Wales v England Football in the 2015-16 European Championships finals in France. Dragons against Lions, as one primary school pre-teen described it. I can’t remember their last competitive game. I was much younger then, although not pre-teen
The Pool stages involve groups of four. The first two in each Pool will float out to the shores of the knockout stage, together with a few of the third-placed teams. England and Wales are competing with Russia and Slovakia in Pool B.
In the first round of matches, last weekend, England demonstrated their skills, threatening to overwhelm Russia with speedy attacks. But the skills were not matched with accurate finishing. Pundits in the studio called for another set of strikers off the bench. Roy Hodgson, the England manager responded. England scored. Time was running out for the team and Hodgson, and more replacements arrived. Now the changes were defensive. England loses the initiative and Russia grabs a late goal and a draw. Much frustration and noise of dashed expectations.
In a somewhat mirror-image performance, Wales scored first against Slovakia, a brilliant free-kick from Bale. Then Wales defended, and like England, conceded a goal. Unlike England, Wales stumbled in a winning goal. After that first round of matches, Wales heads group B, and a draw against England would give them every chance of progressing. England would need a win against Slovakia in their third and final Pool game to qualify and would be under enormous pressure.
Today England has to play an attacking game against Wales. All this is argued over in a multitude of broadcasts, pubs and print media. There is also off-field drama. English and Russian fans are competing for Louts of the tournament, are under notice of exclusion if their violent and drunken behaviours continue.
Man for man, England’s squad outguns that of Wales. The mind-games start before the match as Gareth Bale, the only only superstar among the Welsh, says there is no player in the English squad who would get into the welsh team. This is at least in part a bit ironic. As this is a rare commodity in the football world, it provokes non-ironic responses.
The day of the match arrives. I am at home. Alone. Thursday June 16. Kick off is 2pm British Summer Time.
I am ready. But there is a problem. However often I compute, I know I have to leave downtown Woodford to drive the mile or so to nearby Bramhall, before the match ends. The latest I will be able to leave, is when the match will still have a few minutes at least to run.
Outside, the sky darkens, and there is the loud crack of thunder. A storm is approaching from the North West. Inside, the TV screen blanks out momentarily, confirming the approaching storm.
The match starts
The match starts. England attacks menacingly. But the strikers who misfired against Russia are misfiring again against Wales. I make myself another cup of boiled teabags to replace the now cold one in front of me.
Another crash of thunder, but still no rain. Then a free kick for Wales, too far out to trouble Hart in the England goal. Bale, ignoring statistics, steps up. There is jagged slash of lightening, closely followed by a mega-explosion of thunder. Is it putting Bale off? No, it’s a gale warning which gave the keeper a hart attack. (Sorry, the tension has interfered with my pun regulatory mechanism).
Bale’s evilly-struck thunderbolt smashed into the back of the net. Funny thing, watching alone. You don’t shriek or do a Hail Mary. The emotions are discharged as if your body is a lightening conductor. I sip the cold cup of tea bags, not the freshly made one.
I don’t remember much more, until England make changes. Now they need attackers. Another pair of top guns are whistled on. The rain is now pouring off the roof like a waterfall. The England attackers are likewise pouring through the Welsh defence.
Nearly time to leave
The time creeps closer to when I have to leave. I start mini-sorties to collect what I need, saving a minute or so last-minute viewing time. Wales players are now all closer the fans behind the goal than they are to the edge of the penalty area. Sooner or later the flood defences must break.
They did. The substitute Vardy taps the ball into the net beyond the half-drowned defence. One all. The time creeps pettily on. My calculations are right. I will not be able to watch the finish of the match.
Time to leave
I rush to the car, getting seriously drenched, checking that my oilskins are in the back. The game continues as the storm rages and the radio transmission crackles.
I approach Woodford, which is still mercifully above water. It is extra time. The storm shows no signs of abating, either in East Cheshire, or around the Welsh penalty area. But only another minute to survive.Alan Green, the BBC commentator, is in a frenzy of loathing at Hodgson’s tardiness in selecting England’s best attackers. His voice breaks in a cracking of static, then swells to a scream. Substitute Sturrage has scored.
Wales’ defences are breached. I am waterlogged. The trees around the Station car park are swaying dangerously. The strangest thing. I am sealed off from the passion and emotions of the crowd and a grieving nation.
I was soon to re-enter a world in which there was a far deeper reason for despair. I learn of the brutal and frenzied murder of MP Jo Cox, thirty miles away to the East, across the Pennines.