What I'd like for Christmas is for my two front teams to do well, by which I mean Scotland and Wales. By now, you'll know if either or neither will be going to Portugal along with England for Euro 2004. There is a large expat Brit community in Portugal who would cheer each side along. Oh, I do hope it happens for at least one of them.
Scotland and Wales were excellent in the first legs, but, of course, the lesser-fancied teams have a chance in a one-off game. Over two games, class comes through. Both Russia and Holland are miles ahead of Wales and Scotland in world ranking.
In the first leg, I was so tense, so worried, closing my eyes whenever Russia or Holland got into the penalty area, expecting an awful mistake. I was knackered at the end, which is stupid. I am carrying enough emotional burdens in my life. Have you seen where Carlisle United are at present? Even with three wins on the trot, which would be a miracle, they will still be bottom of the bottom league.
In the rugby, I obviously wanted England to beat France, but I wasn't nervous, stressed, hardly bothered really. England played like Germany used to play football - fit, functional, disciplined, not missing penalties. In the final against Oz, I'll be cheering them on, but I won't get upset, either way. Just shows that patriotism doesn't really cross sporting barriers. I save my headaches and heartaches for footer.
In the Scottish game, at Hampden, the home crowd wasted a lot of energy booing the Dutch, something the Turks do, hysterically, at every home game against an English team. It always strikes me as pointless. Being booed by a foreign crowd serves to buck up a player, make him feel he's winning, or at least seen as a threat. Being booed by your home crowd, that has an effect, ruining a player's confidence for ever. It doesn't help, making the player play worse. But then a crowd has paid its money. It can boo if it wants to. Eventually the object of the boos will get the boot. Nasty, but effective.
Wales with their 0-0 away draw would appear to have the better chance of going through. Which would be nice. I like the way Mark Hughes has conducted himself. On the pitch, as a player, he put himself about, as they say, made his presence felt, as they also say, both of which mean he was a bit of a thug. As a manager, he has turned out a perfect gent, quiet, sensible, so loyal to Wales that he has turned down much better-paid club jobs. It would be good for football, worldwide, if a country of only three million could knock out a country of 147 million.
It was significant that the Russian fans, in their home tie, were leaving five minutes before the end. But it gave us all a chance to admire Moscow's Locomotiv Stadium, modern and well designed with flash executive boxes, a sure sign of Russia's economic prosperity. It's not stuff in the shops which tells you how well a country is doing, but flash gits in hospitality suites. I also noticed how many Russian players were wearing gloves, yet they must be used to the cold, but not one Welsh player. I always take that as a clue to inner resolve.
It made me wonder again why Roman Abramovich didn't pour his billions into one of his homeland clubs, when clearly things have improved so much. But I am watching Chelsea very carefully - with total, unalloyed pleasure. No head-clutching, palpitations, moaning and groaning in the penalty box.
I watch Chelsea and I think hmm, don't like the idea of an outsider coming in and buying success in football, using power and wealth to bulldoze his way to the top, like a Murdoch or a Microsoft, thereby ruining the very essence of sporting competition. Then I give another hmm and think, well, I wouldn't be upset if Chelsea did good, because of the effect on Man United and Arsenal. Better a three-horse than a two-horse race.
So, while watching Scotland and Wales this past week has been sheer hell, watching Chelsea is pure fun. For the simple reason that I don't give a bugger about them.