Pride Passion Belief

Three Lions, Four Friends & English football…

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A nice headache to have…? Rooney is giving Hodgeson a nasty headache

So Woy has selected is final squad for the Euros. It’s a bold squad, packed with 5 plenty of pace, five strikers and one with the youngest overall age (25.8 years) at the tournament.

Mr Hodgson chose the same route as Glen Hoddle in 1998 – selecting a larger squad than required and before whittling that down to the 23 names that will travel to France.

So what are we left with then? The great thing that Roy Hodgson has achieved since taking over in 2012 is to make players want to play for England again, we have a 100% qualifying record and healthy competition for places.

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Smalling celebrates his winning goal against Portugal

During qualifying it has felt that we have a team rather than a group of individuals. However, with the final squad selection and the game against Portugal, it seems like the ‘big name / square pegs in round holes’ debate has surfaced again. This is for two reasons:

  1. Whilst Danny Drinkwater is never going to throw a Gazza-esque tantrum and was extremely humble with his good luck message for the lads, in my view, he should have been selected above either Wilshere or Henderson, neither of whom can be match fit. Drinkwater has been one of the most consistent players of the season and is the best option for the second holding midfield spot alongside Eric Dier in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
  2. Glenn Hoddle made a huge call to drop Gazza. But what should Roy do about the England Captain? Rooney is an integral part of the squad, he is the Captain, an experienced leader, and a true England legend… but on current form, is he good enough to be in the team?

I trust Roy Hodgson, he knows a million times more about football than me, but looking from the outside in, it seems like he is desperately trying to shoe-horn Rooney into the team. In my view, Deli Ali has to play at the tip of the diamond – it’s his best position and he is bang on form. I am a massive Rooney fan and his leadership qualities, record, and attitude make you want him to be in the team. The fact is, in this moment, Kane & Vardy are the two highest goal scorers in the Premiership, Sturridge is the most talented, and Rashford is the man in form. So Roy is left with a choice: – drop your Captain?…. or play him in midfield?

Rooney is a great all-round footballer but despite his experience, I’m not sure he has the discipline to play holding midfield? The other midfield options are:

  • Jack Wilshere – Leeds have had 6 managers since Wilshere last played 90mins for Arsenal
  • Jordan Henderson – not match fit
  • James Milner – reliable without setting the world on fire (maybe that what we need)
  • Danny Drinkwater – not an option, dropped for bigger names
  • Ross Barclay – not holding and doesn’t dominate games. Sub at best.

I firmly believe that you should not criticise without offering a solution. I would have included Drinkwater in the squad at the expense of Wilshere – whilst I’m a fan, he is just not going to be match fit, and when was the last time that a player that was injured pre-tournament smashed it on the big stage?

Portugal's Bruno Alves, left, fouls England's Harry Kane during the International friendly soccer match between England and Portugal at Wembley stadium in London, England, Thursday, June 2, 2016 . (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Portugal’s Bruno Alves almost does Kane a nasty. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The biggest criticism I have of this squad is that whilst it’s ‘nice’ to have a selection headache because we have some evenly matched players, we are yet again approaching a tournament with the manager not knowing either his best starting eleven, or his best formation. I have been using the BBCs website to select my favoured team but it is completely different to every friend I have talked to.

As the ‘Tinkerman’ proved this season with the exceptional performance of Leicester, team spirit and familiarity with your team mates can transform good players into an exceptional unit. Bearing in mind qualification was a given – why didn’t we experiment in the remaining qualifiers and finalise the team with 5/6 matches to go. After the Portugal game, Kane commented that the understanding between himself, Vardy and Rooney wouldn’t come overnight. But we have had two years since Brazil. We need to make the starting England eleven feel like a club team, and give them the opportunity to build a strong understanding and great team spirit.

There are 24 teams at the Euros and three wins from the warmup games against teams of similar standards to the group should not be scoffed at. I can’t wait to jump on the Eurostar on Thurs night, but whilst I have a half decent knowledge about football, I honestly can’t predict what this England squad will achieve. I’m excited for the Euro 2016 and whatever we achieve, we’re off to France to enjoy another great tournament of football. Beach holidays are fun but nothing quite beats the buzz you get walking into the stadium for the first game, standing alongside your mates and watching your country play football. #followenglandaway.

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Fans Friendly: England VS Holland – Ark Academy, Wembley Park

Written by James Clarke…

England’s wait for a first victory over the Netherlands for twenty years continues… after the official fans team, like their senior counterparts, suffered a defeat to the Oranje on Tuesday.

