So here in the UK there is, currently, a burning European issue. It is taking over the airwaves. Dominating conversations. Turning schools and workplaces upside down. Upsetting television schedules. Dividing households.
I am, of course, talking about the Euro 2016 football championships. The irony of the running of the tournament concurrent with our other burning European issue is not lost on me.
I am not a big watcher of football. OK let me rephrase. I watch a lot of live, muddy & cold amateur soccer courtesy of my offspring. But I am not a watcher of professional soccer.
I do partake of Match of the Day. I like its format. The condensing of the whole 90 minutes plus (how England rued and then revelled in that ‘plus’ in their last two games) of matches into small bite sized parcels containing all the good bits, punctuated by healthy doses of Gary Linneker and his side kicks. And who doesn’t think he is aging spectacularly well? It is that truly awesome hair. He looks better now then in Euro 96, despite his unhealthy obsession with deep fried potato products. So, yes, I like MoTD.
But generally during major football tournaments I am not involved. I like it best when the World Cup is taking place in a timezone which means that all the matches are on television in the middle of the night.
This time however I am hooked. And here is the reason.
Youngest’s football club is running a Euro 2016 predictor competition. The coaches sent out a fiendishly complicated spreadsheet for us to complete. It consisted of predicting not only the result of each match but also the score. 5 points for a correct score, 3 points for a correct result.
I ignored that e mail for several weeks until the impassioned pleas for participation to raise valuable funds for our tour next year to Butlins, Minehead became overwhelming. (The whole Butlins, Minehead tour thing is there in my head. In the cupboard marked ‘Things I will not think About Until They Become Unavoidable’… Watch out for the blog sometime next April…I am sure at some point in his career Vardy went on tour to Butlins, Minehead. That is why I like him so much…)
So anyway we had a go. The kids were interested for about the first five matches. Then they went on the trampoline and shouted random numbers in through the open door in response to my random shouting of team names.
Clearly as non watchers of professional football we had no idea about the relative merits of the various teams. Except that we know some of the most famous stars, but even then we aren’t always sure which of the East European sides some of them play for. It got to the point where I was plucking results out based on such maxims as ‘We haven’t had a draw for a while’ and ‘Who knew Iceland even had a football team’. Etc.
So we sent off the spreadsheet. I wasn’t hopeful. We didn’t have the hosts and possible favourites even progressing from the group stages.
We did win the Best Team Name competition though. That was Eldest. The Cheese Ball Chomping Unicorns have clearly struck a chord.
We applied a wall chart to the, well, wall. We devised a method of filling it in to show the actual scores and the outcome versus our prediction. We were set.
The competition got under way. We got the opening match right. Pure fluke. Then came the Albania v Switzerland match, again correct. I got mildly excited and came in from the garden to watch the end of Wales v Slovakia. When Wales got that second goal I got even more excited, correct again. 15 out of 15. Ok so maybe we weren’t that bad at this predictor stuff.
The kids got exasperated at me wanting Wales to win. ‘That won’t help England’ they chorused. Then I explained that if we won we would take home half the pot, around £250, and that new CR7s or other ridiculously expensive Nike football boots might be on offer. They started shouting at the screen too.
We settled down to watch England v Russia. I was quite happy with our one nil prediction. Yes England are playing better football than in, well, forever. But England are good at disappointing. I was sat there in a state of unbelievable excitement once the England goal went in. During the four minutes of injury time I was shouting at the screen-‘Just keep it out for 4 minutes’. Twenty out of twenty beckoned.
And then England did that thing they do so well. Snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Well a draw but it may as well have been defeat, predictor wise. And no, Ian Wright, I don’t take comfort from the good football they demonstrated. Five points thrown away in the 92nd minute. And worse a lot of my fellow predictor players were even more pessimistic than me England wise and had correctly predicted the draw. How grossly unpatriotic.
Since then things have gone a little down hill. From top of the leader board to seventh at the last reckoning. Let’s face it Hungary v Austria? -no idea. And who knew about Iceland? I am not sure they knew themselves.
Still it was good whilst it lasted. And our early promise has probably improved my side line credibility, amateur football watching wise. That is if anyone has worked out who The Cheese Ball Chomping Unicorns are….