cup!
Maybe Sepp Blatter should get one as well. After all there’s no way England would have made it without Blatter’s review of rules and regs, culminating in the introduction of goal line technology just in time for the tournament.
Only the referee and his assistants failed to see that Frank Lampard’s shot had dropped a couple of feet over Germany’s goal line, but under the old system that would have been enough to deprive England of the goal that levelled the match.
Germany, for all the quality of their opening half hour, had squandered a two-goal lead. Their confidence collapsed, England’s soared. Suddenly there was a fluency and unity throughout the team and Wayne Rooney’s two goals in a 4-2 win were scant reward for England’s second half dominance.
And, amazingly, whereas video technology had come to England’s rescue against Germany, its limitations saved them in the quarter final against Argentina. Replays clearly showed that England’s winning goal owed a little to the head of Rooney and a little to the Hand of Wazza, but as the technology can only be used for goal line decisions it wasn’t available to the officials who awarded the dodgy goal.
Against Spain, England rode their luck again with David James immense in resisting the best that Torres, Iniesta and Villa could throw at him. To then save the crucial strike from Puyol as the shoot-out went to sudden-death was the stuff of dreams and it was sad indeed that in colliding with the goal post James suffered the shoulder injury that ruled him out of the Final against Brazil.
Step forward Joe Hart. In truth he had little to do as England controlled the game from start to finish but he must have felt for Julia Cesar. The Brazilian keeper was left stranded, straying too far off his line and scrambling back just too late to stop Rooney’s looping shot from dropping into the net.
It was the freak goal that broke Brazil’s brave resistance as James Milner and Aaron Lennon tormented their defence and Rooney helped himself to two more goals – enough for the Golden Boot and a place in history.
So now Capello can look forward to his date with royalty, where he has confirmed he will observe the usual courtesies.
“Of course I will kneel for the Queen,” he told reporters.
“But never for John Terry.”