Arsenal's Wilshere Could Be Our Key To Success And 5 Things We Learnt From England v Scotland

England's victory last night taught us a few valuable lessons for the future, not least about Rooney, Lambert and Wilshere. Don't get me started on ITV's coverage though.
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Arsenal's Wilshere Could Be Our Key To Success And 5 Things We Learnt From England v Scotland

Rickie Lambert: Your country loves you.

We don’t know how much Rickie Lambert slept last night. But if, as we suspect, the adrenaline was flowing, not just at the sheer shock of playing your first game for England at the age of 31, but scoring with your first touch after only being on the pitch for 2.45 seconds then he can’t have had much shut eye.

I have some Bristol Rovers mates who swore by him in his spell in their colours, whereas to Saints fans he may just evoke a much loved target man from their past, Ron Davies. A headline writer’s dream but far more importantly a player who has experience of life, in all its struggles and absurdities, having worked his way through the leagues from Rochdale onwards via a beetroot factory.

Big, but never just a one dimensional target man, he also has a good powerful shot but with a surprising deftness - witness some of the intelligent free kicks he scored from last year on his way to a hugely respectable 15 goals in Southampton’s first season back in the PL. What I would caution is that against far more savvy defences, will his average first touch and lack of pace at international level be exposed?  Kevin Davies anyone?

Tom Finney, Bobby Charlton, Jimmy Greaves, Franny Jeffers, David Nugent. The link? They all scored on their England debuts. Let’s hope affable Scouser Lambert - although never being near the first three in terms of talent or achievement - will at the very least go on to leave more of a mark than the latter two.

He is an everyman who gives hope to all those written off. He also looks like he enjoys what he does. A charge you can’t level at every English international.

The noise the crowd produced from his winning even had the merit of silencing the booming PA system inside the ground that makes your ears bleed, and which normally kills off any semblance of real passion from both sets of fans (last night excepted). As an Arsenal fan I even tried my best to contain my shock that Walcott & Wilshere were starting (not to mention Walcott’s neat finish albeit after a poor initial touch) alongside a solid Leighton Baines - playing instead of an ex Junior Gunner who nearly swerved off the road in disgust at only being offered 55k a week.

It is players like the Chelsea left back that that make you appreciate Ricky Lambert. Whether he’s good enough for a future at International level is a debate for another day. In the meantime Ricky, beetroot packer extraordinaire, the country salutes you. Not least for your unassuming modesty and sheer joy in being picked for England.

Rooney might not be injured but he’s nowhere near match fit, whilst the defence looked shaky, Again.

Just what is eating Wayne Rooney? Yes, he’s nowhere near being match fit. In fact he doesn’t look fit full stop. Sir Alex Ferguson always used to say that he needed games, not only to gain sharpness but as a way of focusing his mind to stop an potential pitfalls occurring – whether they be injudicious nights out, or weight gain through poor nutrition and diet.

Yes, he was always ready to battle, ran about with intent, and showed all too briefly a nice awareness, but he also showed a poor first touch at times, hit the ball too long and generally failed to make an impression against defenders he would have scared in his pomp. Rooney does need games. But for who? And that is the crux. Until that is sorted his mind and possibly his body will not be as sharp as it we know it can be.

For the Scotland’s first, James Morison, whisper it, a former England youth international, struck a shot that Joe Hart should have saved. Was he distracted from the three Scottish players who came rushing in for the corner from the edge of the box on the left, a nod to Strachan’s sometimes eccentric tactical flair, that isn’t always apparent? It can’t have been, as the ball was cleared, only for four England players to fail to block Morison’s resultant shot. With a wet turf and partial vision, Hart has just about enough credit in the bank to play on without a crescendo of speculation about Fraser Forster starting. At the moment. Just stop the unforced errors Joe. Or it may cost you and us dearly further down the world cup qualifying line.

