National Pride

International Challenge Trophy, Semi Final – England C v Turkey B
Tuesday, 5th February 2013, 7.45pm
Princes Park (Dartford FC)
Distance 24 miles, Attendance 4100
130205 ICT SF EnglandC v TurkeyB (14)b
Has any label ever brought about such extraordinary events as “International Break”?
Ok – pythonesque or not – La Inquisición Española sent some running for the hills, and radio scared the shit out of others upon first broadcasting War Of The Worlds, and whilst we’re on the subject Clowns are fairly uncomfortable creatures… but when it comes to International Breaks, there’s some really strange stuff going on.
I’m not talking about UFOs, Bermuda Triangles, or even lost weekend’s in Dutch cafés kind-of-strange (and whilst we’re on the subject, you folk loitering round that Parisian grave, you’re not “people who are strange” or very original), I’m referring to the amphitheatre of temporary ailments.
For years, the announcement of an International Break has whipped our media into frenzied declarations of world domination, whilst reducing some of the fittest athletes on our planet to physical wrecks.
We are told our sport’s wonderful wealth has provided players with the finest resources known to man yet still – in days leading up to a vital clash – muscles are pulled, tendons tweaked, steps are slipped on, and metatarsals do, er… whatever Beckham had. Even more remarkable is the fact that at the sound of the final whistle miraculous recoveries are nationwide. Respect?
To misquote Billy Bragg “While my countrymen hand in their sick notes to express their national pride.”
130205 ICT SF EnglandC v TurkeyB (40)b
In 1978, the world of International Football lured me away from local reality. It sucked me in, wowed me with exotic names, fanfares, ticker tape and aesthetic appeal. It convinced me everything would be right with the world if only Rensenbrink could bag more than Kempes.
In 1982 I was wide-eyed for Cameroon, Boniek, Northern Ireland and Gerry Armstrong; I felt proud just to watch the tournament. Scifo, Schumacher and Socrates were there as John Barnes arrived (too late) in 1986 and, by 1990 – having handed in our notice at work – we cheered England on throughout the night, from a bar in Melbourne. When football came home in 1996, the country floated in a joyous cloud of competitive pride but, where is this now?
Now that the premier gravy train is riding roughshod over the nation’s recreation and the champions league is dominating the airways, our national game has been sidelined. Sure we all get a little excited at the big tournaments come round but when players are “too poorly” to compete in the qualifiers what is there for me to be proud about any more?
Turned off the senior team by such leagues and antics, I’m one of many now searching for a national event to instil pride like days of yore. What I hadn’t realised is that I would need to go back to old stomping grounds to find it. No matter what I imagined might happen – heading east through the damp London darkness – nothing could’ve prepared my ambivalent mind for the wonderful night ahead.
Parking round the corner, I was struck first by the bitter cold and then by the fact I couldn’t see the ground. I’d heard so much about the design of Princes Park however it seemed hypnotic floodlights had no place in the world of sustainable-eco-friendly-football.

130205 ICT SF EnglandC v TurkeyB (17)   130205 ICT SF EnglandC v TurkeyB (26)

Inside the ground, a couple of circuits were enough to leave me open-mouthed. I still had no idea what it would be like when filled with the sell-out crowd but, clearly Princes Park – thankfully anything but a concrete bowl – is a fantastic blueprint for future grounds. Sedum roof, air filtration, solar panels, water storage & recycling, underfloor heating, fabric insulation, reduced noise and light pollution, and truly beautiful timber beams. Given the choice of a new ground for Watford – wooden man aside – this is exactly the design I’d like, only MUCH BIGGER.

130205 ICT SF EnglandC v TurkeyB (24)   130205 ICT SF EnglandC v TurkeyB (32)   130205 ICT SF EnglandC v TurkeyB (47)   130205 ICT SF EnglandC v TurkeyB (56)   130205 ICT SF EnglandC v TurkeyB (18)

As colourful supporters started to fill the ground, there were four distinct groups; the Darts, the curious, the English and the Turks; LOTS OF TURKS, in celebratory mood, from all over Turkey (and London), with banners and shirts and flags and scarves, who sung and chanted from start to finish.
As they starting making camp, the FA man with the sponsors rule book expressed concern at pitch side banners and sent stewards scurrying to defend his territory. The Non League hosts however showed no such concern and soon a step ladder was provided to hoist said offending articles above the terrace.

130205 ICT SF EnglandC v TurkeyB (70)   130205 ICT SF EnglandC v TurkeyB (34)   130205 ICT SF EnglandC v TurkeyB (59)   130205 ICT SF EnglandC v TurkeyB (48)

In tune with the evening, the lovely FA lady was far more accommodating and took very little persuasion to part with her team sheet. With the warm-ups done, both the teams and the rain emerged. One anthem was sung with gusto, the other charmingly malfunctioned over the tannoy.
130205 ICT SF EnglandC v TurkeyB (79)To picture the next ninety minutes just imagine your favourite game. Loads of action, totally committed players, fans in fine voice, the ref getting in the way of a excellent run, flares lighting “the away end”, tackles, fouls, handbags, and some stunning saves. As an advert for football the game had everything, apart from goals. The skill from the players clearly deserved many but neither side could find the target. As the game drew to a close, fans were animatedly discussing the “what next?”, and then Turkey broke the duck… Half the stadium made even more noise; the rest applauded a quality move.
I’d heard comments of the “poxy weather” and the England C – Turkey B selection criteria however, there was no booing, nor bad feeling, and the umbrella temporarily blocking our view drew little more than a smirk. Supporters mingled freely and posed happily for photographs, as stewards pointed their cameras. There were families, and friends, and children with grandparents, a woman wrapped in a blanket, and best of all there was Non League hospitality.
We were close to the action in a beautifully designed stadium and everyone there – probably even the FA’s rule book man – played their part in this wonderfully enjoyable spectacle. Yes, this week – with the announcement of the latest International Break – two remarkably strange things happened; I enjoyed watching England live again, and no squad players phoned in sick.

130205 ICT SF EnglandC v TurkeyB (64)b

On my return – as the radio talked at length of Bobby Moore – it felt apt that I’d spent the evening watching players who had nothing but pride in playing for their country. For once (and this is why none have been named thus far) they all deserve equal praise.

130205 team sheet (2)b

This entry was posted in 2012-2013, International Challenge Trophy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to National Pride

  1. Colin Perry says:

    Enjoyed your report. I would have liked to have been there, especially to see Lindon Meikle of Mansfield Town wearing an England shirt, but circumstances dictate that I don’t get out much during the week.
    What a pity that 36 hours later there is still no match report on the FA website, a poor effort given that this is one of our national teams.

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