Sunday, February 22, 2015

THE COWARDS OF EUROPE


"This team will frighten the life out of Europe. It will frighten the life out of the cowards of Europe. It will take them and shake them and frighten them. Those cowards of Europe will not know what has hit them"


Mr Allison’s words. These were Mr Allison’s words. They were Mr Allison’s words of war and they were words of war made for the European Cup. For the players and staff of Fenerbahçe, the unknown Fenerbahçe, who must now surely be trembling in their hastily fabricated and cheaply constructed football boots, made out of goat’s hide and sticky back plastic.

The words of Mr Allison were in every newspaper. They were in English and in Turkish. Mr Allison’s words were translated into Turkish. Mr Allison’s words were in English. The words of Mr Allison made good reading in the newspapers for the readers. The words made good reading in Turkish, with their sedillas and their circumflexes and their noisy guttural palatalisation.

Mr Allison’s words looked just fine in Turkish and were read by the supporters and staff of Fenerbahçe, the unkown Fernebahce, with their makeshift boots and their cowardly aroma of sticky back plastic.

These were his words of war. These were his words of European Cup war.

***

No spine. One man team. This is what they said.

No spine. One man team, they all said. And they repeated it. No spine. One man team. All the newspapers repeated the phrase: one man team. It was a one man team and it was a team that was going to be beaten, because it relied on only one man. All the readers of newspapers digested the words and remembered them. It was a one man team waiting to be beaten, a one man team waiting to be dispatched, waiting to be parcelled off by the men from Rome.  

The words were not those of Mr Pellegrini. They were in English and in Italian, but they were not the words of Mr Pellegrini. These were words of war, but they were not Mr Pellegrini’s words of war. They were newspaper editors' words of war. They were the words of war for a different war, a war of newspaper editors waging war on reader numbers and website clicks.

And the reader numbers clicked by as the words flowed. And the war was waged on all of us.

***

Mr Allison looked at the team sheet and bit his nails. He looked at the team sheet and puffed on his cigar. He puffed long and hard on a big, fat cigar. He looked again and asked his captain what he thought. His captain said he thought it would be fine. His captain Anthony Book looked through his manager's hastily constructed cigar smoke and nodded.

It would all be fine, he said.

Mr Allison also thought it would be fine. All fine. Mr Allison looked at that team sheet and stared at the names upon it. It would be fine, he thought. His captain thought the same thing. Anthony Book, captain of Manchester City, thought exactly the same thing. Mr Allison's cigar tasted just fine too and the smoke smelled just right.

He looked through the list one more time, admiring it, staring at it: Kenneth Mulhearn, David Connor, George Heslop, Alan Oakes, Glyn Pardoe, Colin Bell, Anthony Coleman, Michael Doyle, Michael Summerbee, Francis Lee and Neil Young. That would do, he thought. That would do nicely.
And captain Anthony Book thought so too. It would do. Even though Anthony Book, captain and right back, captain and inspiration, would not be there to play the makeshift men from Turkey. Not only would it do, it would be fine.

***

Mr Pellegrini asked Mr Cousillas what he thought of the team’s chances in the circumstances. The circumstances were grim. No spine left, one man team. This is what the press had been saying. This is what the press had been saying all week. This is what they always said. And no spirit. No team spirit. And these were the words of war that the newspaper readers read.

Mercenaries with no team spirit. Mercenaries playing for the petro dollars. Petro dollars and nothing else. Oil money. No team spirit and no spine left. Just dollars from the micro petro state in the sun.

Mr Pellegrini rubbed his chin and looked at the team sheet. Joseph Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, Martin Demichelis, Eliaquim Mangala, James Milner, Samir Nasri, Fernando Reges, Fernandinho Rosa, Jesus Navas, Edin Dzeko.

But no spine and no spirit was the message from the men in the press.

It might not do, he thought. And Mr Cousillas thought that too. It might not do, they both thought without uttering the words one to the other. It might not do. It might not do at all. And the press might be right.

***

The day of the match. No sleep. A terrible clatter, banging outside the hotel, drums and shouting, wailing and sirens. A terrible clamour. A terrible clatter. People running around in the dark, car horns sounding, people wailing in the streets.

Kenneth Mulhearn rubbed his eyes and looked at the clock, the digital clock, the new fangled digital hotel clock. The new fangled digital hotel clock read 05:05. It was five o’clock in the morning. It was five minutes past five in the morning. Five past five a.m. Istanbul time. Local time. Time for the locals.
Kenneth Mulhearn rolled over in bed and looked at the curtains. Dark green curtains with a little yellow stencil pattern. The dark green curtains with a little yellow pattern looked back at Kenneth Mulhearn and he did not sleep anymore.

Next door David Connor also looked at his curtains, as did Michael Summerbee in Room 106 and Alan Oakes alongside in 108. Nobody slept anymore, owing to the clatter and the din in the street. The clatter and the din just kept getting louder and louder.

***

Joseph Hart awoke at eight-forty five precisely. The liquid crystal digital read-out on his mobile phone read 08:45 Roma. The mobile phone was vibrating and pulsing. It made little noise and the streets outside made little noise. Owing to the triple glazing and the specially chosen location and the police cordon of little yellow and orange bollards, the street outside made little noise.