It was also worrying that Phil Jagielka was almost caught for pace by 33 year old Kenny Miller, whilst Cahill never looked entirely confident. Solid these two may be in Premiership terms, the fact at International level we need a ball playing centre half who has exceptional positional awareness.

Now who could that be? Rio in Rio? Never write anything off in football.

Bring Back the Scotland fixture every August? 

For a song written by Roy Williamson of the folk group The Corries and only released in 1967 it certainly stirs the passions north of the border. Certainly when you understand that it refers to the victory of the Scots, led by Robert the Bruce, over England's Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314

Walking out from Wembley Park tube, in order to get onto Wembley Way you walk under a bridge that feels more like a tunnel. During this walk in semi darkness Flower of Scotland piped up intimidatingly loud. I watched a lone bagpiper & drummer from Dumbarton rouse the multitude of Scots around me with a haunting, passionate version of The Corries original tune. The emotional intensity of what it stands for caused nearly everyone around me to launch into a full throated rendition.

It was then I realised again that England v Scotland is a special game and will always be more than just a friendly. Likewise at the game when it was sung just before kick off as 20,000 Scots took up the cry.

In 1961 when the team from north of the Border lost 9-3, the third place replacement keeper, Frank Haffey, was unable to live in peace in Scotland and emigrated to Australia after he became a figure of hate for his performance that caused Scotland to become a laughing stock in the eyes of the English that year. It was an unforgivable crime in the eyes of many.

Dennis Law in 1967 (note the significance of the date) played a blinder as the Scot’s claimed the unofficial title of the World’s best team as they beat England 3-2 at Wembley. The whole squad was – and is still – feted as heroes. They even built statues to them.

In 1977, legends were made on an off the field in a 2-1 victory to the men in dark blue. A pitch invasion that is still talked about today by men of a certain vintage north of the border saw the Wembley turf invade with thousands of joyous men in kilts. (If you haven’t seen the footage you need to, it’s a stark reminder of a different era on so many levels). Even Gordon Strachan, who, incredibly claimed he was at the game on his honeymoon admitted to taking a bit of Wembley turf home with him.

Last night’s captain Scott Brown spoke movingly of a statue that he could see from his window when he was growing up in the Hill of Beath. It was for the immortal Jim Baxter, who was from the same town, and part of that 1967 winning team, who’s performance that day, according to Sir Alex Ferguson could have been set to music. Whilst the current Vancouver Whitecaps centre forward Kenny Miller may never have a statue built in his honour in his home town of Edinburgh, the fact is that the former Rangers and Celtic man scored a cracking goal that also highlighted Cahill being far from touch tight. Even if the man with nearly 200 career goals to his credit showed us an imaginative turn and shot that eluded Hart easily.

The travelling hordes went mad again and the atmosphere from both sets of fans was turned up another few notches. It all went wrong for the Scots at the end, but the noise was as impressive as their team was attack minded. It was a match played at a frenzied pace to just over 80,000 committed fans, where the intensity - reflecting the history of this fixture and what it means - almost bubbled over into unsavoriness, but ultimately never did, leaving us a marvellous game of football. The passion in the stands made up for the soulless experience Wembley can be.

And there’s not many ‘friendlies’ you can say that about.


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Jack Wilshere needs to stay fit this year

Before last night Jack Wilshere had made seven appearances for England in the sum total of 411 minutes. He still hasn’t even played in a World Cup qualifier.  Yet it’s not just Arsenal fans who want him to stay fit this coming season. All England supporters must be praying that he avoids any injuries, long or short term. The lad from Hitchin looked sharp in the 45 minutes he played.

A mark of a decent player is that he always looks for the ball.he mark of a great player is then doing something with the ball once he’s got it, even in tight situations, be it when they’re on the verge of being crowded out, hounded by onrushing opponents, or simply by dropping deep and demanding the ball in a place where others may be far more reticent to look to start an attack.

Jack Wilshire did that last night. Always prompting, always busy, looking to give and go, invariably his first touch would be an inch perfect short pass; it is a joy to watch a player who looks up, who has peripheral vision, so that he not only knows where his teammate is, more importantly he knows where an opponent is too.

