‘E that were tense

So the first half was shaky enough already and then the Mexicans scored and so up until the 88th minute I thought “this is it, we’re going home. And then Sneijder scored a wonder goal to keep us in, Robben did his usual dancing around the box, tripped over a defender’s leg and got a fortunate penalty, roughly like this:



And of course it was Klaas Jan Huntelaar, left on the sidelines until now, who took the penalty and scored. Watching the buildup was as nerve wrecking as anything I’d ever seen in football, so tense I had to call my mum, who was also watching. And then of course it was buttock clenching time until the end whistle went.

But we did it.

England out — what did you expect?

So Costa Rica surprised everybody except those paying attention by beating Italy 1-0, sealing England’s early exit from the Worldcup. Let the wailing and gnashing of teeth begin.

But should we really be surprised that England didn’t qualified from the group stages? They’re after all a decentish team which had the bad luck to be drawn into the same group as a great team rebuilding itself (Italy), another decent to good team with some world class players which went much further in the last Worldcup than everybody thought possible (Uruguay) as well as a team that should’ve been there just to make up the numbers but turned out to hold their own against a team that supposed to beat them (Costa Rica).

Both the idea that England should of course qualify from this group and the idea that now it seems unlikely they will, some sort of special circumstances need to be found to explain this are a symptom of how overrated England is.

Spain is the surprise knockout because they won an European Cup, World Cup and another European Cup one after another, had therefore arguably been the best team in the world for the best part of a decade. When Italy and France were knocked out in the previous tournament, these had been WC winners/contenders not long before.

England on the other hand has been striving for mediocrity for most of that time, not noticeably better than a team like Poland, Portugal or Greece. Had they had a bit of better luck this game they could’ve qualified, but their luck was back so they didn’t.

Par for the course.

1-5? Bloody nora!

Robin van Persie dives to head home the equaliser for Holland against Spain

So that was unexpected. Like a lot of people I was worried getting into this game, a rematch of the 2010 Worldcup Final, with Holland playing Spain again. Our team had gotten worse in the past four years while Spain’s seemed unbeatable, some of our best players had retired while van Gaal seemed to rely mainly on young talent from the own competition, largely untested internationally. And then Spain got a soft penalty and of course scored and I thought it was done and dusted.

And then came van Persie. A great pass from Daley Blind, van Persie accelerating just in time and then that great, great header. It came at the right time, just before halftime and it fired Orange on to greatness in the second half. Robben once again showed his greatness; he always looks super awkward and ungainly, his arms flailing around, but boy oh boy was that first goal a beauty and then that second one, perhaps even better. Van Persie as well had a great second goal, while Stefan de Vrij managed to smuggle one in as well.

Juichen!

It’s been a great night.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone”



It’s incredibly tense in the English Premier League at the moment, with three teams fighting for the title. With Manchester United disintegrating and lucky to secure European football, the much anticipated Spurs title challenge fizzing out and Arsenal struggling to even reach their customary fourth place and access to the Champions League, it’s up to Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool FC. The latter two met last Sunday in an emotional, stressfull match which saw Liverpool win 3-2, setting a giant step forwards to winning the title. For Liverpool fans and many neutrals it would be wonderful for Liverpool to win it now, because it’s been twentyfour years since their last one, because of Steve Gerrard who, a single childhood slipup aside, has always been loyal to Liverpool and won everything but the title with them, but mostly because it’s been exactly twentyfive years since the Hillsborough Disaster and just weeks after a new inquest into the disaster and the coverup has started.



It all started as a normal FA Cup between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, but after only six minutes the game was abandoned as the Liverpool fans in the away end climbed over the crush barrier onto the fields. At first it was thought to be just another example of fans misbehaving but it soon became clear something monstrous was happening, as shown in BBC’s Match of the Day that night.



