Adam Bird


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Sunday, 24 November 2013

An International Debut

England vs Chile

The first England International I watched in the flesh was against Chile, way back on 11th February 1998 - I remember it for all the wrong reasons. Not the fact that a certain Michael Owen made his England debut or that Marcelo Salas and his Chilean compatriots showed England a footballing masterclass. But because of the pre-match warm-up; being served at 17 years old and ‘aving it large with the England ‘massive’, singing ‘no surrender’ stood upon a bar stool because everyone else was and because it seemed the cool thing to do at the time. How times change.

Over the past few months Oliver has been getting into his football. He has been learning the rules and feeling the raw emotion of the beautiful game. A season ticket at the Gills has helped (strangely enough), but so has Sky and the often daily diet of Premier League or La Liga. He has also started to play too, joining a team on Saturday mornings for training and will make his league debut once his registration with the FA is complete. He’s been trying to emulate Wayne Rooney who is his favourite player, don’t know where that came from but it’s something to do with his obsession for England and the national team. “When are England and Wayne Rooney playing again Daddy?”

As luck would have it England qualified for the World Cup after beating Poland and so hastily arranged a couple of friendlies in place of the play-offs which were cautiously pencilled in. One against our old enemies Germany and the other against Chile. I wanted to take him to the Germany game - thought that the atmosphere would be better, but it fell on a Tuesday and not getting home until nearly midnight isn’t a great when you’ve school the next morning. So I got tickets for Chile instead. Olivers first England International would be against the same opposition as me, strangely coincidental, but that wasn’t the last coincidence of all.

My nephew Joshua came with us, it was his thirteenth birthday and he is massively into his football as well. He’d been to Wembley to watch Team GB during the Olympics, so he knew what to expect, Oliver didn’t. Oliver has been to two football grounds with me, Cresty Road and Priestfield. Neither hold more than 11,000 people, Wembley holds nine times more than that. It’s nine times bigger, nice times higher, quite a difference. Wembley is also nothing like it was back in 1998, with rivers of piss running around the crumbling concourse, wooden seats and sight-lines that made any enjoyment of the game a bit of lottery. Gone are the iconic Twin Towers, crumbled into fine dust and recycled as foundation material for the monolithic structure that now sits in it’s place. A shiny triumphant arch dominates instead. Whether it is better, or whether its as iconic only time will tell. But for the younger generation, the Joshuas and Olivers of the world they know no different, there simply is no argument.

The arch at night is lit up like a homing beacon and stands triumphantly for all to see. This is Wembley 2.0 and the first thing we saw from the window of the tube and offered the first signs of excitement from Oliver and the first visual clue from his that something was a little different to what he’s normally used to. From the tube station, down the steps onto Wembley Way the stadium stood ahead, Oliver looking tiny and insignificant amongst the throngs of people. It was far from being a sell out, but it was still the biggest crowd he’d ever been part of.

Joshua had been given some money for treats. He wanted to stop at the merchandise hut and buy a memento of his visit. Oliver decided that he did too. Joshua wanted a half-and-half scarf with the match date and opposition so that he could pin it up at home in his bedroom. Oliver wanted a foam finger. I tried to persuade him otherwise, it didn’t quite work.

So off we went, three of us became four with our new foamy appendage. Into the bowels of the stadium and upward into the God’s via escalator after escalator. One thing with Wembley 2.0, it comes at a price, extortionate food prices to pay for the shiny new seats and brains of engineering behind the arch. What should be a three pound hotdog costs six pounds fifty, times that by three and you’re looking at ever lighter pockets for not much reward.

The best thing about visiting any new ground, is seeing the pitch for the very first time. It doesn’t matter whether its Boundary Park or the Bernabeu, walking out from the concourse seeing the lush green of the pitch and the surrounding structure is different wherever you go, but invokes the same feeling of discovery. For Oliver it invoked a feeling of awe, a wide eyed look of surprise that unsettled him briefly as he tried to take in his surroundings and find something familiar to hold onto. I asked him if he liked it, he nodded. I asked him what was wrong and he shook his head but he didn’t say a word. Once we had found our seats, sat down and positioned the foam finger somewhere different from out of the side of my head he finally worked out what he wanted to say “But it’s just so big Daddy!”

Unfortunately that was as good as it got. The match, just like fifteen years earlier was pretty unforgettable. After a promising start and a few half-chances from England Chile went up the other end and scored from their first opportunity. Last time around Marcelo Salas scored a brace to see off England two goals to ni.l Alexis Sanchez repeated the feat to complete a hat-trick of coincidences and left England fans feeling rather dejected after the highs of qualifying for the World Cup only one month earlier.

Oliver spent ten minutes in each half watching the game on the big screens at either end of the pitch as opposed to the action on it. It was all a big adventure with new and unseen things for him. A small taste of the big time after being genetically punished into the harsh and unforgiving world of Gillingham Football Club super fandom. He said to Stephanie when we had got home and whilst I was out the room that he preferred watching football higher up, that he didn’t want to say in front of Daddy as it might hurt his feelings. Which it didn’t, not at all. Oliver may well be learning all the rules and taking the most from his lessons, but It takes a lot to hurt a Gillingham fans feelings, and that’s one lesson I’m hoping he doesn’t learn for while.

For the Record

Oliver's first England match

Date: 11th November 2013

Against: Chile, International Friendly

England lineup: 1 Fraser Forster, 2 Glen Johnson, 3 Leighton Baines, 4 James Milner (21 Jermain Defoe)'66, 5 Gary Cahill, 6 Phil Jones (12 Chris Smalling)'57, 7 Jack Wilshere (18 Tom Cleverley)'71, 8 Frank Lampard(C) (19 Jordan Henderson)'71, 9 Adam Lallana (17 Ross Barkley)'77), 10 Wayne Rooney, 11 Jay Rodriguez (20 Andros Townsend)'57. Subs not used: 13 John Ruddy, 14 Ashley Cole, 15 Kieran Gibbs, 16 Phil Jagielka, 22 Joe Hart.

Chile: 1 Claudio Bravo(C), 2 Eugenio Mena, 3 Marcos Gonzalez, 4 Mauricio Isla (18 Gonzalo Jara)'60, 7 Alexis Sanchez, 11 Eduardo Vargas (16 Carlos Munoz)'71, 14 Matias Fernandez (6 Carlos Carmona)'46, 15 Jean Beausejour (22 Jose Pedro Fuenzalida)'82, 17 Gary Medel, 20 Charles Aranguiz (9 Felipe Gutierrez)'46, 21 Marcelo Diaz, Subs not used: 5 Francisco Silva, 10 Jorge Valdivia, 12 Cristopher Toselli, 13 Jose Rojas, 19 Junior Fernandes, 23 Johnny Herrera.

Result: 0-2

Attendance: 62,953
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