A Game Of Two Halves
England 3-3 Germany (UEFA Nations League Group Stages)
My wife’s lads got an important FA Youth Cup game tonight and I would love to be there, but I’m fully booked for what might seem a meaningless international friendly for many, but to me, England v Germany is never meaningless.
It’s the UEFA Nations League and I really like the concept. No more San Marino, instead the best plays the best, the worst (i.e., England) get relegated and the top of the tree promoted, into the semi-finals before a single match showpiece for silverware that is other than the Euros or World Cup, much needed in the International Calendar in my opinion, the only problem is fitting it all in.
This is England’s last chance to be seen on these shores before heading to Qatar and I really want to be there to send them off, in actual fact this is my thirty-fifth (new) Wembley appearance, including my three boxing events attended, an NFL game and my one match played on the hallowed turf in 2019, but everytime I walk up Wembley Way (better known as Olympic Way to Millennials) and see that huge imposing arch, there’s a buzz inside me which keeps me wanting to comeback… This after all is the home of English football.
It’s about two hours door to door, Daz is driving for this one, in his plush maroon Range Rover and we leave Nottingham and head down the A46 after a quick pit stop at Tollerton Waitrose where he specifically requests a Cadburys fruit and nut as I purchase some overpriced mints for the journey. Onto the M1 we head down as far as it goes picking up a decent pace but for the obvious traffic at Luton and around the M25, through that, it’s plain sailing and we’re onto the North Circular after a quick piss at London Gateway before the traffic builds ahead of our search for parking around the industrial bit close to the Stadium.
I’ve done this journey many times and when driving, will always park close by as it’s much easier than they lead you to believe, it also guarantees you a quick exit back onto the Circular, you can be back on the M1 within ten minutes if you time it right when heading home (leaving shortly before the final whistle).
I tell Daz to park his car with some Albanian’s on a plot that looks like it does car washing nine til' five, we park up and the haggle starts... “How much mate? Twenty?” “Forty” is the reply with an awkward smile… “But I paid twenty last time, I’ve parked here four times and been charged four different prices? How about £30 for cash?”... Nope, “£40” is the reply… “They charge £50 or £60 the closer you get” he says… “Sod this Daz, let’s get in the car again!”
We literally get in the car to park 50 yards closer and are charged £25 by a much more pleasant and less greedy Londoner, onto the walk down Engineers Way as Daz marvels at the architecture of the recently developed apartments that hog the sky, we head for the club shop and stand in the queue with absolutely no intentions of buying anything.
I’m one of the lucky ones, a Club Wembley member I’ve seen it all before, but the entrance, next to the Royal Box doors, always feels very VIP… Walking in through the metal detectors and into the foyer where you scan your ticket on what looks like an upscale barrier from the London Underground.
Up the escalators passing the Bobby Moore Suite, the Champagne Reception area (often used to invite potential new members) before heading onto the main concourse with outlets and stalls comparable to a posh shopping centre. Daz says ‘this is how to do football’ as we get given a matchday programme featuring Bobby Moore taking the World Cup trophy from the recently deceased Queen, and walk inside the Lioness bar where we are given a band around our wrists before ordering a couple of pints.
We chat football and look at the gleaming trophies in the cabinets before heading out five minutes before the players are due, the stadium stunning as you walk through the glass doors towards the seats where we sit, in my usual spot, behind the West side goal.
The stands slowly fill as the players appear with a first ever Wembley rendition of God Save the King sung by all England players and fans before a well-respected moments silence for Queen Elizabeth II.
Then it’s game on, and a start as typical in international football as any, slow, dull, meaningless, persistent passing sideways, low press, low intensity, but for Raheem Sterling, England lack very little moving forward, their 5-3-2 formation perhaps crippling the likes of Bellingham & Foden really getting on the ball and dictating play.
Kimmich & Gundogan impress, they keep things ticking over from a German perspective, but there’s more paper aeroplanes thrown than chances created, the first half is dull, we’re thankful of the break, and a chance for Daz to have his first ever taste of Bovril.
“I can’t believe you’ve not drank it before” as he sips it slowly ahead of replying “Oooh it’s actually really good”. We take it outside and get ready for what we expect is more of the same, ‘one goal will win this’ before a clutter of substitutes disrupt any potential flow we might get?
