Jacob’s cracking gesture

TOP OF THE ‘A’ LIST: President Zuma of South Africa wants to play both halves of the celebrity and Special Olympians match.

TOP OF THE ‘A’ LIST: President Zuma of South Africa wants to play both halves of the celebrity and Special Olympians match.

First published in Sport Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by

HOW about this for organisation and timing – on the day the England squad arrived sheepishly back home, I was queuing up to get on a plane to go to Cape Town for a flying visit.

I hasten to add it wasn’t necessarily to watch the national team, although it would have been fantastic to see them play against Argentina.

The reason for my trip is that FIFA have given permission for a ten-minutes- each-way celebrity match, of which I am in charge of the teams, to be held at 2pm today in the Green Point Stadium.

Unfortunately, at 4pm, the same ground will be graced by the Germans and Argentinians.

Not unfortunate, I hasten to add, because they are not fabulous players, but I just wish 11 of them could have been English.

The FIFA authorisation was one of the better decisions they have made, because it is allowing Special Olympics to be given that extra bit of publicity it needs worldwide.

It is the third Olympics, not to be confused with the Paralympics, and is for people with learning difficulties.

I have been chairman of Special Olympics Great Britain for many years now and the athletes, as they are rightly called, are made up of all different types of disabilities, ranging from Down’s syndrome through to autism.

It is a delight to be involved with them and I would think some of our millionaire footballers could do a lot worse than to mix and mingle with some of the athletes who put everything into the 22 sports they play, including of course football, which is the most popular.

And the rewards for coaches afterwards are not in shillings and pence, but cuddles galore.

The game in Cape Town is called the Unity Cup.

A trial mini World Cup was held last year in South America and apparently was a huge success.

The idea, looking forward, is to get all the countries that took part in this year’s World Cup involved and the game today is a terrific advert, with ex-stars, many of whom are working for television in South Africa, taking part.

I have spoken to Alan Shearer and Kevin Keegan about it.

Other players, such as Lucas Radebe and Clarence Seedorf, who has been one of the better TV pundits, along with a great player from the past, Cubillas from Peru, will hopefully be there.

As well as many others, they will, would you believe it, be joined by President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, who has said he would like to stay on for the whole 20 minutes.

We are mixing the teams with Special Olympics athletes, so let’s hope the publicity gained will help these athletes from all around the world in the future.

The effort lads like these put in can be compared with one, or many, of the criticisms made of the England team in their four games.

As I said last week, the win over Slovenia was euphoric because it was so important.

But, in the cold light of day, it was only 1-0, we were lucky it wasn’t a draw and they were the smallest country in the tournament.

All of the doubts came out in the open, of course, when Germany took us to the cleaners.

Naturally, there was much talk about the goal, which should have been given.

But no one in the squad really went on too much about that because they knew underneath they were well beaten.

The only good thing to come out of that is Sepp Blatter, the top man in football administration, appears to have done a U-turn and said goal-line technology will now be considered.

But this, of course, will not apply to dubious offside decisions, such as the one the Argentinians got away with against Mexico last Sunday.

Big questions have got to be asked now, because England have only won one tournament ever at first team level.

That was with home advantage 44 years ago and, even then, there was argument over one of the goals.

It is a fact that the Premier League is accepted as being the most glamorous, the most interesting and the most watched on television all round the world.

And the mistake I think that’s been made in some quarters is that the league should automatically provide a top class England team.

The thing that makes the Premier League so exciting is, of course, the number of top foreign players involved.

Many years ago, when I was involved at international level with England, I realised that the other three home countries, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who I also worked with, were gradually getting to the stage where it would take a miracle for them to qualify for the finals of a major tournament.

That was because of the influx of foreigners into their domestic football, or the lack of Premiership players available to their managers.

I observed that it could eventually catch up with England.

I remember at one time the England manager was spoilt for choice, with the best keepers around playing in the top flight.

Now it is hard to find a club in the Premier League which has an English keeper good enough to play international football.

To me, South Africa proved something I found out when managing the England Under-21 team.

I selected, on more than one occasion, young players I watched playing for big clubs like Arsenal and Chelsea.

For their clubs, they were playing extremely well week in and week out.

But I discovered when they came away on international duty that they were fairly ordinary.

That was because they didn’t have the high quality and experience around them that they found in their club sides.

Whether we like it or not, some of our players did not appear good enough compared to those who made it through to the last 16.

So do we blame the manager?

I don’t think any manager can alter what I’ve just said about the Premier League.

I do think the relationship with the players might have been different with a British manager, though. I say British, because if I had to pick anyone who could walk in and get a better reaction it would be Sir Alex Ferguson.

But I don’t think for one minute he would want to take England on, being the true Scot that he is.

Other names mentioned such as Harry Redknapp and Roy Hodgson would have a better rapport and possibly would have made the off-thefield situation more like the one the players are used to at their clubs.

But surely these are all excuses?

Every player, I am certain, wanted to give his best.

The argument about tiredness doesn’t add up, though.

The league season finished quite a while ago and foreign players from the Premier League, such as Carlos Tevez, played just as many games, if not more, and yet he looked very sharp when scoring for his country.

I just think we could possibly learn something from people like Germany, if it is not too late.

Franz Beckenbauer had such an influence about ten years ago, when the German league decided to have a mid-season break and an academy of youngsters was started up.

Ten years on, that formed a major part of the team that beat England last week.

We have neither of those.

But it could well be that the Premier League has developed into such a monster of an industry that it has become much more important than the national team.

All the criticisms from Uncle Tom Cobley and all who are queuing up to be on radio and TV will not make any difference unless there are massive changes all round.

I suppose, as a sports fan, the only glimmer of light has been the fact this summer that the England cricket team has beaten Australia in a One-Day International series, which at one time would have been massive headlines.

Andy Murray quietly got into the second week of Wimbledon and was actually seen to smile on one occasion.

The fact those two achievements received such little attention shows just how big the World Cup is.

If anyone wants cheering up more, check in to your local Special Olympics athletes, who will be delighted to show you 100 per cent effort, and a cuddle will be the bonus.

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