Lockdown may have eased somewhat … for now, but that doesn’t mean everybody’s stopped organising tedious, bad-tempered family Zoom get-togethers. It being an international week, The Fiver summoned several far-flung relatives on its laptop screen to gauge the mood and it’s fair to say that, north of the border, it was not particularly good.
Unable to locate the unmute button, our bagpipe-playing, deep-fried Mars bar-eating, tam o’shanter-wearing Scottish cousin Shortbread McFiver was forced to make his feelings clear through the medium of interpretive dance, a soft-shoe shuffle that involved him getting his purple-faced radge on and violently hurling anything to hand at the nearest wall. Roaring a string of silent obscenities before opening a bottle of Fist Fight single malt and slamming his McMacBook shut, we think he’d just discovered Stuart Armstrong has been ruled out of Scotland’s Euro 2020(ish) play-off semi-final against Israel with Covid-19. As a direct consequence, his teammates Kieran Tierney and Ryan Christie will also miss the game, having been forced into isolation by the government’s outrageously biased anti-fitba track-and-trace app.
Meanwhile in the bottom left corner of our screen, the twitching snout of the pig under the arm of our Riverdancing, knobbly stick-waving Irish cousin Theme Pub O’Fiver was all we could see, as its owner talked up the Republic O’Ireland’s chances of beating a similarly depleted Slovakia under the watchful eye of new manager Stephen Kenny. “We are not setting up to contain and hope we score through a set-play or a break,” he tooted, parroting Kenny’s announcement at his pre-match press conference. “We will play our own game. We have good players also and we must not underestimate ourselves.”
In the Zoom box just above Theme Pub’s, one separated by a clearly defined border, our Lambeg drum-beating, bonfire-lighting Norn Irish cousin No! No! No! No! No! We Want To Walk Down That Road Fiver was also on tenterhooks, complaining that his beloved team must beat two countries to set up a decider against their more southerly cousins. While a recent Nations League tonking at the hands of Norway mean the omens aren’t great, Norn Iron can at least welcome back defenders Jonny Evans and Jamal Lewis, and hope Leeds full-back Stuart Dallas can help sprinkle some Marcelo Bielsa stardust on the side.
And finally, unwilling to join our Zoom call because their national teams failed to qualify for the play-offs by dint of being far too good, The Fiver’s stereotypical Welsh and English cousins Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Fiver and $exually Repressed Morris Dancing Fiver elected instead to make their own fun, much like their teams will do at an otherwise deserted Wembley in arguably the most pointless friendly international of all time. In a bid to spice things up a bit, Gareth Southgate has promised to give Jack Grealish his first start. As fans of his work, the extended Fiver family – Theme Pub excluded – would like to wish the Aston Villa captain the very best of British but not Irish luck.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“It’s definitely a learning curve for me and the lads” – Adrian ‘Aidy’ Boothroyd, in charge of the England U-21s since 2016, reflects on their 3-3 draw against the mighty Andorra.
Apparently there are now players who were born in 2003! Feel great about yourself and what you’ve achieved in life by perusing Next Generation 2020: 60 of the best young talents in world football.
Get your ears around the latest Football Weekly Extra podcast.
“Re: Eidur Gudjohnsen’s hypothetical appearance on The One Show (yesterday’s Fiver). He could head to Japan and visit some hot springs. It would be Eidur Gudjohnsen’s Guide to Good Onsen” – Josh Lustig.
“In response to James Ring and ‘worst comes to worst’ (yesterday’s Fiver letters), the idiom in question first appeared in print in Have with You to Saffron-Walden (Thomas Nashe, 1596). In contrasting drowning with being burned to death, Nashe observes that ‘if the worst come to the worst, a good swimmer may do much, whereas fire rapit omnia secum, sweepeth clean where it seizeth’. He is apparently referring to a situation in which the worst possibility becomes the worst reality. I know how he feels” – Paj Fuwen.
“Re: Shane Hart’s concerns regarding John Robertson’s ‘no disrespect to the cattle’ offence avoidance (yesterday’s letters). Is Shane suggesting we develop herd immunity to political correctness?” – Garren Mulloy.
“Very decent of Mesut Özil to support Gunnersaurus (Fiver passim), but could there be a strategic angle to this? Perhaps Özil is eyeing up a management gig, and by splurging unnecessary cash on a good-looking dinosaur who is a surefire fan pleaser and shirt-seller, but is really more benchwarmer than game-changer, how better could he apply for the upcoming Manchester United job?” – Robin Hazlehurst.
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our letter o’the day is … Robin Hazlehurst, who wins a copy of Football’s Black Pioneers: the Stories of the First Black Players to Represent the 92 League Clubs [postage available to UK only, sorry – Fiver Postal Ed].
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Former coach and serial paedophile Barry Bennell has been sentenced to his fifth jail term – four years imprisonment for nine sexual offences against two boys.
Two-thirds of women working in the game have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace, according to Women in Football’s biggest survey. “In this day and age, it’s no longer acceptable,” said Ebru Köksal, the organisation’s chair.
The Netherlands era under Frank de Boer (“the worst manager in Premier League history”) is up and running with a 1-0 home defeat to Mexico. “Of course I have a bad feeling,” he lamented. “I always want to win, but we have made certain choices, which I think are logical.”
Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo have been omitted from Manchester United’s Big Cup squad, while PR’s Mesut Özil isn’t in Arsenal’s for Big Vase. Which is “ironic”, given Jones was awarded a new four-year deal at United, thought to to be worth £75,000 a week, in February 2019; Rojo was awarded a new four-year deal at United, in the region of £85,000 a week, in March 2019; and Özil was awarded a new three-year deal at Arsenal, understood to be worth £350,000 a week, in January 2018.
West Ham fancy themselves a piece of Josh King, but are unwilling to meet Bournemouth’s £17.5m valuation.
And Memphis Depay has been musing on Barcelona’s failure to buy him from Lyon. “There were certain rules that prevented it unfortunately,” he rapped. Such as Barcelona preferring to spend their limited exchequer on different players, for example.
STILL WANT MORE?
Oli McBurnie tells Ewan Murray that, though he was not born in Scotland, he feels Scottish in his head and his heart.
Jonathan Liew on the puzzle facing Gareth Southgate.
The rise of Swansea City’s Joe Rodon. By Ben Fisher.
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