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Martin Kelner, Journalist, Author and Radio Presenter.
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How England lost the World Cup
By Martin "still grieving" Kelner on Jul 6, 2014 - 12:15:12 PM

Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George.   Harry Redknapp, that is, the only member of the football community so far to have had the temerity to risk a little snipe at the England football squad who put in the worst performance at a World Cup since Harry himself first pulled on the claret and blue of West Ham.   Lacking passion, said Harry on Radio Five Live.   


Mostly, though, the TV pundits have closed ranks around our boys in Brazil, telling us not to blame Roy Hodgson, who has the respect of his players and picked the squad the public demanded, and not to blame the players, who did their best and put in some promising performances.  


So whom do we blame? Myleene Klass?   Benedict Cumberbatch? P Diddy?   Normally, the F.A. serves us up a ready-made scapegoat; a foreign manager who doesn't understand the English way, the referee who sends off our star player, the unsatisfactory hotel arrangements.    But this time, we were told, everything was perfectly in place.   I lost count of the number of players who said this was the best-prepared England squad they had ever joined.


Even after our ho-hum performance against a Costa Rica side who had already qualified for the next stage and looked like they were trying to keep their kit clean, Roy was going on about how we were probably the best-prepared team at the tournament.   That's rather like being in charge of the best turned-out horse.   As anyone who has ever seen a tenner go West on a beautiful shiny animal that looked terrific in the parade ring will tell you, Roy, it's about results.


My view is that England's sports psychiatrists, small army of masseurs and physiotherapists, humidity experts, nutritionists, F.A. ambassadors and commercial staff (there, presumably, to ensure as few adverts as possible go out without the presence of Joe Hart), packing into Rio's lovely Royal Tulip hotel may have contributed to our abject failure.  


When your backroom staff comes close to outnumbering the population of some of the nations taking part, it could plant the thought in the players' heads that the powers that be don't really believe in you.   That seed of doubt can be deadly.


I've never played football at the highest level, but I did fight a brave battle for life (not really, I just lay in bed whinging, waiting to die) after surgical excision of a large abdominal tumour, a right hemicolectomy, an ileostomy, bilateral pulmonary emboli (oh, and a touch of athlete's foot), and I know that whenever I saw four consultants clustered round my bed holding clipboards and smiling encouragingly, I thought the game was up.   If, on the other hand, the morning brought nothing but a demotivated healthcare worker slinging two pieces of soggy toast at me and telling me to get on with it, I was cheered by the thought I was being trusted to live.


When you see forwards from smaller footballing nations like Nigeria and Switzerland, bit-part players in the Premier League, effortlessly converting when one-on-one with the goalie, which we were manifestly unable to do, you begin to see the problem.  


Sorry, by the way, for being such a sourpuss this week (it was the great philosopher Sir Elton John, you may recall, who said sorry seemed to be the hardest word.   But then he wasn't at any of England's post-match press conferences where they said little else), but a pen burst in my pocket.


I don't know, first I get dangerously ill, then England get knocked out, and now the pen.   I picked the pen up at the BBC in Leeds.   Regional BBC has bought a consignment of hideously cheap ballpoints, the kind that live in polythene packs of 20 on the very bottom shelf of a discount shop.  


They don't write exactly, but scratch irritatingly at the paper.   I absent-mindedly put one in my pocket, and for once it gave up its ink, all of it in a gusher, all over my money, cards, and inside the deepest recesses of my fingernails when I put my hand in my pocket to retrieve the wretched thing.  


I know that strictly speaking the pen is licence-payers' property, but I checked on the internet and a box of 50 of these pens costs £1.50.   With the BBC's buying power, and its bulk order discount, I reckon it must have set the licence paying community back little more than a penny to ruin my trousers.


Why couldn't we have the Zebra Z-grip retractable, 12 for six quid on Amazon, and the BBC could probably get them for half that?   "Good quality pen," said Natalie, one of two reviewers of the item (I sometimes think my spare time is ill-spent until I see people reviewing ballpoint pens on Amazon), while Robert Kyle, the other, trills, "Easy to use, good grip."   Around half a quid a pen, and two 5-star reviews.   I've been to see West End shows on less recommendation than that.


But it's good to know money's being saved, otherwise the Corporation could never have afforded to send the chap reading the weekend's sports news on BBC Breakfast to Rio, from where he linked to footage of the England cricket team at Headingley, and the rugby union team in New Zealand.  


In fairness, though, there were yet more clips of Roy Hodgson looking crestfallen, the significance of which we clearly would never have gathered had the chap been somewhere in Salford, say, writing it all down with a cheap pen.



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