Histrionic media coverage aside, both the manager and the players have shown themselves to be hugely likable
It was a headline you could hardly miss. ‘Arrogant Germans have already booked hotel for Euros final.’
According to the ‘exclusive’ story, the German squad had reserved a plush Hertfordshire hotel ‘months in advance’ of the Wembley showpiece.
Who do these people think they are? Don’t they know they’ll probably have to get past In-gur-land first, and Football’s Coming Home, remember?
Cue predictable, xenophobic jibes about beach towels.
Funnily enough, the story was both accurate and nonsense.
Accurate because the facts were indeed correct, nonsense because every squad – yes, including England — ‘pre-books’ for all eventualities.
What did you expect the Germans to do if they made it all the way to Wembley; ring up the nearest Travelodge and hope they’d a spare 30 rooms available at short notice?
The people who published the story knew all that, of course, but went ahead with its slanted narrative anyway.
But it later paled into insignificance compared with the sensitive, Piers Morgan-inspired “Achtung! Surrender! For you Fritz, ze Euro Championship is over” tabloid front page.
Such things happen when England are playing in major tournaments. The examples I’ve just given hail from Euro 96 — when Germany ended up needing that hotel – but little has changed when it comes to hysterical hyperbole.
Some find it incredulous that so many others want England to fail, when the team is peppered with players they worship at club level.
Point missed. It’s not the player, nor the manager, who feed this ‘ABE’ mentality.
I can’t speak for the current lot but, in the past, most of the Three Lions guys I worked with were friendly and helpful.
Indeed, I was there in the Wembley ‘mix zone’ 25 years ago when Gareth Southgate bravely faced us waiting hacks to speak of his devastation at missing ‘that penalty’ in the semi-final shootout against Germany.
The lowest point of his life, and yet he still sought us out when so many others skulked away into the night.
The national media’s huge respect for this Watford-born gentleman is genuine.
It’s hard though, not to get irritated when rationale goes out the window, to be replaced by jarring jingoism, ‘never hear the end of it’ references to past glories (ie, 1966) and a chronic lack of professional detachment.
Kai Havertz, easily Germany’s best performer at Wembley last week, was outscored in most of the newspaper player ratings by England’s worst.
Boris Johnson and Sir Kier Starmer have publicly congratulated England on their last two victories; I don’t recall that happening when Wales beat Turkey.
It was later reported that the PM wasn’t actually aware of the Welsh even being at Euro 2020.
My days of covering these tournaments are long over, but the televisual gems served up ‘back home’ are adequate compensation, notwithstanding the resident irritations.
Legendary cricket commentator Henry Blofeld once recalled a Beeb producer warning him, decades ago, “the first day you refer to England as ‘we’ is the last day you work here.”
If that still applied today, there would be a lot of reduntant people at Broadcasting House.
Prior to the England v Scotland game, we saw endless reruns of Paul Gascoigne’s wonderful goal from the corresponding game in 1996 — with the accompanying John Motson commentary: “Oh brilliant, oh yes… OH YES!”
Such unabashed partisanship would be understandable had Gazza scored against, say, Italy or France — but the opponents that afternoon were another British team, and this was on network coverage provided by the ‘British Broadcasting Corporation’.
To be fair, the second successive presence of three British sides at the same tournament showed that “fans with microphones” aren’t a purely English preserve.
Robbie Savage’s frenzied, leek-waving ‘analysis’ of Wales v Turkey was hard to stomach, as were the all-Scottish commentary crew’s treatment of Patrick Schick’s out-of-this-world goal for the Czech Republic at Hampden, which they reported with the sort of solemnity normally reserved for a national tragedy.
After that, you could almost welcome the ‘talk a lot but say nothingness’ of Jermaine Jenas, or Sam Matterface’s scripted Alan Patridgisms: “Lukaku speaks the language of goals...”
Overall, BBC have the best team of commentators (although the most natural double-act is Clive and Coisty from the other lot) while ITV have the best studio panellists.
I could listen to that triumvirate of Roy Keane, Graeme Souness and Patrick Vieira all day long, while day-dreaming about just how terrifying a team that incuded all three of those gentlemen in its midfield would have been.
And you could throw in Sky’s on-loan Gary Neville and the Beeb’s Alan Shearer, who has dispensed the stultifying blandness of his early punditry days and whose comments are now worth listening to.
With Scotland making their traditional exit at the group stage, and Wales losing in the round of 16, it was back to the full English after “ze European Championship was over” for Joachim Löw and Co.
“Oh no! The ref’s a German” screamed a back page headline in last Friday’s Sun, complete with picture of Felix Brych holding a card mocked up with the colours of the German flag.
Yes, why not disgracefully impugn the integrity of a highly-respected professional official who has served with distinction at two World Cups and also took charge of the 2017 Champions League final?
But he’s German, and therefore must be smarting at “us” beating them, so will probably red-card Harry Maguire in the first minute against Ukraine.
In the end, Herr Brych didn’t book a single English player, and the only ‘bias’ he displayed was in not inflicting any added time onto the exhausted, routed Ukrainians in Rome’s Olympic Stadium.
It’s “In Gareth We Trust” now, even though ”we” have disagreed with every one of his team selections so far. His ‘peak later, not earlier’ masterplan appears to be working superbly.
Ironically, Southgate is the first England boss in half a century to show that he can’t be influenced by the media, and now has a great chance of emulating Sir Alf Ramsey by leading his hugely likable squad to a tournament victory at Wembley.
Rather inconveniently, Denmark also believe that winning these Euros is a divine destiny.
Maybe God should toss a coin on this one. And let’s pray he’s not a German.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one watching Granit Xhaka turn in a world-class performance for Switzerland against France the other night and thinking ‘surely this can’t be the same guy who plays (often very poorly and half-heartedly) for Arsenal?’
Those Gunners fans could be forgiven for feeling short-changed as they watched Xhaka dominate what was supposedly the finest midfield in international football.
Us Man United supporters know that feeling, having seen what Paul Pogba can do in a Bleus shirt… well, until he sold the ranch late in that game.
Unfortunately for Xhaka, he was kicking his heels on the sidelines as the Swiss departed Euro 2020 at the quarter-final stage on the back of that ill-fated penalty shootout against Spain.
The 28-year-old picked up a second booking in that epic encounter with France — his second of the tournament — and that was that.
The Euros don’t operate a ‘clean slate’ policy after the group stages and, with their talismanic captain ruled out, the odds on Switzerland repeating their heroics from the French game lengthened considerably.
Rules is rules, as they say, but you can’t help feeling a little cheated when a player like Xhaka is fit, in form but not on the pitch. Just as Arsenal fans feel cheated when they see him on it, and wearing their shirt.