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My first England cap: Some brief thoughts and recollections on joining the Wembley media corps

So, I got the chance to cover England’s opening Euro 2012 qualifier against Bulgaria at Wembley. As my first game covering the Three Lions as an accredited member of the media, I thought I’d better note down some memories…

Wembley way: My view from my privileged position at the home of football

I never thought I’d get an England call-up at 23.

Okay, so Theo Walcott or Wayne Rooney might not be particularly impressed with my achievement — nor any player to actually get a proper cap for England, for that matter — but when your professional football dream falls apart at the age of 12 and you subsequently try to make the media your career like I have, then your first appearance in the hallowed press zone at Wembley seems like a milestone worthy of some note.

I wouldn’t call it a debut to remember by any means, but I think I got through the 90 minutes with enough nice touches to suggest I might one-day have a future at this level. A nervous start (my wide-eyed fear and hesitancy upon entering the media centre seemed to only convince the security attendants I harboured terrorist intent) eventually subsided into an enjoyable and slightly more self-assured second-half performance, and by the end of it I was… blocked from entering the mixed zone.

So, er, still work to be done then.

Nevertheless, it was a great experience. Wembley, as you would expect, is run like clockwork, with helpful and seemingly endless numbers of staff making sure you don’t get too far off the yellow brick road. One polite lift attendant (believe it) even indulged in small talk with myself and the BBC’s very own ‘expert’ Mark Lawrenson on the way up to the media centre, with the former Liverpool man even opining that “with programmes costing £6, I’m in the wrong game.” The attendant was happy to agree with him, which I can only assume was out of politeness, as spouting inane clichés about football every Saturday evening seems about as a good a ‘game’ as you can be in to me.

But I digress.

The media centre itself is something of a joy to behold, divided as it is into two sections. The first, slightly smaller in size, looks like a high-tech library with its rows of identikit cubicles with ports and wires for every computer accessory known to man. Continue reading

September 6, 2010 Posted by | Comment, World Football | , , | 1 Comment

Arsenal’s Theo Walcott struggling to keep pace with Spurs’ Aaron Lennon in sprint for World Cup glory

He went to the World Cup as a fresh-faced 17-year-old in 2006, and after a stellar evening in Zagreb was expected to be the main man for England in South Africa this summer. But injuries, and a failure to develop as expected, have seen Theo Walcott lose his international place to a club rival who has no intention of giving it back…

Brothers in arms: But Walcott and Lennon might find come June they are fighting for just one spot on the plane to South Africa

Eighteen games, three goals, eight assists.

Eight games, one goal, one assist.

That’s the difference in statistics in the Premier League this season between the impressive Aaron Lennon and his fellow England winger, Theo Walcott.

While Lennon has drawn plaudits for his performances for Tottenham Hotspur this season, 20-year-old Walcott has struggled for both form and fitness for London rivals Arsenal — to such an extent that he is in real danger of losing his once-secure England place.

The Arsenal man may have provided one of the most memorable moments of England’s successful World Cup qualification with his hat-trick against Croatia in Zagreb, but it is Lennon who — after starring in the return fixture with Slaven Bilic’s men that finally secured England’s World Cup berth — is starting to look the front-runner for the right-wing position in Fabio Capello’s side. Continue reading

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , , , , | Leave a comment

David Beckham deserves 1000 caps if brings the World Cup back to England

Ever since he relinquished the captain’s armband  — and arguably even before then — David Beckham has been a divisive figure for observers of the England national team. Yet as his playing days draw to close, the current Los Angeles Galaxy star has the chance to achieve something no English footballer has ever managed…

Still the main man: Beckham's influence extends far beyond the football pitch

As happens without fail every four years, World Cup talk is dominating English football.

For the players in and around manager Fabio Capello’s national squad, the focus is on making the plane for South Africa next summer.

For those lucky enough to be all but guaranteed their seat — and there are a few — the focus is on launching a bid to win the big prize on the horizon.

For the Football Association, the situation is slightly different.

While the directors of English football’s governing body are still devoting considerable resources to give  Capello everything he needs to launch a strong challenge next summer, they are also focusing equal attention on launching a successful World Cup bid of their own.

Instead of 2010, the FA is looking to 2018, when they hope they can bring the World Cup back to England for the first time in 52 years.

When England hosted that last tournament, in 1966, Bobby Moore famously lead the Three Lions to their solitary triumph in the game’s biggest tournament.

And hopes are high that, after so many years of hurt, a return of the final to a new Wembley might yield the same famous old result.

That long wait to host, as well as England’s self-proclaimed status as the ‘home of football’ (something that has been deliberately underplayed during campaigning so as not to offend) would seem to give the bid more weight than that of its rivals.

Couple that with the fact it has an unrivalled collection of world-class stadiums and infrastructure to call upon, and, on paper at least, any bid from the sceptred isle would appear to be a winner.

But in many respects, England and the wider United Kingdom is not currently in the best of health. While many other European and world nations are slowly steering their ship clear of recession, the United Kingdom is still waging a seemingly losing battle with high unemployment and floundering industry. Continue reading

November 23, 2009 Posted by | Comment, Sport, World Football | , , , | Leave a comment

Collingwood’s Assessment of England’s Efforts Proves the Most Accurate

England go out of another World Cup, everyone’s up in arms. But in reality, Collingwood’s men did just about as well as their abilities deserved…

Collingwood congratulates Rashid: But the spinner's selection was controversial...

Collingwood congratulates Rashid: But the spinner's selection was controversial...

After a valiant struggle, England eventually succumbed to the enemy they perhaps knew best.

The rain.

It may be debatable whether or not West Indies are an inferior side to England, but the fact of the matter is that 80 runs in nine overs (with 10 wickets to play with) is an easier target than 162 in 20 overs (with the same number of wickets). When you know the opposition as well as England and the Windies know each other, such an advantage is only magnified.

England struggled valiantly, but the composure and quality of Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul proved more than enough.

England captain Paul Collingwood stuck by his side after the defeat.

Continue reading

June 16, 2009 Posted by | Sport | , , , | Leave a comment

Gary Cahill Gets Reward for Fine Form With England Call

He’s long been on Fabio Capello’s radar, but with Rio Ferdinand’s injury the Bolton defender has finally been brought onto the international stage, and into the national spotlight…

Cahill: Wasn't impressed with his hairdresser's efforts...

Cahill: Wasn't impressed with his hairdresser's efforts...

Gary Megson might not be the most popular Premiership manager, but it is difficult to criticise the job he has done at Bolton Wanderers.

Following in the footsteps of Sam Allardyce—no easy task, considering the results “Big Sam” engineered for the Trotters—the former West Brom and Nottingham Forest manager has carefully steered the squad to two safe mid-table Premiership finishes.

This season the club finished 13th, an improvement on last season’s 16th place effort. Considering the meagre budget Megson has had to work with, that is no mean feat.

While he might not have had much to spend, when he has he has invariably spent it wisely.

The £5m spent on Gary Cahill is a case in point.

Continue reading

June 3, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , | 1 Comment