I don’t know how everyone else copes with these international breaks, but I find, personally, that all those consecutive days of fruitlessly combing the press and social media for stuff about football that’s actually interesting end up being quite a strain, all in all.
For me, the rock-bottom moment arrived yesterday when the pressure of staring constantly into the void became so great that I began hallucinating and started seeing pictures of Kim Jong Un, the president of North Korea, riding a giant white horse through snow.
Wait – those were actual news pictures? Wow. But anyway, you get the point.
Still, this latest period of downtime has had its positives. It has given me, for instance, some space in which to start reading ‘Stamford Bridge is Falling Down,’ Tim Rolls’ excellent and highly detailed account of that painful yet strangely gripping period in our history when the club went from star-studded holders of a European title to controversy-riven second-tier outfit on the brink of bankruptcy in just four seasons. Chilling and timely reminders here of how quickly empires crumble, especially if those empires sell Keith Weller for no clear reason that anyone can think of.
The absence of football, and the subsequent news black-out, meant I also had more time than I might have done to celebrate the arrival of a letter from Hammersmith & Fulham council announcing the success of my appeal against the parking ticket that I accidentally picked up during the game at home to Brighton. Some people calculate that you’ve got a greater chance of coming out on top in a EuroMillions lottery than you have of getting a penalty charge cancelled by Hammersmith & Fulham, and, until this week, I was probably among them. Not any more, though. There were tears of disbelief when that letter dropped. Sometimes the gods can be truly tender and bountiful. Even in an international week.
What with reading Tim Rolls’ book and celebrating written-off parking tickets, I didn’t quite find time to watch Bulgaria vs England on Monday night, but I did catch quite a lot of England’s game against the Czech Republic last Friday. And I suppose there was something quietly gratifying about seeing a couple of Chelsea’s gilded Academy graduates applying themselves to the task at international level. If there must be national service (and, at least in football, it seems as though there must), then I guess it’s both humbling and inspiring to see members of our community stepping up and uncomplainingly doing their duty at the frontline.
I have to admit, though, I had mixed feelings on the night about watching Mason Mount obliged to slum it with all those underperforming Tottenham players. To me, it felt a bit like getting Prince to sit in with a pub jug band. I mean, you go to all this trouble to raise top-class talents, carefully nurturing and protecting them along the way, and being very choosy about where and when you expose them, and then… well, you just had to hope that no bad habits rubbed off.
Anyway, both Mount and Tammy Abraham, who came on late as a substitute in that first match, managed the step-down in level with good grace, I thought. Respect, too, to Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has seen action in the senior England squad before now but, on his return from injury, was conscripted into the U21 squad for the game against Austria on Tuesday night and unquestioningly responded by turning in a man-of-the-match performance and scoring two goals. Other players might have sulked. But other players are not Callum Hudson-Odoi. Again, a shining example to us all about the virtue of rolling up your sleeves and getting on with the job, however tiresome and unnecessary and distracting from the day job it may seem.
Meanwhile Guinness World Records have just announced that they are dishing out a certificate and a place in their famous book to Trent Alexander-Arnold. I’ve got to admit, the nostalgist in me became quite excited when I saw the headline on this story, wondering which of the exalted Guinness World Record categories the plucky young Liverpool full-back had devoted himself to cracking. Longest time spent standing on one leg? Furthest distance that anyone has propelled a pickled onion using only their nose?
So it was a touch disappointing to learn that, in fact, Alexander-Arnold has received this gilded accolade for ‘most English Premier League assists by a defender in a single season’. (Twelve in 2018/19, in case you were wondering.) Now, if he had tucked an unprecedentedly spectacular number of hot dogs away in a five-minute period, I probably would have been out of my chair a bit faster to join in the applause. But in the context of the exotic carnival which is the Guinness World Records annual… well, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, that’s a bit humdrum, isn’t it?
Certainly I don’t remember Guinness making a fuss of Andy Hinchcliffe when he set the previous defenders’ record of 11 assists for Everton in the 1994/95 season. Indeed, as I recall, the word ‘assist’ was still just a humble verb in those days and nobody was really counting all that carefully, and certainly not the Guinness people.
Also, is there not a conflict between the phrase ‘World Record’ and the term ‘English’ in Alexander-Arnold’s citation? Aren’t we talking about something a little narrower than a World Record in this case – about something specifically and limitedly English in fact?
Ah well. No doubt the people behind the scenes at Guinness know what they’re doing. And even if they don’t, come Saturday there’ll be other things to talk about. Finally.