Baddiel and Skinner and Gina G were battling it out at the top of the charts in the summer of 1996 when Shearer, Sheringham, Gascoigne et al delivered the performance of a generation against Guus Hiddink’s men under the twin towers. Two decades later, in driving rain a (John) stone’s throw away from the Wembley arch, England were themselves well beaten, losing 5-1 to a crack Dutch outfit.

Team PicFrom top left: Myles Wilsen, Nathan Agwunchah, James Clarke, Paul Newstead, Gary Shanihan, Paul Lindsey, Barrie Tullis (C), Graham Taylor, Alex Moore, Mel Kenny, Ethan Coffey, Ben Ashfield, Dan Hare.

Buoyed by an impressive showing in Berlin on Easter Saturday, manager Ed Rhodes encouraged his team to keep the ball on the deck and pass the ball out from defence. There was plenty of cut and thrust too, with Paul Lindsey dominating the midfield battle early on, Dan Hare – every bit the modern full back – rampaging down the left, and the marauding Ben Ashfield causing the Dutch defence plenty of problems.

It was Myles Wilson who came closest to breaking the deadlock for England, the pacey front-man getting in behind the Dutch defence down the inside left channel and opening up his body Thiery Henry-style, only to see his shot go agonisingly the wrong side of the far post.

England were made to pay moments later. They were guilty of stepping off one of the stylish Dutch midfielders as he strode forward, perhaps assuming he wouldn’t be able to find the back of the net from 25 yards. He was – with some aplomb.

Despite being backed by a vociferous away support, the Dutch created little else in the first half, often resorting to long balls which experienced centre half duo Graham Taylor and Paul Newstead – and on occasion, ‘keeper sweeper’ Mel Kenny – dealt with comfortably. But nor did England threaten the Dutch goal, and the men in orange led 1-0 at the break.

CornerThe Dutch take one of several first half corners

Rhodes raised eyebrows at half time with a bold substitution, stripping off his track suit and entering the fray at – nominally – right back. Once again England started the half on the front foot, and had the opportunity to make their pressure tell when Dan Hare whipped in a cross from the left, only for the Dutch defence to handle inside the area. Referee Dave Beverley was left with little choice but to point to the spot. It was Alex Moore who stepped up to the plate – having missed a crucial penalty in Ireland he banished that ghost by blasting the spot kick into the roof of the net. This was his Stuart Pearce moment.

Unfortunately that was to be the high water mark for England. The Dutch had a young fit squad, and used the rolling substitutes rule to maximum effect, constantly rotating their players and staying fresh. As the second half wore on they increasingly took the ascendancy. They scored two in as many minutes to effectively end the game as a contest, before adding two more late on with some clinical finishing against a visibly tiring English back line, two games in 72 hours finally catching up on the England team.

ThrowinRight full back James Clarke lines up for an England throw

Trailing 5-1, England’s hopes of a dramatic comeback were ended when the Beverley blew his whistle five minutes early, fearing for player and crowd safety as the weather conditions took a turn for the (even) worse.

The defeat may leave some England players nervously waiting by the phone when the squad for the fan matches at Euro 2016 is named. But how the Dutch would love to have that problem… And with several promising debutants and younger players in the England side, there is genuine hope of a strong future – for both England and the Netherlands.

If you would like to get involved in the Fans Friendly initiative please use the contact form on this blog or email fanfriendly@mac1.net with your name, email, contact number, age and preferred playing position.

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Fans Friendly: England Vs Estonia

The England supporters team had a point to prove against Estonia having suffered a heavy defeat in Tallinn back in November 2014. With a valid excuse to swerve out of work early on a Friday afternoon a good sized squad had registered for the home fixture which was held within earshot of Wembley  at Stonebridge Pavillion.

The Estonian team also had a large squad of around 35 players and were really well backed by their travelling support. The Estonian fans certainly made their voice heard during a rousing rendition of ‘Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm’ – which translates as: ‘My Fatherland, My Happiness and Joy’. The England team look rather sheepish in comparison when the Estonian anthem was promptly followed on by a version of the Hakka!– a twenty second YouTube advert rudely interrupting ‘God save the Queen’.

England Team Photo

England Team from top left: Ben Knapper, Dave Rhodes, Graham Taylor, James Clarke, Mel Kenny, Dane Cloke(C), Gary Shanihan, Ed Rhodes (Manager), Barrie Tullis, Dave Oakley, Aiden Willis, Craig Tullis, Eden Shelley, Alex Moore.

