THE NATURAL NATIONAL ORDER
Wales are off to their first World Cup in 64 years. Norn Iron have finally won, actually won, a game in the Nations League. And Scotland are currently on a three-match winning tear-up, dangerously close to significant achievement for the first time since 1872. What is all this? Do none of the old certainties apply any more? The Fiver feels so old and confused. Imagine how thankful we are, then, for the recent efforts of Gareth Southgate and his England team. The last few years of success and excitement haven’t sat well with us at all, you see. It’s been extremely discombobulating. So it’s very comforting to see England drifting back towards their old sweet spot, a couple of notches above rank incompetence, hovering just below the middle, between underwhelming and meh. Ah, that’s better. Like sinking into an old armchair with no seat cushion, or a tepid bath.
Not that everyone is as chuffed as The Fiver with the way England are carrying on at the minute. Jude Bellingham was the only player who bothered to turn up for the game against Italy on Friday night, and yet another Nations League defeat was inevitable against 11 men. After England’s relegation from League A was confirmed, Southgate went over to thank the travelling support only to be met with two words: trenchant abuse. All of which means that, while Monday’s Wembley showdown with old pals Germany is now technically academic – Germany can’t win the group, while England are doomed – everyone knows full well how much is riding on it. Can England put on a show to avert an 80,000-strong lid-flipping catastrophe and two-month-long social-media tantrum?
We’re betting heavily on Perhaps Not. Southgate goes into England’s final game before their Human Rights World Cup campaign full of his trademark positivity, promising to “keep doing the right things every day to keep improving. For me, it’s a great challenge to lead the team through a moment like this.” Whether he’d have hand-picked the Germans for the game that will dictate the national mood for the entirety of autumn is another matter. Germany may have just lost at home to Hungary, but they also recently put five past Italy. Should England be unable to snap their five-game winless sequence against a team who have only lost one of their last 14, the pressure on Southgate could become almost unbearable. Most of the noise will certainly be unlistenable. Good luck, then, England: here’s to a morale-restoring win. See, The Fiver might be on board with blissful mediocrity, but we’re not sure we can put up with an eight-week national sulk.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I don’t like to swear usually but I did in that moment. She had my leg trapped between hers and she wouldn’t give us my leg back while the game’s going on. She also said something to me and I just reacted. Unfortunately the camera caught it” – Jill Scott gets her entertaining chat on with Donald McRae about that effing and jeffing in the Euro 2020 final, her retirement and more.
Are England going backwards under Gareth Southgate? Your latest Football Weekly podcast awaits.
“Shall we advise Doncaster City to withdraw their application (Friday’s Fiver) before the SFA unceremoniously returns it over the border marked ‘DO ONE, LADDIES’?” – JJ Zucal.
“Big Website reports Mansfield Town will play matches earlier in the day to avoid turning on lights and thereby save money. Perhaps they’ll also trial other money-saving schemes like, oh, playing behind closed doors (no need to pay stewards or catering staff) or using only youth team players (save on salaries). Oooh, Fiver, it’s in the air, innit? STOP FOOTBALL finally makes financial sense” – Mike Wilner.
“Three consecutive days and yet no Letter o’ the Day prize? OK, Fiver you win. I’ll go and buy Jonathan Wilson’s book myself, if only so I can finally get back to avoiding work some other way” – Noble Francis.
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Noble Francis.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Exclusive: the UK government’s extensive efforts to facilitate the Saudi Arabian takeover of Newcastle United have been further exposed by newly-relased documents.
The Rob Edwards Revolution at Watford is over – the former Forest Green manager has been sacked after just 11 games in charge, and replaced in the hottest of hot seats by Slaven Bilic. “Performances haven’t reflected our hopes and ambitions,” copy-pasted the Hornets’ owner, Gino Pozzo.
Trent Alexander-Arnold will not feature for England against Germany after Gareth Southgate dropped the full-back from his 23-man matchday squad. Jarrod Bowen, Fikayo Tomori and James Ward-Prowse have also been left out, while Jinkin’ Jack Grealish is suspended.
The Wales manager, Rob Page, is planning on having a quiet word with LAFC over Gareth Bale’s game time. “They want Gareth available for them, and we want him in the best physical position for the first game against the USA,” Page mused.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 56, is yet to play any football this season due being quite old and crocked, but the veteran striker has spent his time on the sidelines a little differently, starring in the new Asterix and Obelix film. Obviously.
Scotland’s preparation for Tuesday’s game in Krakow against Ukraine has been hit by a training-camp virus, but striker Che Adams isn’t too worried. “It is one of those ones where we have to get through it and put in a massive performance,” Adams roared.
Denmark and the Netherlands have booked their places in the Nations League finals, which will likely pop up in the next 18 months, probably when you least expect them.
In League C, Faroe Islands (population 49,000) beat Turkey (pop. 84.3m) 2-1 in a Knowledge-baiting upset for the ages. “There are more goats than people on that island,” huffed Turkish sports newspaper Fanatik.
And Eric Cantona has revealed that he offered to become Manchester United’s “president of football” last season – but the club turned him down. “I gave them the opportunity to succeed in the next decades. And they did not want it.”
STILL WANT MORE?
From Erling Haaland to Anthony Gordon: what happened to the Next Generation class of 2017? Marcus Christenson has the answers.
Arsenal know not to get too carried away and Manchester United are … good? Read six piping hot talking points from the weekend’s WSL action right here.
David Hytner on Joshua Kimmich and England’s inability to produce a player of his type and quality.
Finding fit and proper owners is one thing, but the economic framework of the English league pyramid and the desire to reach (or stay in) the Premier League at any cost breeds an equally unhealthy football culture, writes Grimsby Town chairman Jason Stockwood.
Come for Ben Fisher’s excellent interview with Steve Evans, stay for John Robertson’s ethereal portrait of the Stevenage manager (and his dog, Archie).
Jonathan Wilson on Lionel Messi is something of a must-read.
And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!