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No laughing matter

By Andy Walker on Jun 28, 10 12:20 PM in Comment

IS anybody else infuriated by the footage of the England players disembarking their plane that's being flashed up on Sky Sports News today?

Just hours after that disastrous and embarrassing World Cup exit, Ledley King and Ashley Cole are in fits of laughter as they come down the steps, with both seemingly not bothered that the Three Lions had just let their nation down.

I could only presume that the pampered pair were joking about which interior colour they will choose for the their next Bentley. Perhaps the suggestion 'Illuminous pink' was what triggered the hysterics?

As any passionate England fan knows, yesterday afternoon was no laughing matter and for King and Cole to be so publicly enjoying themselves while millions of loyal supporters were sat at home or traipsing around South Africa depressed is frankly disrespectful.

It's proof that England means much more to us than it does to most overpaid professionals.

THERE'S a war-themed World Cup joke doing the rounds at the moment.

For those England fans who haven't heard it, the jape goes: 'This World Cup has turned out like World War Two - the French have surrendered early, the USA turn up late to take the glory and we're left to fight the Germans!'

As the Three Lions prepare to do battle with the old enemy on the big stage again, there's likely to be war references aplenty during the build-up to this afternoon's match in Bloemfontein.

In fact, for the military history buffs out there, England's positioning on the 'wrong side' of the tournament's knock-out stages could possibly set up a route to the trophy littered with references to famous battle victories for this proud nation.

Talking a good game

By Andy Walker on Jun 24, 10 10:38 PM in Comment

The tussles on the pitch aside, there's another very public battle taking place at the World Cup.

BBC and ITV are in a fierce ratings battle with Messrs Lineker and Chiles attempting to woo viewers with their own styles and their mixed array of pundits and sidekicks.

And I have to say BBC are already clear winners, and not just for that coincidental stat that shows England are more likely to win when the live Beeb cameras are in town.

In my opinion, the BBC have landed two of the best pundits in the tournament and it comes as no surprise that the duo talking sense are both top Premier League managers.

Roy Hodgson is an articulate and somewhat fascinating commentator on the game and the Fulham boss (for how much longer, who knows?) just oozes knowledge.

And then Harry Redknapp (Aaron Lennon favouritism aside) is proving himself to be a witty yet insightful talker, who even occasionally turns interviewer to his fellow guests.

From ITV's point of view, Gareth Southgate deserves a special mention but it's the BBC who are edging this match-up.

England - World Cup flops or trophy hopefuls? This time tomorrow all will be revealed.

If the Three Lions fail to progress from Group C, arguably the weakest in the tournament, then quite simply it will be a disaster for English football.

And I fear that any disaster would be as a result of Fabio Capello's stubbornness. PM841011@WORLDCUP England 2.jpg

Of course, there was always the need for a disciplinarian in the England camp after the overly-relaxed Sven Goran-Eriksson era, but that strict approach is in danger of getting in the way of what's right and wrong for the national team.

Capello's certainly not one to take criticism or any form of advice, as shown by the manner in which John Terry was forced to issue a grovelling apology following the defender's honest approach.

The well-decorated coach may have had multiple success elsewhere in football but it has never been guaranteed to follow him into every job he takes.

By sticking to this rigid, uncreative 4-4-2 formation, Capello is convincing himself that he and nobody else knows what's best for England. It's not working now and it's unlikely to work in time to save England's place in this World Cup.

England fans at home and in South Africa are crying out for more. More creativity, more goals, more passion, more enjoyment. I wonder how many would swap Sven's approach for Capello's iron fist ahead of the make-or-break match-up with Slovenia?

I spent two days at the Grass Roots Football LIVE event at the NEC last week, where I had the opportunity to speak to several of the game's top names.

One of which was former England, Aston Villa and Wolves manager Graham Taylor, always a very approachable and accommodating interviewee and somebody capable of talking the hind legs off a donkey when it comes to football.

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Taylor was discussing the state of our national game and team, which led him to raise one interesting point and a potentially unenviable job in eight years time.

While it will carry great prestige, for Taylor, the England manager at World Cup 2018, should the tournament be taking place on these shores, will arguably be the toughest job ever in football.

Taylor's theory is that should England fail to lift both the 2010 and 2014 World Cup (a very likely scenario) then the pressure will start to build to intense levels ahead of 2018, even more so if the legendary finals return to these parts for the first time since 1966.