With the comedy moment aside, referee Dave Beverley got proceedings under way and it was England, in all white, who started like the All Blacks; being firm into the tackle and driving Estonia back into their own half. England looked confident and were having a lot of joy from wide positions with new recruits Eden and Aiden both impressing on their full debuts. Around ten minutes into the half England made their pressure pay by latching onto to a mistake from the Estonian centre-back. James Clarke crossed to striker Gary Shanahan whose shot was parried by the keeper only to be neatly turned in to the net by Craig Tullis.

England continued to dominate the opening 20mins with only mild flashes of brilliance from the Estonian no.7 on the left wing threatening the England defence. It was Alex Moore who was able to extend England’s managing to control a defensive clearance on his knee and the hitting delicious volley from 25 years which cannoned in off the left hand upright.

Midfield Battle

England’s James Clarke battles for the ball against the lively Estonian Ronaldo…

At 2-0 down the Estonian team made use of their plentiful substituted and started to cause England problems with two youthful but very quick centre-forwards running at the England defence. Keeper Mel Kenny was forced into several saves before Estonia put themselves back in the game making it 2-1.

Estonia had come back into the game towards the end of the first half but even the neutral support (not that there were any!) would have to say England had edged it going into half time. Five minutes into the second half, England were able to extend their lead when Craig Tullis pounced on a stray backpass and rounded the last defended to slot past the keeper to chalk up his brace.

What had been an entertaining game up until this point then took several twists. Firstly, England left-back Dave Oakley limped off with a hamstring injury. Then a bizarre incident saw Craig Tullis skip past the last defender and through on goal to complete his hat-trik – only to hear the referee blow-up for an earlier infringement from the Estonian full-back. With shades of Gareth Bale’s goal against Barcelonia, referee Dave Beverley had done well to spot the infringement but had underestimated Tullis’s pace and blown up rather than playing the advantage.

Keeper saves

The Estonian keeper denies Craig Tullis from 12yds out. Excellent last ditch save

Estonia used their subs to good effect in the second half and their high pressing game paid off when they made it 3-2 on around the 60 minute mark. England’s luck didn’t get any better when Craig Tullis was bundled over in the box. Referee Dave Beverly took a good long look but decided it was just a tangle of legs and waived away the penalty shouts.

As England tired, Estonia again made good use of their subs and ran at England’s weary midfield – both the number 3 and 7 in particular looking dangerous in possession. With only 5 minutes to go Estonia equalised much to the delight of their travelling support. With the match poised at 3-3 the game really could have gone either way. Despite being on the back-foot, England used their sole striker as an outlet-ball to good effect and looked dangerous on the counter. This time it was Barrie Tullis this time who unlocked the Estonian defence to put son Craig Tullis through on goal. For the second time in half an hour, England’s centre forward was hauled down inside the box and this time Mr.Beverley had no choice but to point to the spot and award a penalty.

On a hat-trik and with just over three minutes on the clock, Craig Tullis brushed himself down and lined up to take the kick. The penalty was stuck cleanly but without any real venom. The Estonian keeper launched himself to his left hand side and pulled off an excellent last-gasp save.

Presentation of the plaque

Presentation of the plaque to the Estonian team

It had been an end-to-end game played in good spirit throughout. Although it was a friendly, the remaining few minutes were extremely tense. Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more drama, the Estonian team carved out one last opportunity – the number 7 was instrumental again, slotting the ball through to the Estonian striker who then squared to his team-mate to slot home past keeper Mel Kenny. The Estonian players reeled off to celebrate with the fans with what was almost the last kick of the game. With more than a suspicion of off-side England could have felt slightly hard-done by but congratulations must also go to the Estonian who kept going to the end and finishing the stronger of the two teams.

A special thanks goes out to Mari from the Estonian fans association for making the game possible and to our Estonian guests for a great game good time in the Torch pub afterwards.

