Not Standing Quite So Tall!

Last updated : 18 November 2003 By Bernard Azulay

...I suppose I retain a subliminal aversion to the Philistine sport. Nevertheless I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the Antipodean derby on Saturday morning.

I'm no afficionado but I've never watched in its entirety a more engrossing encounter of this roughhouse game. At least I didn't feel cheated out of a lie-in, like I did last weekend after forsaking my bed for the Boys In Green's sorry World Cup swansong. Yet I suppose they didn't have the sort of help the English had, with the heavens opening to hinder the Gauls' passing game on Sunday.

It wasn't just Ireland's exit from the Rugby World Cup which I found myself regretting this past weekend. There were plenty "if onlys" watching the admirable efforts of Wales and Scotland against Russia and Holland in the footie. The result in Glasgow was remarkable from the point of view that Holland have household names playing in virtually every position, while there is nary a well-known player in the entire Scottish squad. There is a good chance that the Dutch will overcome the single goal deficit in the Amsterdam Arena. Yet as it stands at the moment, the atmosphere on the Algarve next summer will be somewhat more sterile if both genial armies of Orange and Green are absent (and the Portuguese are undoubtedly counting down the days to the arrival of the cantankerous English contingent!). If Ireland's non-participation is painful now, we'll be positively pulling our hair out come the summer, when there will be no escaping the blanket coverage of Portuguese jamboree.

There was wall-to-wall live sport for us addicts over the course of the weekend. If watching both forms of footie wasn't enough to send me goggle-eyed, I sat through several hours of glorious skills performed on the green baize. Perhaps this was comforting because the snooker surface was the closest thing to the perfect pitch at Highbury. Since what I really miss during a Gunners free fortnight is some proper partisan participation.

Sure I was up for Wales and Scotland (especially as underdogs) but I wouldn't have been exactly devastated if either had suffered defeat and I certainly wasn't going to get my knickers in a twist over an England v Denmark friendly. In fact with only Arsenal's Ashley Cole involved and with the mother-out-of-law over from Dublin, I wish I'd watched Rooney and co. in one of the round-the clock replays and gone out to Sunday lunch instead.

The one game which might have got me salivating was France v Germany but coverage of this was nowhere to be found on my multitude of satellite channels. An evening with Thierry Henry these days is almost guaranteed first-class entertainment for us football lovers and I understand he didn't disappoint with his redoubtable contribution to all three goals against the Gerries. If there's a rare dearth of disparaging remarks about my favourite nation, my diplomacy might well be related to the fact that I've just read that the latest hopes for financing Ashburton Grove rest on a group of German investors.

Come Sunday I was so fed up with the ersatz substitute of International football that I couldn't concentrate on 90 minutes of Brazil v Peru. Gilberto provided the Arsenal connection but recently his football has been sufficiently uninspiring that many Gooners are convinced he is more Millwall than Copacabana.

Deprived of my beloved Arsenal for ten days now, I'm getting pretty depressed. I don't want to turn on my TV and watch some Beckham lookalike duping fawning Orientals with a couple of keepy-uppies, leeching on football's seemingly boundless bandwagon. And with bombs going off in Turkey, it is neither appropriate, nor do I particularly want to see Goldenballs albeit handsome face staring up from both front and back covers of the tabloid press. We appear to be living in a society where the media are obsessed with the periphery, when all I want is my regular fix of real footie to distract me from the madness which surrounds us.

Obviously I understand the economics of it all. The Beckhams have replaced Lady Di since her tragic demise, as the best sellers of newsprint on this star struck planet of ours and scandal and salacious gossip are the stock in trade of the tabloids. Yet if frustrates the hell out of me that this fervour for fruity headlines is now the fuel which drives our "beautiful game" in detrimental directions.

I doubt the FA would have raised an eyebrow about Alan Smith's innocuous bottle throwing incident if they didn't fear the wrath of the red-tops and the rumpus resulting from the selection of a prospective felon (it didn't prevent the Yanks putting one in the White House!). Nor might I add, would the Arsenal be facing such a severe rash of suspensions if it weren't for the entire media's maniacal reaction to the Van Nistleroy inspired, immature posturing after our match against Man U.

Perhaps Smith's bad boy karma is to blame, but I can't help but feel sorry for the cruel twist of fate which befell the young lad. To get picked from a pitifully poor Leeds side is a feat in itself. But on the basis that the rash of injuries which resulted in his inclusion are unlikely to be repeated in the near future, he must have spent the weekend sitting at home thinking that the FA have blown his one and only chance to make an impression prior to Portugal 2004. I bet such career hindering consequences weren't on the minds of those who sent Smith packing!

Meanwhile there was some light hearted relief on Monday with the news that none if the Irish players were harmed in the armed raid on the Portmarnock Hotel because they were all able to hide behind Damien Duff's wallet! One person who will be wrapped in cotton wool this week will be Johnny Wilkinson. With England finally making the final of a World Cup the media here are trying to rekindle the spirit of O66. Yet you have to look no further than Highbury for an example of the comparative impacts of the two sports. You didn't have to be a footie fan to know when England scored against Brazil in Japan because our entire block of flats reverberated to the resulting hullabaloo. Whereas the tranquility in Highbury Quadrant was hardly disturbed on Sunday by a single voice saluting the feats of Wilkinson (and it wasn't mine as I didn't want to disturb the missus!)..

Speaking of voices the most bizarre aspect to events in Australia has been the sight of these big butch fellas emotionally singing along to the falsetto tones of the seemingly castrated troubadours chosen to sing their national tunes (including Ireland's cacophonous clichéd kop-out). I might have a passing interest in Saturday's match in Sydney but in truth it certainly won't delay my departure for Birmingham. I don't think I've ever been so desperate to see a match at St. Andrews and it will be Matthew Upson's defensive failings (hopefully) which will be of far more interest to me than those of the Wallabies.