Xavi and Iniesta have been lauded for similar work in the heart of the Barca midfield, not least by a young Wilshere on the eve of a Champions League game for Arsenal against Barca two seasons ago that had Pep Guardiola, if not purring (he actually said ‘we have 20 Wilshere’s at La Masia’) then at least highlighting the Arsenal and England midfielders effective play. One day, maybe young Spanish players will speak of Wilshere in the way he spoke of the Barca midfield fulcrum. If they do then it means England will have done well at a major tournament somewhere along the way.

ITV’s coverage is as uninspiring as ever

Maybe it’s the fact that I watched the whole game on ITV when I got back from Wembley last night - but we’ve been over this before. Southgate is bland, Townsend is crap (Welbeck MoM – really?) and as for Chiles – still the best quote I’ve heard about him is that he resembles a joby tug licking piss off a nettle – though a tweet I read last night on him runs it close, not least for it’s sublime surrealism - it simply read: “Chiles you make me want to throw a dead pigeon at you’.

At least John Collins, a veteran of 12 goals in 58 games for Scotland including a penalty against Brazil in the Stade de France during the 1998 World Cup looked lively, praising Wilshire for his audacity rather than Townsend condemning him for his audacity. He also showed his humility when Chiles made a facetious and completely irrelevant (some would say pompous) remark about Scotland coming back to play at Wembley after England win the Word Cup next year, when he had the decency to look embarrassed for Chiles idiocy.

ITV: the free to air gift that keeps giving.


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The Tartan Army meets the Wembley ‘experience’.

One of the images of the night for me was the Monk in the Saffron Robe on the platform at Wembley Park looking utterly bemused at the sight of a tube train full of Tartan Army giving a throaty rendition of Flower of Scotland. A small man in a kilt came up to him with a bottle of vodka, and held his hand out to shake it. The Monk looked on non-plussed before the Scotsman decided on a full blown hug. It wasn’t so much Nirvana as Smells Like Alcoholic spirit. Even so it captured the essence of the night. An evening in which drunken hugs and bonhomie were the order of the day.

(And for those of you on these pages who still wear Stone Island bemoaning this shockingly friendly behaviour, I have friends who, in the 80s before the fixture was scrapped, used to fight other London clubs on the train on the way to Scotland and Hampden before joining together to face the Scots in another clash, so please don’t lecture me on the fact that things aren’t what they were. Because for a lot of people who lived through that era it wasn’t the romanticised, ‘we only fought our own’ nonsense. It was seriously dangerous. Likewise all the years I spent following England away over land and sea. Maybe I’m getting old but I would rather have drunken Scots hug Monks and, even, on a few rare occasions that I saw last night, smiling England fans - than have to endure a poisonous and violent atmosphere. Or maybe that’s just me and other deluded England fans who have a lot of mileage under their belt. Not to mention 20,000 Scots there last night).

Another memorable sight last night was a small drunk Scotsman with a (taller) colour cardboard cut-out of Ally MacCleod. ‘I’ve carried this all the way from Glasgow’, he slurred to me.

‘No you haven’t’ I replied good naturedly,

‘Ok then, Trafalgar Square at least’, he conceded with a nod. It wasn’t so much the distance the cut-out was carried it was the fact he was carrying it all, as if it was the most natural thing in the world – although perhaps for a Scotsman carrying a cardboard representation of the man who proclaimed Scotland could win the 1978 World Cup, maybe it was.

Best song of the night was from a bunch of boys in blue singing of Wembley: ‘Big shopping basket/It’s just a big shopping basket’ to the tune of Pete Seeger’s "Guantanamera”. A football academic could argue it was a succinct and strangely eloquent response to the overt commercialisation of Wembley. Or you could just praise terrace wit. The response was good too. ‘Thank you very much for your North Sea Oil/Thank you very much/Thank you very very much much’ to the familiar tune of Thank U Very Much by Roger McGough’s (along with Paul McCartney’s brother) The Scaffold. Followed swiftly by ‘Skirts are for girls not men’ to the tune of She’ll be running round the mountain.

