Watching the World (Cup) Go By: My claim to fame... and my hopes for when England reach the final

Well the World Cup is fair flying by and I've not even told you yet the tale of the times when I shared a pitch with a former World Cup finals international captain.

Friday, 22nd June 2018, 1:00 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd June 2018, 2:53 pm
Gareth Southgate would have been relieved to hear Martin Keown reveal that Dele Alli was alive during the England-Tunisia match

So given that I’m still a bit light on commentator’s gaffes – it’s almost as if they’ve all practised their lines to thwart my attempts to take the mickey – I’ll start with my World Cup claim to fame.

I really ought to have remembered this in my opening column of Russia 2018, for that was all about the 1982 finals in Spain and those were the ones where my future five-a-side pal led his country.

The man in question is Velimir Zajec, who I have to admit I don’t recall from 36 years ago. Only in his later life - when he rolled up at Pompey as director of football and then, not entirely successfully, as manager - did I discover that he’d been skipper of Yugoslavia in 82, when, for the record, they drew with Northern Ireland, lost to Spain and beat Honduras.

Anyhow, a long time after his 36-cap international career ended, he found himself at Pompey at the same time I was working on the sports desk at The News. To our surprise, he asked our Pompey correspondent one day if he knew of any local weekly kickabouts he could join in with.

He was told about our rather impressive Tuesday night contests at Medina Primary School in Paulsgrove and, to our even greater surprise, turned up a few times. This was in 2005 and he was fast approaching 50. He didn’t run about much but he didn’t need to.

When he received the ball he just stood there with it and as he decided what he was going to do with it, you couldn’t get it off him. A few times he passed it - passed it - into the opposition goal from his own half.

And I don’t think I have dreamed this next bit, but I may have done. Whenever anyone on the pitch produced a neat finish he purred ‘Ya-ku-bu’ - the name of the Pompey striker who around that time was still scoring goals for fun - and when anyone skewed one wide he’d murmur ‘Ka-ma-ra’ - the name of the Pompey striker who was missing chances for fun. (It was Diomansy Kamara, I should add, not Chris, who’d played for us 25 years earlier.)

Sadly Velimir’s appearances with us ended quicker than his career as Pompey manager but at least I can say I’ve shared a pitch with a World Cup winner ... which brings me back (eventually) to the point of these columns, namely current the World Cup.

What do you think of the show so far? I’m loving it, although if I had my way, the evening matches would kick off at 8pm, VAR would not be anywhere near it or anything to do with it and Mark Lawrenson and Roy Keane would be on the same pundits’ sofa.

It seems Lawro is dividing the nation. Or maybe not so much dividing it, just infuriating it. Increasing numbers of viewers are complaining about his miserable outlook and sarcastic comments, but I’ve grown to like them and find them quite funny.

Maybe it’s an age thing ... part of me thinks his cynicism is in line with how about 80 per cent of over-40s (me included) view football nowadays. I’m pretty sure Lawro’s thoughts on coloured boots, fancy hairstyles and players’ Instagram accounts and ability to fall over too easily when brushed by an opposition finger are similar to mine.

It would be great to see and hear him alongside Keano, though. There’s a man who never cracks a smile or over-praises anything he’s seen.

I am quite enjoying both the BBC and ITV coverage - there’s no doubt the latter has raised its game in recent years, although the over-use of Glenn Hoddle must lead many viewers to think they must have done some wrong in a previous life to be lumbered with him on so many co-commentaries.

Day one of the tournament promised much, with Mike Bushell on BBC Breakfast telling us England were staying near Finland, where they might ‘catch one or two mooses flying by’. It occurred to me that moose catching could be something Gareth Southgate’s men could take up once eliminated from the football, though it also occurred to me that was another sport where Iceland would be capable of beating us in the last 16.

England went and won their opening game, which is no help to a cynical columnist like this one, and it was heartening to hear Martin Keown tell us early in the Tunisia game that Dele Alli was ‘alive’. That seemed to me to be very much a positive bit of news for the team.

Keowno later informed us, unless I misheard, that England were passing the ball around and that was progression ... which doesn’t say much for what had gone before.

Guy Mowbray marked the start of the second half by saying ‘Here we go again’ - a quote I thought he should have saved for when Panama go 2-1 up with 15 minutes to go. But all was well that ended well as Harry Kane proved deadly from one yard out.

The camera that was trained on the BBC gang when the winner went in showed Gary Lineker leaping around, but Frank Lampard was studiously writing notes – presumably listing the Tunisia defenders not to sign for Derby County. Although, having seen Derby defend...

Elsewhere, we have had Jonathan Pearce remarking that a goal in the Iran-Morocco game had been ruled out when in fact it had hit the side netting; we have had poor old Diego rubbing his nose and then, when Croatia took his team apart, his eyes; we have had Brazil and Germany failing to win their opening games, which is a sure sign one of them will go on to win it; and we have had Russia showing that the FIFA rankings perhaps are no more dependable than talk of a long-term relationship on Love Island.

We have had excellent forthright punditry from, among others, Alex Scott, Alan Shearer, Gary Neville and Cesc Fabregas, and we have had Mr Lineker trying to keep a straight face when saying to Pab Zab during Argentina’s loss to Croatia: ‘I don’t mean to be rude about your team, Pablo, but...’

I must praise the commentators - the standard, overall, is very high, though I wonder which of Mowbray, Wilson, Tyldesley, Darke or Matterface would be best at a South American-style ‘GOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL...’ shout lasting for 90 seconds were England to reach the final and take the lead. I hope they’re all practising it in their hotel rooms, perhaps all at once in the same hotel room.

I just hope that if England do defy logic and every other force in the universe and reach the July 15 showpiece, instead of Russia and Portugal, who I fear and suspect might get there instead, Lawro and Keano are given the day off. Along with the VAR machine.


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