Sunday, 25 November 2007

The New Era

Two hours and 25 minutes? That’s barely enough time to read some of the papers and start writing something worthwhile.

Oh the joys of travelling between Paris and London. It was my first journey on the Eurostar since the London terminal was shunted up to St Pancras International on November 14.

Thanks to the debilitating virus which rendered me less than vigorous for a couple of weeks, one of the biggest transformations in British communications has passed me by.

But I've lived the change. I looked out of the train window and saw the darkness of the Channel tunnel. So not much change there.

The Frequent Traveller Lounge in Paris wasn’t at all like I remembered it before my illness.

There were Sunday papers. So I got a hold of the Sunday Times. Needless to say there were articles about England’s midweek loss to Croatia.

The debacle has quite rightly been weighing on the brightest brains in English sports journalism.

What’s been exercising my mind since the defeat has been just how long my boy is going to be affected by the gastro going round his crèche.

At about 3.15am on Thursday morning he woke up and started coughing. It progressed as smoothly as the passing in the Croatian midfield into regurgitating the previous night’s supper.

I wondered if he’d somehow witnessed England’s abject performance at Wembley and was giving his response.

But no this was an intermittent tummy bug.

On Thursday night his rejection of the evening’s supper arrived at 11.15pm — a much more convenient time for parents.

He and bits of his cot were mopped up and he was back in bed and sleeping before you could say: “Don’t back off the Croatian midfielder….. he’s going to shoot from 25 yards."

On Friday morning I fed him his Cornflakes and did my impression of the England defence.

Nothing shot out so he was taken along to the crèche. Since then he’s been fine. It’s been my turn for affliction.

I played football on Saturday morning for the first time in about three weeks. I only had about 30 minutes in me but because we only had 11 players I realised I had to prepare myself for 90 minutes.

My mistake was to go to my usual slot in right midfield. You need legs for that and 40 minutes in they’d gone.

I went up front. I truly love it up front. Especially the dream state it allows me to enter. Once embedded I can continue my delusion of running angles à la Hernán Crespo. Sure enough we went in at half time 2-1 up. I did not score but I truly believe it was my sly canter which pulled the defender out of position and gave the skipper the chance to shoot and score.

As I was eased through the lush Kent countryside on what has now been dubbed High Speed 1 — or HS1 as the Euro initiated call it — I still felt that my header against the crossbar when we were 2-1 up was pivotal.

If it had gone in, I don’t think they would have come back. As it was 15 minutes later they were 3-2 up. It came back to 3-3 and in a diabolical decision I was deemed to have fouled the goalkeeper in the prelude to one of our team scoring a fourth.

I still maintain that the goalkeeper got to a 50-50 ball cleared it poorly and then hit me.

But the ref didn’t see it that way. In fact the ref didn’t see a blatant foul on one of our players before the other side scored their third goal.

What fascinated me was the amount of kicks the other side dished out and how all these middle aged blokes, many of whom probably spend a good part of their week behind a desk, went about the pitch proclaiming that football is a physical game.

You take a look at some of them and think: You may well be right and what about your physique?

As for my own, I went into the match worrying about my left hamstring. I was pleased to emerge with said hamstring alive and twanging concordantly.

It’s my right calf that’s not so clever. I think I was kicked there as I was shielding the ball to bring a teammate into play.

Or is this my way of saying I overdid it?

I must say out of the window it looked all very industrial wasteland. They're lucky the train is going at more than 180mph you don't want to feast your eyes on this strip of urban disintegration. At least the apocalyptic vista is soon replaced by a tunnel which is far beneath north-east London.

When I was a reporter at the Guardian I once went down the sewers in north-east London. Can’t remember what the story was about. I’ll have to fish it out of my cuttings book.

Maybe the boss on the newsdesk didn’t like me and hoped I’d get lost down there. Strangely enough I came back.

And like a woft from the fetid waterways so have Croatia.

England have been drawn in the same qualifying group as them for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

What are the chances of that happening?

Probably astronomical.

The cost of doing up St Pancras International was high too and I’m not overly impressed. Maybe it had something to do with my dodgy calf and having to walk from carriage 14 all the way to the exit which seemed like it was mile away. From now on I shall book tickets in the first five carriages on the way to London.

There also seemed to be another 300 miles to negotiate to reach the streets.

And Euston Road doesn’t quite have the same allure as the National Film Theatre, the Hayward Gallery and the view onto the north bank of the river Thames.

Oh I’m being nostalgic perhaps. No I think I'm being logical.

Begone thoughts of yesteryear. I must acquaint myself with change. A bit like the average French train driver and his pension plan.

I’ve been invited onto a Guardian podcast on Monday to talk about the strikes in Paris. I have said as long as I can make a blatant plug for what I’ve been writing about in the blog.

It mustn’t be too political, I’ve been told. Me political? Not likely. If there’s a chance of self-promotion, just lead me to the bland lands.

Maybe I’ll meet some of England’s footballers there.