It was a quarter to nine in Rome. Rome time. Joseph Hart thought of the day ahead, stretching, exercising, preparing, talking to microphones. Stretching, exercising, preparing, talking to microphones.

Joseph Hart looked into his mobile phone to find music and to find the newspaper headlines that would talk of mercenaries and last chance saloons and failure and gladiators and Roman ruins.

The mercenaries. The pound stretchers. The bunch of cowardly individuals that were not a team. The cowards of Europe.

Joseph Hart yawned and put on his headphones. Joseph Hart yawned and scratched his head and put on his headphones to listen to music.

***

The BJK İnönü Stadyumu was already packed. The new digital time display in the stadium read 09:23. Breakfast time in Istanbul. The BJK İnönü Stadyumu was rolling and rocking. The BJK İnönü Stadyumu was full to the rafters at breakfast time. 
Kenneth Mulhearn joined his team mates. David Connor, Michael Summerbee, Francis Lee. They all looked tired. Michael Summerbee did not look as if he had slept at all. Kenneth Mulhearn felt a little like Michael Summerbee looked. The players gathered in a meeting room. One by one they gathered in the small hot meeting room. One by one the players, looking tired and flustered, sat down in the hot and small meeting room to listen to the words of Mr Allison, who also looked tired and hot and restless.

Mr Allison did not smoke a big cigar.

Mr Allison looked at the players and sighed. Mr Allison’s confidence was shot through. Mr Allison, for the first time, wondered if they might not lose. Mr Allison told them that he felt confident and he repeated it, but his face told them another story, his eyes told them another story and everyone understood what his face and his eyes were telling them.

***

The Estadio Olimpico was empty. Thousands upon thousands of empty blue seats. A silence lay around the place.

Jospeh Hart arrived in the lobby with his headphones and his bag. Fernando Reges did the same, as did Fernandinho Rosa. They all looked bright and well presented. Mr Pellegrini noted that they all looked well presented and bright. Mr Pellegrini and Mr Cousillas both noted that all looked well and shiny eyed, that all looked like they had slept the sleep of the unworried, the sleep of the uninterrupted.

Mr Pellegrini told Mr Kidd that he thought everything would be fine. Mr Kidd nodded. He also thought everything would be fine. Mr Kidd looked at the faces and the eyes of Joseph Hart and Fernandinho Rosa and decided that all would be alright, that all would be alright.

***

The roads were choked. Choked roads with thousands of people. The players of Manchester City
looked out of the windows and watched the choked roads with their thousands of people. 

Kenneth Mulhearn looked at the roads and the people. Kenneth Mulhearn shifted in his seat and returned to his newspaper, with his bloodshot eyes and his heavy head, which kept sliding down the window. Kenneth Mulhearn did not feel at all like playing football.

Mr Allison looked at the roads and sighed. Anthony Book and Michael Summerbee looked at the roads and sighed.

The people bounced and jumped, bounced and jumped. The people in the choked roads lit flares and banged drums. They shouted and sang and made a frightful din. The din entered the coach and the players of Manchester City sank behind their newspapers, with the din ringing in their ears.

***

Joseph Hart and his team mates sat silently in their modern bus. It slid down empty streets towards the stadium in a swish of near silence. The roads were dark and still.

Joseph Hart listened to music on his headphones. Mr Pellegrini watched and sighed. Mr Cousillas and Mr Kidd watched and sighed. Mr Pellegrini looked at Mr Kidd and he looked at Mr Cousillas and Mr Pellegrini nodded.

The three men lent back in the chairs in the silent bus and felt comfortable. The players behind them looked rested and alert, rested and alert. Joseph Hart felt like playing football. Joseph Hart really felt like playing football. And so too did Pablo Zabaleta and James Milner.

***


The BJK İnönü Stadyumu was surrounded by people. They looked wide eyed and excited. The people jumped up and down and thumped their fists on the side of the bus as it edged forward, inch by inch, inch by inch.

Kenneth Mulhearn had a headache. He closed his eyes and he closed the curtains. The little curtains only went halfway across the window and the people thumped even more. Kenneth Mulhearn had serious doubts and serious pains in his head. He did not at all like the look of the scene outside his unfamiliar smelling bus.

Anthony Book revised his thoughts. He did not any longer feel that all would be well. He felt something knotting in his stomach and he turned to Mr Allison and told him so.

Mr Allison smiled a weak smile and said none of the things he usually said on the bus to the stadium.

Francis Lee gripped his knees and looked out of the window. Tonight was going to be a difficult night. Tonight was not going to be his night.

***

The Stadio Olimpico was already reverberating to the distant noise of firecrackers and song. Red favours fluttered past the graded windows of the luxury bus as Joseph Hart looked out at the excited throng. Joseph Hart adjusted his earphones and settled a little lower in his luxury padded seat. He did not hear the faint bangs or the distant cries. Joseph Hart heard only music.

Out in the dank streets, people moved in the shadows. No noise came through the graded windows. The graded windows shielded them from any noise. The bus glided and the people mouthed wordless things.

Behind him Samir Nasri looked out too and gripped his knees with his hands. Tonight was going to be an interesting night. Tonight was going to be his night.

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