November 15 1996 Forced to Look for Footie Stuff on the Internet

Reporting how no big games were played because of internationals, and I was forced to look for footie stuff on the internet which was boring.

If you search for news of Alan Shearer on the Internet, you may be surprised by the result. By latest information superhighway reports, Shearer plays for Blackburn Rovers and fans are concerned that he has not scored for England for over a year. Feels like time travel? It certainly does. In another entry, an Alan Shearer groin injury is mentioned, which seems momentarily a bit more up-to-date — but only until you notice that this newsflash is dated March 25.

This is very curious, obviously. It feels like a conspiracy to remove the last six months. Even downloading a picture of Shearer from a heading entitled “Paintings and Portraits” proves to be disappointment in pixel form, because not only is he wearing pale blue and white, but the words “Football Heroes 95” are noticeable beneath. That’s a bit odd, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you expect (especially given the fabulous scope for puns) that football would be a big thing on the net?

But having spent three fruitless evenings on the Internet this week searching for red-hot footie stuff, I can report that my best discoveries were lukewarm at best — my personal favourites being a When Saturday Comes newsgroup for people who have “scored” at football matches (you don’t want to know), and a handy “rant” page for people who have strong but banal opinions such as, “Wolverhampton are the most boring team in the first division, if not the world”. (Luckily that one was already there, incidentally, so I didn’t have to add it.)

Nobody warned me about the dreary effect of internationals on the life of a keen football supporter always ready at the front door with her jacket zipped up, moonboots on, gloves threaded down her sleeves, and a sandwich and bus pass packed in a scruffy plastic carrier bag. On Saturday, with no match to attend, I stood by the front door and whined miserably. What do people do on these enforced half-term breaks? Well, it turns out they read their footie magazines cover to cover and then catch up on shut-eye during the stultifying second half of Georgia v England on the telly.

So I don’t know, it was a fragmented sort of week, footie-wise. Keeping cheerful, however, I enjoyed musing on what a good dramatic comedy could be made out of Emerson’s plucky runner*, and wondering whether the final straw for this excellent twinkle-toed footballer was the booing during the recent Newcastle v Middlesbrough. The idea of Emerson doing a bunk is irresistibly funny, somehow. Escape from Middlesbrough! Exotic superstar footballer returns from match one day to find lovely Brazilian wife dressed entirely in Damart thermals with a hot water bottle strapped to each foot. “Aiee!” he exclaims, and boards next plane back to Rio.

Quick to focus on essentials in this case, I pass over the tender feelings of Bryan Robson and just enjoy a hearty chuckle at the expense of the country’s many fantasy football managers who selected Emerson and are now anxiously ringing the airports. Ha ha ha. How does it feel to watch your team sink in the middle with a sound of expelled air like “phut”?

But such speculation was not enough to sustain the eager woman with the sandwich, so call me pathetic if you will, but I resorted to memories of Euro 96. By chance, in the evenings this week, Soho Stories late-night on BBC2 focused on that exciting three weeks in June — though as seen from the point of view of two Soho community bobbies in shirt sleeves, with the tension building nightly to the Trafalgar Square riot on the night of the defeat by Germany. It wasn’t the way I remembered Euro 96 personally — a battle zone waiting for the inevitable bombardment — but at least it was something. And I understood the timetable of events, of course, which was nice.

So on Monday night, the Swiss arrived, and all was calm. The policemen made small-talk with traders and bar-owners along the lines of, “It might go quietly; it might go mental”. Soho residents ignored the rumblings of the gathering storm. By Tuesday, however, Scots were bending forward and flipping their kilts over their backs rather unpleasantly, while English fans began to run wild; and police protected pubs full of nice orange Dutch people singing funny words to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”.

But when the fateful Wednesday arrived, the producer of Soho Stories came up with an inspiration, choosing to intercut the national drama unfolding in the streets with a backstage view of a simultaneous Les Miserables performance — the uniting theme of these two disparate events being the barricades, of course, as well as (obviously) miserableness.

And it turned out to be a good idea, actually, not least for the memorable image of men in theatrically soiled linen rushing to their dressing rooms between songs to hear the latest score. An apathetic dresser made the big mistake of joshing about this important matter, announcing “It’s 3-1!” and then hastily apologised when stared at. Finally, in the star’s dressing room, a small blood-stained French urchin-child (possibly dead) cheerfully piped up with the terrible truth. “England won’t want to go to penalties,” he explained to the grown-ups. “Germany have never lost on penalties.”

As I said, it was something. It kept me going. And it proves that I don’t mind living six months adrift if I choose to, but in the meantime I do think the Internet might try a bit harder. On one search for Alan Shearer I got “Jeff’s Flyfishing Page” which is solely concerned with saltwater angling in North Carolina. In the end, the highest point of interest was a fake bulletin on the Manchester City home page. “A burglary was recently committed at Man City’s ground,” it ran. “The entire contents of the trophy room were stolen. Police are looking for a man with a blue carpet.”
*The Brazilian player Emerson was forever trying to escape from Middlesbrough; in this he had quite a lot of popular support

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