A full set of pictures from the game are available courtesy of the official Estonian photographer ‘Brit Maria T’: https://flic.kr/s/aHskiuoVnS

If you would like to get involved in the Fans Friendly initiative please email your name, age and preferred playing position to fanfriendly@mac1.net

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Ljubljana Fans Friendly: Slovenia Vs England

There were a few sore heads when England met at 9:30am at the Central City Hotel in Ljubljana en-route to the fans friendly with Slovenia. The team were greeted by a Slovenian guide, Marusha, who took us on a specially chartered bus to the stadium for the match. The game was held to the North of the City on a ground that was part of the Slovenian FA’s (NZS) training facilities

England went into the game with a strong squad of 17 players and faced up against a scratch team of Slovenians who had not played together before. The NZS had selected the players from the Slovenian supporters associations Facebook page following a campaign to promote the game in a national daily sports magazine.

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England Team from Top Left: Dave Beverly (referee), Dave Clarke, Barrie Tullis, Dane Cloke (Captain), Ben Knapper, Gary Shanahan, Graham Taylor, Paul Newstead, Des Ireland, Simon Price, Phil McLaughlin, Ed Rhodes (Gaffer), James Clarke, Alex Moore, Will Flack, Rupert Maher, Tim Hort, George Flack, Jim Gay (FA)

After a heavy defeat in Dublin, England headed into the game with a few more of their regulars in the side, including Graham Taylor who was able to reform his strong centre-back partnership with Captain Dane Cloke. With a combined age of 100 it may be fair to say that Dane and Graham aren’t the quickest defenders in the world, but they certainly make up for that with their experience, especially the way they read the game. Overall though there was a more youthful look to the squad, with several of the younger players who made their debut in Turin coming back into the team after missing the Dublin friendly. Dave Clarke, Phil McLaughlin, Will Flack and Rupert Maher all filled the wide positions around the spine of the team made up from regulars.

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Ben Knapper puts challenges the Slovenian centre half

Despite the early kick-off time of 11am, the temperature on pitch-side was in the high 20’s and that was reflected in the initial exchanges as the game opened at a fairly leisurely pace. The Slovenians had the majority of possession in the first 20 minutes but weren’t able to pose a serious threat to England’s goalkeeper Des Ireland. England looked best when they got the ball out wide and had a limited amount of joy down the right hand side with some neat combinations between Will Flack and Rupert Maher. The problem for England was getting decent quality balls up to the attackers – several times balls were worked up to either Paul Newstead or Alex Moore in attack but the midfield struggled to get up to support. Whether it was the heat, the hangovers, or the size of the pitch (which was much bigger than what most of us were playing on) England were struggling to move up and down as a unit and found themselves surrendering possession to Slovenia. By the end of the first half Slovenia must have had well over 65% possession and on the 40 minute mark they were able to make this statistic count. The Slovenian number 18 pounced on a loose ball just inside the area, swivelled on the spot and dispatched a precision half volley into the England net giving the home team a 1-0 lead going into the break.

At half time both teams were addressed by the Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Slovenia, Mr Jamie Hilton who gave a short speech to thank our hosts and demonstrate the support of the Embassy for initiatives such as the fans friendly events which bring fans together through football.

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Captain Dane Cloke puts his body on the line

The second half was a little more open than the first and saw chances at both ends. Slovenia wasted a great opportunity to extend their lead when their number 9 was put through on goal only to slide his shot wide past the advancing Des Ireland. Goalkeeper Des was kept on his toes throughout the game and was pivotal in keeping the scoreline at 1-0. England manager Ed Rhodes rang the changes in the second half as the heat took its toll. It was two of the substitutes who carved out England’s best chance of the second half, with Simon Price latching on to Gary Shanahan’s cross, only to steer the ball wide of the post.

The game became more open as the second half went on. Barrie Tullis who had set his sights with a couple of long range shots in the first half saw a left foot shot from outside the box fizz over the bar. But it was Slovenia who finished the game the strongest, being able to overrun the English midfield despite the industry of Tim Hort and Alex Moore who must have covered more ground than anyone else on the pitch. After several close chances the hosts eventually made their superiority count when their number 10 stabbed home from 3 yards out following a goal mouth scramble.

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After the game: Slovenia & England teams at the Sports Park Kodeljevo, Ljubljana

At the final whistle the English players presented some gifts (courtesy of the FA) to the Slovenian players and were then treated to a traditional Slovenian lunch at a nearby restaurant. A huge thank you goes out to Nejc Fistrovic, who made the game possible. Not only did Nejc ensure everything ran like clockwork on the day he also starred in the winning Slovenian team – playing in goal for the first half and then coming on to centre-midfield in the second half!

