For the laffs: Gazza back in 1989. Photo: Getty
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Gianluca Vialli’s wisdom, Swiss cheese hats and desperately missing Gazza

Hunter Davies’s The Fan column. 

So how did I feel after that Italy game? Disappointed? Nah, not at all. Can’t be disappointed when our expectations were so low that even white van drivers had given up flying tatty flags. In the days of the Golden Generation – what a laugh that was – we were all endlessly disappointed, conned by our own naive hopes, which, despite ourselves, were beginning to creep back upon us. Until that Italy game.

Angry? Nope. I gave up being angry about England ages ago during those endless games where they did something really stupid – gave the ball away, fell over, back-passed to the opposition, threw the ball into their own net, sent vital penalties over the grandstand. Against Italy, in fact, they didn’t make too many crass mistakes. And a lot of good it did them.

Sad, that’s all I feel, really. Sad. I look at my little pit, where I had hoped to be buried deep for the next four weeks, cheering on the lads into the semis, well, the quarters, OK surely out of the group stage, and I think oh no, there we’ve gone again.

So why did Italy win? The great Gianluca Vialli, awfully well-brought-up chap, once Chelsea manager, wrote in his 2006 book The Italian Job that Italians play with their head and the English with their heart. Which is pretty true, or used to be. More recently he went all philosophical and said the difference was down to history. The Italians have been invaded endlessly over the centuries and so developed a defensive mentality. The English for centuries have been great conquerors, used to going out and attacking, becoming gung-ho warriors. Pretty smart, but really not correct any longer. England’s strength today is in counterattacking, rather than up and at ’em.

They didn’t get stuffed by Italy, and could easily have drawn. Sterling was a delight. Sturridge did well. Rooney was poor, and it is becoming clearer all the time that no one rates him in Europe, while Wilshere is totally overrated. But apart from those two, our lads did their best.

So, what was the difference? The Italians are cleverer, both individually and as a team. We took dumb free-kicks and half-witted corners. That’s it, really. They thought about it, winning in their heads. Vialli was right.

Which leads to the question: what happened to Dr Peters, that ace psychiatrist Roy hired to sort them out? Fallen on his water bottle like Gary Lewin, the poor physio who ended up injured and has had to come home?

****

And where was Dave? Angela turned up to see Germany hammer Portugal but no sign of Cameron so far. I sense Angela really is a football fan, unlike Dave, though I will have nothing said against him. He has just sent me a signed photograph – after three requests. I now have an autograph or letter of every PM back to Walpole.

Angela Merkel looked neat in her red jacket and bobbed hair – and I realised where Joachim Löw, the German manager, got his inspiration. For years I have assumed he bought his black wig from a Beatles souvenir shop on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg – but studying Angela up close, I could see she is his model. Of course it’s a wig. No one of his age has hair that black.

The players’ hair has been a disappointment. Nothing truly stupid so far, except Raul Meireles with his monster bushy beard and Mohican. The crowd, though, has shown imagination with its silly clothes. During Switzerland-Ecuador we got a close-up of three fans wearing what looked like mortar boards with holes in. I rushed to the telly, frightening all the sheep outside the window, hoping for another close-up. When it came I realised their hats were in the shape of yellow cheese with holes in. Now is that called Emmental, or Gruyère? I missed the Swiss winning goal, trying to work it out – and also wondering why the Swiss see cheese as their national symbol when we usually think of cuckoo clocks. I suppose they are harder to make into hats.

****

“QUICK!” I shouted to my wife. “THEY’RE LINING UP.”

It’s the only bit she watches, loves to see their little faces as they sing or mouth the national anthems.

She waited a bit longer than usual, as it was England, and asked what the referee was carrying in the little canister around his waist. “Is it a gun?” No, I said, try again. “Tear gas?” No, pet, you just have one more guess. “Water?” Good try, but no goldfish.

I explained it was shaving soap, or some sort of spray-on white paint, which disappears in 30 seconds, to mark the grass where the defenders must stand at free-kicks and not move forward behind the ref’s back, which players all over the world have always done.

It must be hellish awkward carrying it, and dangerous. Presumably it is some sort of aerosol, which could easily explode in the heat. I’m waiting for the first ref to drop it – then we’ll see what happens. Probably clear the ground.

In 1995, when Gazza was playing for Glasgow Rangers, the ref dropped his cards during a match at Ibrox. Gazza picked up the yellow card and, instead of handing it back, struck a ref-like pose, holding it up in the air and booking the referee. The crowd loved it. The ref didn’t think it was funny. Gave Gazza a yellow card.

I wish Gazza was there now. Not just for his skills. With this new canister, when it gets dropped, I can just see Gazza picking it up and going round spraying lines all over the shop.

Oh, how we could do with Gazza at this sad time. We need some football brains. And some laffs . . .

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Islam tears itself apart

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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