Ninetysix people died that day and the disaster hit the city of Liverpool hard, not just because of the deaths, but also because of the coverup by the police that followed the disaster, as recounted in a BBC Panorama investigation from last year. Though initial reports into the disaster had laid the blame for it on the shoulders of the South Yorkshire police for inadequacies in handling the crowd that day, much of the particulars of what exactly had happened remained unknown, while the police and the media started blaming the Liverpool supporters themselves for what happened, most notably in the Sun, still being boycotted in Liverpool to this day.



Football supporters in the late eighties were largely seen as scum, hooligans and criminals and the Heysel disaster — in which Liverpool supporters had attacked Juventus fans during the 1985 Europa Cup Final, resulting in the death of thirtynine supporters when a wall collapsed — was fresh in people’s memories. The narrative therefore that Hillsborough was another Heysel was easy to believe. Yet in Liverpool and amongst the survivors and relatives of those that had died in Hillsborough there was a need for justice that never abated, organising to both keep the memory of those who had died alive and to seek justice for their deaths.




It all came to a head at the 20th anniversary of the disaster, as the speech of the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, MP Andy Burnham was interrupted by shouts of justice for the 96; four days later the government decided to open up police files about the disaster, leading to the setting up of the Hillsborough Independent Panel reinvestigating the disaster and its aftermath, two years ago reaching the conclusion that there was indeed a coverup.



Now, twentyfive years after the disaster a new, proper inquest has started at the same time as both of the city’s football clubs are doing the best in the League they’ve done for years, Everton in the race for fourth place, Liverpool chasing their first title in twentyfour years. Is it any wonder both fans and players, Steve Gerrard especially, who lost a cousin at Hillsborough, get a little emotional?



AC Milan takes a stand against racism



Kevin Prince Boateng walks off in a friendly match after being racially abused by some Pro Patria supporters:

Anti-racism campaigners praised Boateng’s decision to walk off. Piara Powar, the executive director of the European anti-discrimination group Fare, said: “We salute Kevin-Prince Boateng for his actions and his team-mates for their support. This is the not the first time a player has walked off in Italy – if the situation continues it may not be the last. Italy, as much as any country in Europe, has a serious problem of racism to deal with. Football infrastructure is in need of renewal and at serious odds with the changing nature of Italian society. We look forward to strong action by the FIGC [Italian FA].”

Racism in football all over Europe is still an underreported problem. In many countries it’s much less than it used to be in the seventies and eighties, but it’s still present and needs to be dealt much more firmly with.

Death of a linesman

The Guardian reports on the death of linesman Richard Nieuwenhuizen, beaten up at an amateur game in early December and what it means for Dutch football:

Yet moments after the players started shaking hands with the three volunteer officials, Nieuwenhuizen was knocked to the floor, then punched and kicked in the head by several of the Nieuw-Sloten team. Parents immediately ran on to the pitch to try to defuse the situation and get some control. Nieuwenhuizen eventually got back to his feet but he was knocked to the floor for a second time. Witnesses report that one of the Nieuw-Sloten players then took off his shirt, presumably to make it harder for him to be identified, before kicking Nieuwenhuizen while he was on the ground and then running off. Mykel, Nieuwenhuizen’s son, saw everything.

As the article makes clear, the case has become a rorschach blotch for every Dutch anxiety about modern society: racial tension, lack of respect for authorities, youth gone wild, etc. The victim was a white man, a linesman from Almere, the perpetrators allegedly are Moroccan boys from one of the Amsterdam districts with a high level of Dutch-Moroccans. Mix that in with the fact that the victim was a linesman, an authority figure, when there has been a string of horrible assaults of authority figures — police officers, first aid workers, ticket inspectors — in the last few years and you got an incident that was tailor made for Geert Wilders to exploit. Which he promptly did, but which fortunately hasn’t gained much traction

A tragedy such as this of course needs to be taken seriously, though I do think it’s easy to overreact to it as a country or a sport. The vast majority of football fans and players at all levels of Dutch football are decent people and to make great moral judgments out of one incident, no matter how tragic, seems wrong.