If you would like to be involved in future fans friendly matches please email fanfriendly@mac1.net with your full name, England Supporters Club number, age and preferred playing position. A full set of pictures from the game is available here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskaEkoLm

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Dublin Fans Friendly: Ireland Vs England

With the friendly international between Ireland and England being played at the unusual time of 1pm, our fans friendly match against the Irish supporters association had to be moved from it’s traditional slot on matchday to the day before the game.

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England Team from Top Left: Barrie Tullis, Paul Newstead, Ned Pendleton, Rupert Maher, Tim Hort, Dougie Nattan, Dane Cloke (Captain), Alex Moore, Andy Hughes, Tim Shelton, Jim Gay (FA), Ed Rhodes (Gaffer)

Our match took place at Tolka Rovers AFC, about 2 miles North of Dublin city centre. Tolka are an amateur Irish football club based in Glasnevin, who play in the Leinster Senior League. With several England team regulars not flying out until Sunday the England squad was down to the bare bones when we met out host from the Irish FA, Gerry Reardon in the town centre on Saturday afternoon. The squad travelled up to the ground by bus and received a warm welcome from our opposition and our hosts at AFC Tolka. Despite being a non-league club in Dublint the facilities were excellent, especially the pitch and the bar, both of which looked in great condition!

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Attack is the best form of defence: England’s Mike Shelton runs at the position giving the English defence a well earned breather

The Irish team was made up from a variety of supporters clubs from around Ireland and the UK – many of the UK based players had travelled back home especially for the game. After the obligatory handshakes and coin toss, Ireland kicked off and immediately took the game to the visitors. A young looking Irish side look energetic and were helped in the first half by a blustery wind was blowing directly at the England’s goals For the first 10mins the English defence weathered the early storm and reduced the Irish to long range shooting from outside the box. However, as the first half continued the pressure mounted from England’s inability to get the ball out of their own half – a combination of poor passing and the strong wind preventing any distance on the long ball option!

Ireland pressed and probed and eventually broke the English resistance with a through-ball from midfield to the striker who neatly finished past debutant England keeper Dougie Nattan. Calls for offside from the English defence were overlooked by the referee who blew up to signal a goal and a 1-0 lead to the Irish. After the first goal, Ireland quickly really started to exert their pressure and extended their lead to first 2, then 3-0 following some poor defending from the visitors.

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England Goalie Dougie Nattan put in a ‘man-of-the-match’ performance but wasn’t able to stop this cool finish from Ireland’s Des Tomlinson

The large pitch and lack of substitutes looked to be hampering England as they puffed and panted their way into half time. Player-manager Ed Rhodes limped off with a pulled hamstring on around 20 minutes and was replaced by Andy Hughes, himself only on the bench due to an injury. One of the few positives from the first half was the excellent debut performances from 58 year old keeper Dougie Nattan and left Leeds based midfielder Mike Sheldon. Mike in particular was able to provide some much needed respite for the English defence by running at his Irish full back and working the ball up to Alex Moore and Paul Newstead, who, up until this point, hadn’t received much service at all from midfield.

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England Captain Dane Cloke is unable to stop Ireland scoring the final goal of the game in the 7-1 rout

At 3-0 down, England went into half time needing a minor miracle to get back into the game and certainly started off the second half on a positive note. The visitors managed to keep the ball better and work the ball up to Paul Newstead who held the ball up well. A tactical change at half time saw England move to a five man midfield, with Alex Moore switched to left midfield and Mike Shelton to centre midfield. Mike made up a three man partnership in central midfield with England regulars Barrie Tullis and Tim Hort and was able to exert more influence from a central position.

However, despite the good start to the second half, it was the Irish who struck first with another clinical finish, courtesy from Des Tomlinson. At this point it look like a ‘damage limitation’ exercise for England but the team battled on and got a goal back though Tim Hort who managed to squeeze the ball under the Irish keep from 20 yards out. Although the keeper got a touch, the ball trickled into the next to give England a glimmer of hope.

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Joint team photo in front of the clubhouse at AFC Tolka

England again caused Ireland some trouble as a nice through-ball from midfield which put Alex Moore through on goal. As he entered the area he was clipped by the Irish defender and the referee blew up for a penalty. Alex stepped up to take the spot-kick but the keeper got down to his right to make an excellent save. The ball rebounded nicely to the Moore but the rebound was blazed over the bar – it wasn’t looking like England’s day! The Irish rounded off a superb performance by adding three additional goals to their tally to make the final score 7-1.

