Date: 12th September 2008 at 3:24pm
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The price of patriotism.

It has always been obvious that patriotism never comes without a cost. Whether sitting through the Queen’s speech on Christmas day – standing if you’re Alf Garnett. Or, actually thinking a British tennis player might win Wimbledon. Or even, groaning all the way through the televote for the selection of the Eurovision Song Contest entry. Its all about suffering for the sake of the Nation – but I never ever thought my agonies in the name of patriotism, would one day actually cost me money.

I always thought the pure spirit of patriotism, had escaped the corrupting clutches of Mammon – I kind of thought that that particular temple to finer feeling, had bouncers on the door, to keep the money-changers out.

But not so: they’re now selling England by the pound.

So there I was on Saturday night, with my loins fully girded, frantically searching through every newspaper and website, looking for, at the very minimum, a highlights programme – but not a trace. I eventually found a highlight on Youtube with a German commentary – German for cris’sakes – talking about Joe Cole’s doppelpack. Anathema and blasphemy, all rolled into one.

I was devastated and I don’t think I was alone.

Its true, I never expected to enjoy the game against Andorra and, yes, I fully anticipated moaning all the way though it, but since when has patriotism been about pleasure – theirs or mine? Like the loyal readers of Hello Magazine might spend their time slagging off the nouveau riche’s weddings, and bitching how Colleen is looking a bit fat, and how that is really not her colour, us football fans want to be able to say the same about her husband, when he puts on an England shirt – a bit fat and always a bit off colour.

Thanks to Setanta, I never got the chance.

So there I was on Saturday night, looking quite pathetic, with my cross of Saint George, drawn in ketchup on my Mother’s Pride and sausage sandwich, with nothing to watch. And it got worse a few days later, when England stuffed the Croats 1-4 in Zagreb, and for once Theo Walcott looked better in an England shirt, than his girlfriend. So they say – check here: >>Click Here>>

Conspiracy! I cried.

It took me a few days to realise that it wasn’t the FA’s fault, or even the Beeb’s, and that it was entirely down to Setanta asking a squillion quid for the rights to the highlights. This was a bad decision. If they want to test the market for gullible fans who are willing to pay the going-rate to see their darlings dance amongst the digitals, complete with Max Headroom stop-go freeze-frame, that is just business but blackmailing the Nation, will just damage their brand. Surely they must realise that sport is the only way, these days, anyone can legitimately express their patriotism, without being accused of having a hard-on for Hitler.

Its what brings the nation together, even if it is usually for just a collective chorus of moans and groans. The Somme, Dunkirk and penalty shoot-outs: collective misery coalesced into fine national feeling.

Nation-builders, neglect these things at their peril.

The Croatia game was a sad miss for true football patriots, as after finding it in our big hearts to praise Croatia so resoundingly, for beating us (twice) on the way to Euro 2008, they showed themselves not quite worthy of such generosity, when fortune and English goalkeepers, do not smile upon them so warmly. And, according to the few seconds of highlights, which Setanta graciously released to the news, they didn’t quite live up to the accolade of either good losers or gentlemen, as they hacked down the fleet-footed Walcott and then sent Joe Cole from the pitch, so he could undergo a quick trepanning, to repair his caved-in cranium.

In short, it provided the rare opportunity for some totally justified self-righteous indignation; something as every bit as precious to this particular blinkered patriot, as any number of hat-tricks. And, most of us, bloody-well missed it.

All congratulations have to go to Capello and it seems a long time since England produced a similarly fine performance against Germany (2001), which proved a welcome but transient blip in the Eriksson arc. Obviously Walcott enjoyed his great moment but I couldn’t help but think of Villa’s very own Darius Vassell, who had an equally stunning introduction to the England team, in his debut against Holland and with stats to compare with anyone in his first half-dozen appearances. Twenty-odd games later, his England career ended with that penalty miss against Portugal, in the quarter-finals of Euro 2004, but let no one deny it, for a short while from 2002-3, our very own Darius was the man, as far as England were concerned. Walcott certainly had a night to remember but no one needs reminding that playing for England is a rocky road. Just ask pretty-boy Dave.

It might be pointed out, that Emile Heskey was one of the few players, in Capello’s team, who played in Sven’s legendary German rout. As a bit of a fan of the big galoot, I am sure his input was totally crucial in both and I reckon he must be as annoying to play against as some find him to watch. He’s one of those players who when he challenges an opponent, leaves bruises, and when they challenge him, he falls over.

How annoying is that?

No Villa fan needs reminding that Ivanhoe becomes a free-agent in the Summer, and that he learned his trade under Martin O’Neill at Leicester.

So we’re back to domestic matters at last and the International break is over. Hopefully, England’s resounding win will have swept away any cobwebs, which might have been clouding Gareth Barry’s thinking since his Summer of uncertainty, and he will have been freshened up, set to rights and put back on an even keel, by such a decent personal performance and brilliant result for England.

Hopefully Gareth will be back to his very best for Villa, as they travel to Spurs on Monday, for the showdown of the top-four pretenders.

It promises to be a fascinating encounter, as both clubs have spent heavily in the Summer and the world is waiting to see whether Spurs selling both their prolific strikers, in Keane and Berbatov, has damaged them beyond repair. Villa fans will be interested to see if O’Neill’s ‘improved’ team, can keep a clean sheet and still score at the other end. I’m just hoping for a better result than last year, when I seem to recall Villa imploded, from a 1-4 lead to a 4-4 draw, in that fatal last thirty minutes, which felt like a bad defeat.

But Monday is a long while to be waiting for my football fix and in the meantime, the weekend looks like a continuation of my fortnight of no-footy blues.