Fans Friendly: Estonia Vs England, Tallinn 2014
The England fans-friendly in Tallinn was organised on match-day in conjunction with the Estonian fans association (Jalgpallihaigla), the British Council and the British Embassy. The direct translation of Jalgpallihaigla is ‘Football Hospital’ and the organisation is both a charity and football team which is made up of supporters of the Estonian National Team.
Our hosts were extremely welcoming with the England team being escorted to the stadium from Freedom Square in the centre of town to our pitch which was directly outside Le Coq Arena where England would play their UEFA qualifier later on that evening. On arrival, England fans and supporters were gifted with a couple of crates of cold beer – not exactly the best preparation for the game but greatly received all the same!
After the national anthems, the game kicked-off at a fast pace with the Estonian team looking to capitalise on a few sore heads within the England team. A combination of a late night and early morning kick off looked to have effected some of the England players and allowed Estonia to take a firm grip on the game, opening the scoring within the first five minutes. A long, angled-drive from outside the box looked to be dipping over the stand-in English keeper until his outstretched arm tipped the ball on to the underside of the crossbar. The the ball bounced kindly for Estonia, sitting in the middle of the goal and leaving the Estonian striker with a simple tap-in to make it 1-0.
When Estonia made it 2-0 it looked as if England could be facing a tough day at the office. However, the English lads dug-in and started to gain good possession in midfield, getting good penetration down the left side from full-back Ben Knapper. After some decent possession, England started to look a little more stable at the back, with Dane Cloke and John Lunt reforming a partnership that worked well during the World Cup qualifying campaign.
The danger for England was always on the counter attack and despite good possession, Estonia looked very dangerous – the main threat coming from their pacey number 11 and the 9, who was constantly looking to run in behind the England defense. With the next goal vital, England plugged away – with Craig Tullis hitting the angle of the crossbar from a ambitions shot wide to the right of the Estonian box. But it was Estonia who got the third goal, extending their lead with around ten minutes until half time. With some weary legs on the pitch, England made a double substitution; Tim Hort and Graham Goodge replacing James Ransden and Ben Knapper, the latter appearing to be feeling the effects of the previous evenings entertainment (rumoured to have finished at 6am!). From the substitutions it was Tim who was able to make an immediate impact on the game, being put through on goal by the English midfield and supplying a neat finish past the Estonian keeper. The half time whistle blew with England in the ascendancy – buoyed by their goal and still (just about) in the game at 3-1 down.
After the half time refreshments and some interviews with the local media it was back out for the second half. A weary England team didn’t look to be at the races at all and the Estonian team started to control the game. Despite some resolute defensive performances throughout the England team, the quality, pace and fitness of the Estonian team started to show as they dominated the second half. England weren’t without chances and Craig Tullis came close when he lofted a deft chip over the keeper, only to see it go narrowly past the right hand post when put through on goal. In order to stay compact, England were playing a high line at the back and were having relative success catching the Estonian forwards offside. However, it was only a matter of time until the offside trap was beaten and Estonia added goals number four and five in quick succession.
England were stuck a couple of harsh injury blows in the second half with the influential Richard Barnwell limping off with what looked to be a serious hamstring tear. It meant that the last twenty minutes or so were a real struggle for the English boys and credit to the team for digging their heals in and giving it everything until the last minute. Sadly it wasn’t enough to keep the Estonians at bay and by the full time whistle England were in ‘damage limitation mode’ and did well to keep the score to 7-1.
The game finished with a joint team photo and a presentation to say thanks to our wonderful hosts who were so accomodating – we look forward to welcoming Jalgpallihaigla back to Wembley next October. A quick word from the England team manager – next time the team will have a strict curfew! Next up…… Scotland.
A full set of pictures from the game are available: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk4J3VFF
If you would like to get involved in the Fans Friendly initiative please email your name, age and preferred playing position to firstname.lastname@example.org