England v Holland – White Hart Lane 15.8.2001
Full international football returned to the Lane after a break of 52 years and if this is anything to go by, I hope it will be that long before it comes back. The performance of England was worse than I am used to seeing from a team in white at White Hart Lane.
Frankly, attending this match purely to see an international at our home ground made me remember the reasons I gave up watching England. Beered up blokes who cannot appreciate anything beyond their England affiliation; the team letting you down every time they are supposed to be doing well; a feeling of unnecessary jingoism. All that and more. I know that it does not apply to all England fans, but it probably does have something to do with being surrounded by fans of other clubs. How can you all be supporting the same side when parochial differences make us oppose each other for large parts for he football season. It just doesn’t seem right. One thing that is the same are the banal comments that people come out with about the game. You really wonder if they ever pick up anything from the hundreds (thousands ?) of games they see.
What struck me the most was the way that the bands representing the two countries reflected their teams approach to the game. In our corner of the ground representing England there was the Sheffield Wednesday band who have adopted the national side and in the opposite Park Lane corner – for the Dutch, the Oranjeboom band.
The technique of the Dutch musicians was far greater than the uninventive beat of the English. Their range much wider and their ability much more thorough.
As the England band drummed louder to get some atmosphere going, the Dutch combo managed to get their outnumbered following to sing along with a blend of melodies of beauty and style. Their orange counterparts on the pitch were so technically proficient that they were playing from a totally different hymn-sheet to England. They were literally on a different plane. The ease that they cut through the home country’s defence was like a violin bow moving smoothly across a bridge. Their goals unleashed a rare fury that their game looked as though it did not possess, but the dropped note of Martyn the England keeper (unable to hold Zenden’s 20 yard drive) was turned into the music to the ears of the Dutch fans when the ball hit the back of the net. This came a minute after van Bommel had hit a 35 yard shot like a cannonball fired in Beethoven’s Fifth. Martyn was left grasping solid air as the ball flew straight into the top corner of the net. England were unable to reproduce anything to compare to them. The usual repertoire of “The Great Escape”, “England ‘Til I Die” and “The Self Preservation Society” were trawled, but they could not match the versatility of their opponents. They didn’t repeat a song during the match and their tricks could not be matched by the English.
Davids, on as a second half substitute, nut-megged Lampost with such delicacy, the Chelsea midfielder should have retired on the spot in shame. Although booed by those unable to appreciate skill when they see it (regardless of his positive drug test), he produced a cameo performance that said a lot about the difference between England and Holland. He showed that aggression can be part of a player’s game without spilling over into thuggery. The prime example being the introduction of Danny Mills for England. He plays like he is on steroids; packed full of testosterone with nowhere to release it apart from on the football field. I really thought that Vinnie Jones was the last of that breed. His brutal impact on the game was a shameful indictment of what the English game has become. Davids showed aggression in winning the ball fairly (and defending himself against the rash “challenges” of Mills, which in most cases he managed to avoid skillfully) and how to distribute it. More often than not, Mills is so concerned with the amount of velocity in the impact of his tackles that the ball goes flying off the pitch at 100 m.p.h. His team-mate Alan Smith is from the same school of thought. His snide style of play will not be appreciated at international level, even if he gets away with it in the Premier League. He has been found out at European level and his niggling, cowardly fouls leave a bad taste in the mouth. It is a lack of self-control that means his game will suffer and that of the team too.
But there was much more to the Dutch band’s play. There was the delicacy of touch matched by van Nistelrooy’s lofted chip over a rooted Martyn that was denied the goal it deserved by the crossbar. There was the beautiful movement from one passage of play to another, that saw Kluivert produce a sublime back heel into the path of Hasselbaink and cause Keown to smash into David James leaving them both needing to be replaced. Kluivert is noted for his ability to look after himself, but he has the touch of an artist and the power of a bull. Blending the two is an art in itself and it would have been interesting to compare the bumbling Heskey with the big Dutchman. The second half was a stroll for the men in orange as the work had been done inside a couple of minutes earlier. England huffed and puffed and when Davids did make an error and provide the ball at the feet of Michael Owen 15 yards out, even he couldn’t hit the target with only the keeper to beat.
So, a convincing win for the visitors on all fronts. I suppose the one crumb of comfort was the performance of David Beckham, who I am not usually over-impressed with, but he showed good skill today and Scholes made some trademark bursts from midfield. It was left to Gary Neville to test van der Sar most, with a rising drive that the Holland keeper stretched to push away for a corner.
At least England didn’t fall back on the lowest common denominator like the band. “The Great Escape” is surely the Route One of the musical football world.
The Funky Phantom