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The game was played in great spirit and the England team were treated to a round of beers from our excellent Irish hosts. Following the game the English players all received a medal from the Irish FA and presented in return a plaque to our host from the Irish FA and Tolka AFC to show our appreciation for a great afternoon of football.

A full set of pictures from the game can be found here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskdHgPvL

If you would like to get involved in the England Fan Friendly activities please email fanfriendly@mac1.net to join our email list – our next game is scheduled for matchday against Slovenia

 

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Fans Friendly: Italy Vs England, Turin 2015

The England Fans Friendly against Italy had been arranged for early afternoon on match-day and was played at the Turin AFC Club located West of the City Centre. The club has strong links with Torino and hosts many of Toniro FCs youth training session and Academy games.

The Italian team captain, Andrea De Benedetti met the England team in the Piazza Castello and escorted the team to the stadium by bus. The England changing room was awash with new faces many of whom are new to the Supporters Club, having signed up to for the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and finals. Alongside the new faces, the England starting line-up included some more established names which included a strong centre-back pairing of John Lunt and Graham Taylor. David Rhodes was restored at right back after missing the trip to Tallin and the spine of the team continued with Barrie Tullis and (Captain) Dane Cloke partnering in centre-midfield and Craig Tullis keeping his place up front.

England Team Photo
England Team Squad Photo: The game took place at A.S.D. Cit Turin Football Club

After the team photos, Italy got the match underway and immediately took the game to England. The Italians looked good technically and despite being direct with their approach play, kept the ball on the floor rather than playing balls over the top. Both teams had good spells during the opening exchanges but it was Italy who raced to a 2-0 lead within 20 minutes of kick-off. Despite being well organised at the back, the English defence struggled to contain the lively Italian no.10 who had bags of pace and looked to run at the defence at every opportunity.

AT 2-0 down, England didn’t panic and soon got back into the game courtesy of a neat finish from Craig Tullis after a well worked one-two with father Barrie! The celebrations were fairly short lived though as Italy restored their two goal lead within minutes following a great counter attacking move; the No.10 stealing the ball on the half way line and breaking through the English defence to provide an easy finish for his Italian strike partner.

Kick Off
Kick Off: England’s Craig Tullis poses for a pre-match photo with Italian midfielder Roberto Siclari

Despite temperatures of 25c on pitch-side, the pace of the game didn’t drop. Much like the Italians, the English side was made up of a mixture of youth and veterans and with 25mins gone, England began to make good use of their ‘roll-on roll-off’ substitutes, giving debuts to several younger members of the squad. Louis Minter replaced Chris Brook in attack and quickly made an impression, combining well with Alex Moore to win a penalty which he converted before half time, making the score 3-2 going into the break.

As is often the case, a goal before half time gave England the impetus going in to the second-half and it wasn’t long before the equaliser came. Chris Brook had been reintroduced as part of a three man attack and calmly slotted home from 10 yards out from a Craig Tullis’s cross.

As the Italians began to tire, the pace of Craig Tullis caused all sorts of problems and he put England 4-3 up about mid-way into the second half, this time being put through by Louis Minter. Italy continued to play some good football and were still creating chances – Jon Lunt making a crucial interception inside the box when Italy were odds-on to score.

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Presentation: England Manager Ed Rhodes presents Andrea De Benedetti with ‘fans friendly’ plaq

With about 10 minutes remaining England extended their lead. A cynical handball on the edge of the D resulted in a free kick from around 25 yards out – up stepped Captain Dane Cloke who hammered home a wondergoal following a clever lay-off from Barrie Tullis. The icing on the cake was delivered by Craig Tullis who completed his hat-trik in style, running from his own half and beating two players before finishing past the Italian keeper.

The afternoon finished off with a short presentation to thank our Italian hosts for a great game of football, their excellent sportsmanship and superb hospitality which concluded with a post-match beer (or two) in the club house.

If you would like to get involved in the fan-friendly activities please email your name, age and preferred playing position to: fanfriendly@mac1.net

Pictures: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk6hP4nj

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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!

The Teams Line Up

National Anthem time….

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.

Bazza on the ball

Barrie Tullis and Glen Thornton start to work some good possession in midfield

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.

British Ambassador Chris Holtby is interviewed by Estonian TV

British Ambassador Chris Holtby is interviewed by Estonian TV

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.

Craig Tullis through on goal

Craig Tullis through on goal

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.

Group Team Photo

Group Team Photo

A full set of pictures from the game are available: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk4J3VFF

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