There was an old manager who used to say to me as a joke, ‘Everything in our favour is against us.’ The point being that just when you think things are starting to go well and you are on a high, bad luck surfaces and brings you down again.
The England vs Scotland game the other day was a match that had most of the UK and a good deal of the rest of the continent’s football lovers salivating beforehand. In Scotland it was being looked forward to more than a combined Christmas and birthday celebration for a five-year-old with materialism issues.
Chelsea fans would have a treat too. With Reece James and Mason Mount facing up to Billy Gilmour, who would walk off smiling most? There is little doubt that it was the debutant Scotsman who had a terrific game and was rightly named as ‘star’ (I suspect that meant ‘man’) of the match. In last week’s column after saying how disappointed I was that Billy hadn’t started for the Scots in their first game against the Czech Republic, I mused that this time ‘there is certainly a decent chance that Mason Mount will look up and see Billy Gilmour in his face and that alone would that be a great thing for Chelsea fans to watch’.
Well Billy certainly was in Mason’s face and everyone else’s for that matter. For Chelsea fans it was an eye opener, which told us for sure that next season Billy will be up there pushing all our stellar midfielders for a first team start every week.
The problem for Scotland is that it has now been announced Billy has tested positive for Covid-19. Mason and Ben Chilwell are sadly being assessed too. That was the bad luck I was mentioning before, which is a serious blow for Scotland and for Billy too obviously, as well as a difficulty for England and their two Chelsea boys.
Billy is asymptomatic, so hopefully he makes a quick and full recovery. We know that although this disease is usually less harsh on the young and fit, some players have been badly affected including our own Kai Havertz.
If there is an argument that Billy was going to be one of the breakthrough stars of the tournament, there is at least as big a shout for Havertz having an even bigger impact. In the Germans’ second game against the much-fancied Portuguese, he was immense. His arriving in the box was timed to perfection time and again. His confidence alongside his renewed power, allied with that stunning ability, could help drive his entire nation to glory.
To be fair, it would be remiss to ignore the impact of Toni Rudiger too. There are still people, usually pundits, who are unaware of his true qualities as a defender, but the man who was on a mission in Porto seems to have been given strict orders to carry on the same mission for this competition.
It is an intriguing thought. Who are the most likely players to turn up at Cobham for pre-season training with not only with a Champions League medal round their necks, but also a Euros winners’ medal?
We are represented in all the top teams. Right now Emerson and Jorginho must be feeling very confident. The Azzurri having caught the eye maybe more than anyone else in the first games of the three-match group stage. It is a marathon not a sprint, well okay it is a 1500 metres not a sprint, if a full league campaign is considered a marathon. Roberto Mancini’s men are looking as sharp and stylish as anyone, and that’s not just with the clothes they wear.
The French surprised us by their second outing being a bit subdued but just like England, they have had a steady start in terms of points, so there is no need to panic yet. Not that N’Golo Kante, Olivier Giroud or Kurt Zouma look likely to panic any time soon.
Flying along pretty low under the radar right now is Michy Batshuayi who might not get many games for Belgium, but has as good a chance as any of getting a gold medal at the end of the tournament. Then again, he wasn’t in Porto with us, so gloating would have to be kept at a minimum if he is back at Cobham.
It has to be said it was always going to be an odd tournament, given that it is so spread out around the continent. When you add Covid into the mix, it is hard to see any cities that have been overcome by Euro football fever. I am not convinced this was a great idea in the first place, but in these times, it is almost the worst of all possible worlds in terms of safety and even just atmosphere.
Still there have been a few moving moments with the fans, from the Danes and the Finns calling for Christian Eriksen, to the manic mayhem in the Ferenc Puskas stadium over in Budapest. Scotland fans also did their very best to make the pilgrimage to Wembley just like the old days, with kilts and bagpipes aplenty peppering London for a few days.
It all just gives us a taste of what’s to come in the future when normality eventually returns. The joyous feel of just any old game of football in a full house of fans will be something to savour like never before for the real fans.
Having said that, I had real fan concern at the England vs Scotland game if my own country did score. My position was as a pitchside reporter, behind the goal. That was all very nice apart from the perpetual rain, but there was another more serious problem. I was right in front of the England fans!
Had Billy Gilmour scored to put Scotland ahead, I wonder if I could have contained my excitement? We will never know, but for my own safety (from abuse at the very least) I was probably lucky that it ended 0-0. Then again, I still feel as though I should cheer whatever Chelsea player scores, no matter which country he is representing. In all honesty though, maybe I could have held in the celebrations had it been Mason or Reece who scored against Scotland.