How wrong can one be? Harry Maguire, the scourge of many football fan, the meme of many social media goer, the failure blamed to why Manchester United are so bad… He’s decided to pass the ball to Germany’s centre forward before fouling him in the box. ‘Penalty’ I shout… The Ref hasn’t seen it… It’s clear and obvious, no getting away from this one, quite ridiculous in fact, the VAR check is complete and Gundogan dispatches the spot kick with ease.
I nip for a quick wee as Havertz curls a beauty home to make it two, I only catch the feint cheering of the small number of German's in attendance and watch it back on the TV screens on the concourse, great finish, but not so great for England.
Back at my seat I discuss with Daz, the future of Southgate, the negativity around the squad, around his selection process, around his tactics, his substitutions, and wonder if he’ll even be in charge of England come the World Cup, then Shaw bundles home from nowhere, it trickles over the line and I don’t even get out my seat, but minutes later, a couple of Southgate’s said ‘uninspiring’ subs combine to level. Saka dancing away from defenders before passing to Mount who shoots a bullet first time.
Suddenly England have got their tales up, the fans are on board, the aeroplanes are no longer in the air and hitting me on the neck, the tackles are flying in and 78,000 people inside the famous arena are smelling danger, and a reprieve, a shot deflected behind goes out for a corner, but the Referee is told of an earlier infringement, apparently Schlotterbeck left one in on his Borussia Dortmund team-mate Bellingham, VAR decision is for the Ref to take a look, penalty to England, Kane dispatches with a belter, everyone is buoyant and celebrating bar the young half and half scarf wearing German couple sitting in front of me.
It looks like we’ve done it, turned it around, Southgate is king, we should never have written him off, then Nick Pope spills Gnabry’s weak shot from twenty yards which falls to Havertz and it’s again, all square.
That goal queues our exit, time to go, the goalkeeper has really had one, he’ll not be back in anytime soon, the error costing England a first win in six. The nation's worst run of results since the Graham Taylor years of 1993.
Raheem Sterling was excellent for England and buzzed around looking to try and make things happen, he had a couple of chances in the first half whilst Jude Bellingham’s assurance and confidence when under pressure did not go un-noticed.
For Germany, Joshua Kimmich is one of those underrated players that will probably only get the respect he deserves when he retires. Ilkay Gundogan like-wise, giving an average side, a real, solid platform in midfield.
Bukayo Saka did well off the bench, playing in a more attacking role than he has done on previous occasions for England, Mason Mount looked lively and capped off a decent half hour with a goal, he needs to start with his energy and aggression. Kai Havertz glided through the game and was clinical, 19-year-old Jamal Musiala looks lightweight for his size, but a star in the making, drifting in behind the German attack.
For long periods of the match, it was painful, same old England against a German side that are far from the best we’ve seen, but that last twenty-minute spell, despite the error by Pope that lead to a late equaliser, gave hope, gave happiness, gave more importantly Head Coach Gareth Southgate a cushion of less scrutiny on his own future, going into the World Cup.
Wembley Stadium for me is the best stadium in the world. You have to go visit at least once in your life, it should be on every football fan’s bucket list to attend a game there, the downside is often having to endure watching England play, in long parts painful on this particular evening, but there’s always something that keeps me coming back, a 3-3 draw at Wembley against the Germans, no matter of the levels or the competition involved, is certainly a special way to spend a Monday evening in September.
England: Nick Pope, Reece James, John Stones (Kyle Walker 37), Eric Dier, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Jude Bellingham (Jordan Henderson 90), Declan Rice, Phil Foden (Bukayo Saka 66), Raheem Sterling (Mason Mount 66), Harry Kane.
Germany: Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Thilo Kehrer, Niklas Sule, Nico Schlotterbeck, David Raum (Robin Gosens 68), Ilkay Gundogan, Joshua Kimmich, Jonas Hoffmann (Timo Werner 46), Leroy Sane (Serge Gnabry 68), Jamal Musiala (Thomas Muller 79), Kai Havertz (Armel Bella-Kotchap 90).
7:45pm Kick Off. Monday 26th September 2022, Wembley Stadium, London (att: 78,949).