Further failure to follow the class off 66 would, according to Taylor, see the English game turn on itself. A kind of football revolution, after decades of seeing the successful domestic model (most notably the Premier League) fail to be replicated on the international stage. By then, something drastic would need to be done.

All Three Lions fans will be hoping that their wait for success doesn't get to that point, but Taylor's thoughts does make you wonder just how the England manager of 2018 could find him(or her)self under pressure like never before.

P.s. I'm now logging off work until June 21 as I prepare to be swept away by World Cup fever and therefore this blog will also be enjoying its own summer break. But be sure to leave your comments below on the above or another issue which I will address upon my return.

IS there a man in English football who divides opinion more than Emile Heskey?

The expected inclusion of the Aston Villa striker in Fabio Capello's 23-man squad for the World Cup re-opened a debate that has raged for the last ten years.PM819564@58100372.jpg

'What is the point of that lump Heskey?" roars the average pint-swilling punter.

"England have no other striker like him," insists countless players and managers past and present.

It's remarkable just how drastically opinion on the merits of Heskey differ when you compare a conversation with somebody involved in the game to a chat with the fan on the street.

Having been fortunate enough to speak to players and managers who have worked with Heskey, I am yet to come across one that casts doubt over the 32-year-old's continued involvement at the top level.

Mutual respect between peers, you may think.

Maybe, but these are people who must know a thing or two about football having forged a decent living out of the beautiful game.

And each one shakes their head in sheer disbelief at the flak the big man gets.

Nowadays everybody's an expert, rolling sports news and the internet message boards have made sure of that.

So Ben Foster is set to be Birmingham City's new number one following his £6 million arrival from Manchester United.

PM799632@RS210510BCFC-03.jpg

Not quite.

I'm hearing that Foster is keen to keep hold of the number 12 squad number that he held at Old Trafford. Whether it be for superstitious or sentimental reasons, I'm don't know.

Not that it matters. In this day and age, wearing number 9 shows the same importance to a manager's first-team plans as having 99 on your back.

Anyway, on the subject of Foster's acquisition, here's my lead column piece from today's Sunday Mercury, be sure to leave your own thoughts below:

THERE was one topic of conversation that was met with raised eyebrows last week.

It had nothing to do with the Baggies' decision to release a talented midfielder, whose stock and price-tag could soar at next month's World Cup, for zilch or that Alex McLeish had signed an unknown Spaniard called Prat (confused? Check out Blues new-boy Enric Valles' full name).

Fair play to Roo

By Andy Walker on May 20, 10 10:04 AM in Comment

England talisman Wayne Rooney rocketed up even further in my estimations today.PM663838@SOCCER England 5.jpg

This time it wasn't down to another moment of magic on the football field, but for his refreshing opinion on footballers receiving knighthoods.

For those who haven't heard the striker's views, the Manchester United star said: "No, I don't think about anything like that. Personally, playing football, I don't think you should become a Sir, to be honest. There are other people doing things in the world who deserve it a lot more."

Wayne, you're spot on son!

Soldiers putting themselves on the line every day for our country, nurses saving lives on a daily basis, teachers inspiring the next generation to achieve greatness - those are the people that deserve knighthoods.

No matter how much passion is involved in the sport, football is still just a game. Professional footballers are paid handsomely to play a sport that they, and millions of others, love.

Unless they continue to inspire others in different ways, such as charity work, long after they've hung up their boots, then they're not worthy of becoming a Sir.

The FA's decision to charge Roger Johnson for his post-derby outburst is not only a blow for him and Birmingham City, but it's bad news for journalists and ultimately our loyal readers.

Football fans want to hear honest, heartfelt opinions from today's stars and not the usual tired old cliches that are becoming more and more common in the game.

However, the authority's decision to effectively gag the likes of Johnson will only cause footballers to shy away from saying what they genuinely believe. Like most sports, football is a game of opinions where not everybody is likely to agree.

At the start of the season, my Aston Villa-following colleague Mat Kendrick compared third goalkeepers to a third nipple.

It was a bizarre and controversial opinion, but one that I agreed with then and even more so now.

Seriously, what is the point of a third goalkeeper? Of course, I understand that they are there in case goalie number one and two get injured. Clubs sometimes go through a rotten spell of luck so it's perfectly plausible that number threes will get called into action every now and then.

But if Premier League clubs only belittle, disrespect and undermine their third-choice keeper when he is called upon, what is the point?

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Andy Walker

Andy Walker - Multimedia sports journalist covering Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion for Sunday Mercury and Birmingham Mail.
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