Boys' done good: Jack Wilshere and Frank Lampard of the England team after the Costa Rica game, 24 June. Photo: Getty
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Why we should actually be proud of England’s World Cup performance

I am honestly and truly now coming to the conclusion that England did astonishingly well. In fact, they overachieved. 

Forgotten they were there? If you popped out to put the kettle on, or went to the lavatory, or just blinked, you probably missed that England were at the World Cup. I am slowly getting over it, just as I have survived other tragedies in my life. You do. You have to. Life goes on.

The other trick is the Glad Game. Thank God our lads are back home early doors, they can have a nice quiet holiday, which they jolly well deserve, after all those exertions, and be fit and bursting to go when the Prem begins, ready to delight us once again.

There is also Defiance, that does help in trying times – maintaining it was someone else’s fault, or really it wasn’t a defeat after all, but a victory. I am honestly and truly now coming to the conclusion that England did astonishingly well. In fact, they overachieved, so we should be proud of them. This is how it works.

Last season, only 32.26 per cent of the players who turned out in the Prem were English, which everyone said was disgraceful, not fair to our lads, these foreigners, coming here, taking our Bentleys, driving our women.

One thing this World Cup has shown is just how many good players there are who have not been able to get into a top-half Premiership team, unlike our own brave lads who every week are stars of Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal and Southampton.

Yet at the World Cup we have the likes of Bryan Ruiz of Costa Rica, who got chucked out of Fulham, Leroy Fer of Holland, who has hardly made it at Norwich, Gary Medel of Cardiff City and Joel Campbell of Costa Rica, who turns out to be an Arsenal player but has been loaned out most of his young life to, oh I dunno, somewhere in Europe.

All these players have had a great World Cup, their teams so much more successful than England, yet back home, playing in our leagues, Our Brave Lads have seen them all off, kept them out of the top teams. Which proves, you must agree, that English players must be really, really good.

There are 32 top teams in the world – based on the number of countries that got to the World Cup – and England are about the 30th best, as they did get a point. Do not forget that.

The Premiership, so we are told, is the world’s best and richest league, has the pick of the top players from all over the world. You would therefore expect English players to make up only 5 per cent of the league. This will eventually happen. Perhaps if the Prem continues to get even richer, there will be no English players at all. So, having 32 per cent English in the current Prem, when there are so many better players out there, some of them languishing in our lower leagues, is a terrific achievement. So well done, England. I feel better already.

More boring footie voices

I don’t know why everyone has been rubbishing Phil Neville for his banal comments and horrible voice. When Gary Lineker started, his Leicester accent was mocked, as was Adrian Chiles’s Brummie brogue. Now that we have grown to love them both dearly, we’ve forgotten their accents. Jonathan Pearce is still my pet hate, because he’s convinced he is the cleverest, most knowledgeable, most imperious football commentator ever. Robbie Savage makes me smile, not just his hair, clothes and grammar but his determination not to be clever or astute, but to rant on like a pub bore, repeating everything: “That was a pen, definite pen. Ref, that was a pen, it was a pen . . .”

Andy Townsend has his critics but I did like him telling us that the Belgium manager is “looking at his wrist on his watch”. He clearly believes he’s incisive and analytical, that we’re all hanging on his every word, as if we can’t see the game, or the telly, and it’s his duty to tell us what is happening and to comment on it, usually by saying: “That’s betta, that is betta.”

At the start of the Costa Rica-Greece game, the ITV commentator told us that “our referee is Australian tonight”, which made me wonder what he was on other nights. Does he make out to be Scottish or Russian, depending on whether free Scotch or vodka is being served? Or dress up as Portuguese when they’re playing fado?

What he should have said was, hmm, it did take me some time to work out, “Tonight our referee is Australian.” No, that would still have had pedants picking holes. “Tonight’s referee is Australian.” That would have sorted it.

Oh, there’s lots of good fun still to be had in the World Cup, even without super, fab Ingerland.

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 02 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, After God Again

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.