Archive for May, 2012

As the dust settles on Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad, questions must surely be raised about the paucity of top-class goalkeepers at the England manager’s disposal if, god forbid, Joe Hart were to suffer an injury or suspension. Arguments will continue to rage as to who out of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand should have been left behind this summer but little or no attention has been paid to the goalkeeping selections. Rob Green, although a capable shot-stopper at Championship level, froze on his big opportunity in Rustenburg during the ill-fated world cup campaign, while John Ruddy can only be judged against a single season of solid, if unspectacular performances in the top-flight.

Let’s be clear, I’m not trying to make the case for the selection of any other keepers. In fact, I cannot put forward a compelling argument that says Hodgson should have done things any differently. Certainly, one could lobby for the inclusion of Ben Foster had the West Brom stopper not revealed that he does not plan to end a self-imposed exile from international football any time soon. The same applies to Paul Robinson of recently-relegated Blackburn Rovers. Scott Carson, meanwhile, is presumably suffering from being out of sight and out of mind after jetting off to Turkey to rebuild a career blown off track by the infamous Wembley blunder against the Croatians. That only leaves the uncapped David Stockdale of all the remaining Premier League keepers realistically available for selection. Unfortunately for him, first team opportunities have been hard to come by since Mark Schwarzer’s return to fitness earlier this year.

Consequently, Hodgson has had to look to the Championship for a standby keeper and somewhat surprisingly, opted for Birmingham’s Jack Butland. The 19-year old has an impressive pedigree at youth level having represented England at all levels up to the under-21 team but has made just 24 first team appearances in two loan spells at League Two side, Cheltenham Town. All credit to the England boss though, he’s demonstrated that he’s willing to look at the younger players on offer and should one of Hart, Green or Ruddy succumb to injury then tournament experience will be invaluable to Butland’s development as a player. However, none of this detracts from the fact that Hart aside, there just aren’t any top class goalkeepers to choose from nowadays. For me, it is sad that a country once famous for producing the likes of Banks, Shilton, Clemence and Seaman now finds itself in this position.

Is this a damning indictment of the Premier League era where foreign imports increasingly find themselves afforded valuable experience at the expense of homegrown talents? Probably, although when the so-called “golden generation” are collectively cast aside, (as they should have been this time round), we have a potentially solid spine in Phil Jones, Jack Rodwell, Daniel Sturridge, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and both Jack Wilshire and Chris Smalling, when fit. Throw Kyle Walker, Josh McEachran, Tom Cleverley and maybe even Connor Wickham into the mix and there are signs for optimism, but only if this young team is left to grow and build a long-lasting understanding with one another. This is the approach successfully adopted by the German team which won many admirers en route to the Semi-Finals of the 2010 World Cup and are much-fancied as champions of this year’s European Championships. Will Hodgson attempt to build a dynasty in this way? Only time will tell.

Irthlingborough Weirdo Watch

Irthlingborough, for those not in the know, is a small town situated next to the River Nene in Northamptonshire and is home to a population of just over 6,000 people. According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, Irthlingborough is the smallest town in England to have possessed a team that has competed in The Football League. Although diminutive in nature, the town recently entered the Guinness Book of Records for having the highest concentration of people with a limp in a single location on planet earth. A perfectly-timed glance out of my office window yielded an example of this phenomenon and with a perfunctory adjustment of my webcam, I was able to obtain video evidence. However, due to the fact that everybody is seemingly offended by everything nowadays, I have had to remove the the video in question.

In addition to housing a vast number of inhabitants who, for whatever reason, cannot walk with normal, coordinated gait, Irthlingborough accommodates an utterly bizarre collection of individuals that make the fictitious town of Royston Vasey seem positively normal. Although I have worked here for nigh on a year now, I have inexplicably failed to document any of my numerous encounters with these strange beings. In an effort to rectify this situation, I took a stroll during my lunch break today in the hope of observing some fresh, classic oddness. I wasn’t disappointed.

Upon leaving the office, I was soon struck by the unmistakably pungent aroma of cannabis. Seeking out the origin of this smell, my gaze was drawn immediately to the huge frame of the nearby café owner perched on a small step, her sausage-like fingers clasped around a humongous spliff. I moved swiftly on, resisting the temptation to combine the purchase of a lottery ticket with a haircut from “Toni’s Newsagents & Gentlemen’s Hairdresser” and headed to Tesco. It was here that I had the good fortune to witness a woman wearing a leather waistcoat adorned with a collection of badges (one of which bore the words “fuck you” above a drawing of a fist with its middle finger pointing northwards) clatter into an unsuspecting youngster. Luckily for the victim, a fresh trolley of Hovis wheeled past at precisely the right moment, cushioning his fall and preventing a potentially catastrophic accident. After issuing an admittedly heartfelt apology where the woman (who, incidentally, runs a pub furnished with a coffin, weapons and a stuffed dog) admitted to having had a rather clumsy day, I darted past before she had a chance to sink her flailing elbows into my stomach.

On to Nene Park, now home to newly-relegated Blue Square Bet North side, Kettering Town. To be honest, I hadn’t expected to see any degenerates in the vicinity of the stadium; I was merely here due to a strange fascination that such a grandiose structure should now find itself hosting matches played by such a staggeringly incompetent team. Right on cue, three gentlemen each possessing the poise of a newly-born foal – presumably after imbibing a copious amount of Carlsberg Special Brew earlier that morning in accordance with local custom – staggered past, swearing profusely. At this moment, I stopped for a second, silently musing as to whether the illiterate authors of the sign in an adjacent window had observed the three men who were, quite frankly, absolutely shit-faced. Then it occurred to me – they, themselves were most probably the architects of this grammatical monstrosity.

Sadly, this happened to represent the last of the day’s encounters with absolute fruitcakes. There was no old man wearing an animal beany hat complete with eyes and ears, and no Homer Simpson-esque nutcase chasing a ferret down the high street. Even more disappointing was that the woman who often appears at the window opposite my office, chose not to open her curtains with her breasts exposed today.

In summary, I’m left wondering whether the existence of radon gas, which permeates hundreds of homes throughout Northamptonshire, has had a lasting effect on the county’s inhabitants. It’s safe to say that Irthlingborough, like nearby Wellingborough where I have previously worked, has a population of weirdos that far exceeds the national average.