Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil are about as crumpled as my scoreboard t-shirt after Germany’s October goal-fest in Dublin last Friday. As you can see, I was pretty busy changing scores and was delighted to finally put something under Ireland’s flag after updating the German side half a dozen times. We Irish are renowned for our hospitality to visitors and our football team certainly showed their counterparts the meaning of Gemütlichkeit at the Aviva Stadium. The title of this post refers to the relentless onlaught by the German players on the Irish goal on either side of half time. It’s also the title of a song by The Raveonettes from Demark and is taken from 2007′s Lust, Lust, Lust album. It’s one of their more punkier numbers and the next four songs all have their roots in that genre. The Ramones used the German word for “lightning war” for the title of their 1976 debut single and it was one of the songs The Beautiful South chose to cover on 2004′s Golddiggas, Headnodders & Pholk Songs
The German football team is coming to Dublin tonight to take on their Irish counterparts as both countries take another step towards automatic qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Germany have won both their games so far and Ireland left it extremely late to take all three points in Kazakhstan in the only match they’ve played. The Germans have a stronger squad and a better qualifying record than Ireland and will start the game as favourites. The Irish team has been further weakened by injuries to some of our more experienced players and I think it’s safe to say that we’d be delighted with a point tonight. I’m making the trip to Dublin today to see the game and the picture above shows the t-shirt that I’ll be wearing at the match. The flags and numbers are attached by velcro strips and can be easily changed to match the score. Unfortunately, I lost some of the numbers on the previous occasion I wore the t-shirt, so I’ll have to use an upside-down seven if the score is 1-1 at any stage. The score of the four songs below sees Ireland comfortably winning by a margin of 3-1
I must admit I was a little bit sceptical about Thierry Henry’s recent return to Arsenal. Undoubtedly, he was one of the finest players to ever wear an Arsenal shirt and is surely one of the greatest players to play in the Premiership. He set all kinds of scoring records during his time in North London and it’s hard to see any of these being broken before too long. As a Gooner, I was always a big fan of the Frenchman and not just for his goals. He created as many chances for his teammates and was always a joy to watch. In particular, I liked it when he would do the unexpected, such as the time he whispered to the referee if it was okay to take a quick free kick while the opposition was setting up its wall. The referee gave his permission and Henry gently placed the ball out of reach of the bemused keeper. As an Irishman, I was just as pissed off as my fellow countrymen when France’s top scorer hoodwinked the match officials by handling the ball twice before setting up William Gallas for the goal that put the French through at the expense of Ireland for a place at the 2010 World Cup. Eventually, I came to forgive this indiscretion, partly due to the entertainment provided by the French squad in South Africa and party due to the realisation that sports stars who play to the highest standard also raise their game when they’re bending the rules
English Premier League football finally returns later today and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how it’ll all turn out this season. My own team, Arsenal, has been in the news before a ball has been even kicked and it looks like it’s going to be another challenging year for the North London club. The poor results at the end of last season surely convinced the manager that he needed to be busy in the transfer market during the summer. And, certainly, Arsene Wenger has overseen a number of changes at the Emirates over the last few months and he has added a few new faces to the squad. So far, however, rather than going for risk-free, established defensive players in the prime of their careers he has instead gambled on teenage forwards with no experience of English football. Still, there are a couple of weeks remaining in the transfer window and perhaps the manager will surprise everyone by signing experienced defensive players who were born before 1990. At least he shouldn’t be short of a few bob as it looks like the departures from the Emirates will be more significant than the arrivals
Today’s the longest day of the year and it always reminds me of an earlier summer solstice I spent in Germany five years ago. You may recall that the 2006 World Cup was taking place at the time and some of my German friends had invited me over to check out the atmosphere. I even managed to convince my brother to tag along as I knew he’d get a kick out of it. Our flight was in the early hours of the tournament’s first Wednesday of football and Jack and I started out as we meant to go along. On the eve of our departure we went out in Limerick for a few pints and ended up playing poker at a friend’s house until a little later than expected. We got a taxi back to my place where we just had enough time to pick up our bags and head out to Shannon. A few hours later we arrived at sunny Frankfurt-Hahn where we had the first of many fine beers before getting a bus and a train to Bamberg, the beautiful Bavarian town where we would be based for the week. My friend Anja took great care of us and I also got to introduce Jack to some more of my friends, including a late visit for breakfast on the Sunday. Sorry about that, Katrin.
I can think of loads of songs that help me to recall certain people and places, but only one that reminds me of a certain event. Joxer Goes to Stuttgart by Christy Moore is a modern-day folk song about a “day that will be the highlight of many people’s lives.” It’s set in the summer of 1988 and follows a group of Irish football fans as they support Jack Charlton’s Ireland at the European football championships in Germany. In particular, it tells the story of Ireland’s opening match against England in Stuttgart on June 12th. Moore focuses on a fictional group of Dubliners who travel across Europe to be present at Ireland’s first game at a major football tournament. Joxer is the unanimous choice to drive the van and this may be due to his apparent efficiency as he packs jump-leads and a German phrase-book for the trip. Later, he also shows good communication skills as he manages to chat up a German lady who later visits him in Dublin
Today’s Christmas tune is an indie classic from Half Man Half Biscuit. The band was formed in the eighties by Birkenhead natives Nigel Blackwell and Neil Crossley and their debut album, Back in the DHSS (1985), was the biggest selling independent record of 1986. They were favoured by John Peel and then mainstream media tried to turn them into a success. The popular Channel 4 TV show The Tube invited them to appear on the show twice, but the band turned them down both times. Their perfectly good reason was that they would be otherwise occupied at Prenton Park watching their beloved Tranmere Rovers in action. A concern with the minutiae of popular culture in all its forms is the prevailing theme in their songs and the band’s love of football is one they return to again and again. It’s evident in songs like I Was a Teenage Armchair Honved Fan, Bob Wilson Anchorman and their critique of the modernisation of the sport, Friday Nights & the Gates are Low. Their song titles draw on their listeners’ knowledge of popular culture and that is also the case with their ode to table football, All I Want For Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit. This title has been erroneously attributed to a 1963 UK hit for Dora Bryan called All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth. In fact, Bryan reached number 20 that year with a song called All I Want For Christmas is a Beatle. Certainly, her song parodied a 1948 US success for Spike Jones that did indeed highlight his desire for seasonal dental work. Half Man Half Biscuit’s request appeared in 1986 on the b-side of their Trumpton Riots single and is now available on a single CD that brings together their first album and the subsequent Trumpton Riots EP
The departure of José Mourinho from the Premiership a few years ago deprived the English game of one of its best managers but also one of its few remaining characters. Fortunately, it hasn’t been too difficult to keep track of him, first at Inter Milan and now at Real Madrid. He was very much in the news again this week for allegedly urging two of his players to each pick up a second yellow card in the dying minutes of their Champions League rout of Ajax. In the 87th minute of the game, midfielder Xabi Alonso lined up to take a free kick from his own half. He took a long run-up, approached the ball, stopped, went back and then repeated these steps a few times. This action would have been understandable, if a little obvious, if his team had been only a goal up. But, Real were winning 4-0 and this made his deliberate time-wasting seem unusual. The Scottish referee had no option but to book him and, as it was his second yellow of the game, to then brandish a red card. Alonso accepted his sending off without protest and calmly walked off the field with evidence of a slight grin on his face