It was an eventful pre match all around London. Piebury Corner brought the Holloway Road to a standstill with their Tartan Army party, whilst their brethren cheekily filled up Trafalgar Square’s fountains with washing up liquid.

And in other news Sky’s Nick Collins fell off a ladder.

A man with a ‘78 Archie Gemell style top who had probably been on the Buckfast since leaving Glasgow at 6am that morning frothed with rage at the top of Wembley Way after spotting SFA mandarin Neil Doncaster walking into the VIP section below.

'You’re ruining Scottish football - get tae fuck' he raged. The passion was real and heartfelt. Doncaster scuttled off as a Brazilian tourist looked on bemused.

An Orwellian voice boomed over the tannoy: “those who are intoxicated will be refused entry”. I had to smile, as unnecessary directive was announced just as a heroically shitfaced Scot was staggering through the turnstiles. He was no trouble - he was more harm to himself than anyone else.

I wondered if they played the announcement in the corporate boxes where they line up beers at half time in an alcohol themed version of supermarket sweep that leaves swathes of bright red seats embarrassingly empty straight after half time. While in other parts of the stadium the peasants are being charged nearly a fiver for a flat lager in a flimsy plastic glass by an unsmiling automaton. And please don’t get me started on the fish and chips that some poor misguided souls buy for just under a tenner. Or for that matter the PA also telling people ominously to sit down when the game is on for ‘health and safety’ reasons. The only thing it did was remind me what a soulless day out a trip to Wembley can be.

Big shopping basket indeed, as I flicked through my £6 programme.

There was even a plug for Robot Cam – pictures of pitchside minions doing the robot, with a faceless voice on the PA screaming: ‘come on kids, get on TV’ – Really? Is that all that matters at a football match now? Or in life these days? Are we really satisfied by our 1.5 seconds of fame?

The only highlight on the big screen was when a petite twentysomething girl, who was sat next to a smug looking bloke – who, incidentally also looked like he should have had a pigeon thrown at him – hid her face when she was shown. Whether it was because she had thrown a sickie or was conducting an illicit affair, just like the pre-match build up I didn’t care enough to know more.

It was also ironic that Uncle Roy was pictured on the big screen telling us to respect the game. Nothing incorrect or ironic in the statement itself. It was the fact it was subtitled, as the sound system couldn’t convey his voice at normal levels, due to the fact it was only set up for inane DJ’s to tell children to get on TV at sound levels that surely induce tinnitus in beagles.

Also unedifying was the ‘grass a fellow citizen’ hotline that was displayed at intermittent times, also known as the Anti-Social Behaviour hotline imploring you to shop the bloke next to you for swearing loudly. Christ, I know you got a Skoda for doing that in Eric Honniker’s East Germany but there wasn’t even a Shaw Taylor Police 5 reward (ask you dad) on offer last night. When the bloke next to me started singing Three Lions as if it was a national anthem I felt like phoning the number myself.

Grown men taking photos of each other at sporting events is marginally acceptable if you’re drunk - grown men with painted faces asking you to film their cheesy faces and polyester shirts stood next to a Mascot – a Lion that looked more like a jaundiced squirrel with an OCD – whilst instructing me how to take a picture on an iphone. (‘Just press that button there mate’) - is simply unacceptable. The campaign to remove stupid ego-centric day trippers from football starts here.

It started to rain. I watched a steward at pitchside attempt to put on a plastic sheet to keep him dry, so inexpertly it would have put Mario Balotelli to shame - at one stage it covered his face and made him appear as a poor imitation of The Scream: it was a fitting metaphor to the corporate soullessness that Wembley has become.

A soulnessness that thankfully England v Scotland provided an all too rare antidote for. At least for one night.

Follow Layth on twitter @laythy29