17th April 1998
Don't just kick the thing, psy-kick it
Glenn Hoddle, the England football manager, has called in Uri Geller to add a psychic dimension to the England team's preparation for the World Cup. But what will he do? Bend the referee's whistle?
After their most recent performances, England need all the help they can get and I suppose the enlistment of a Jew is a source of pride. And, who knows, as the big kick-off gets nearer and Glenn gets more and more anxious, he may seek out some further Jewish assistance.
Vidal Sassoon, for example, could devise an aerodynamic hairstyle to aid our midfielders on those "darting runs" into the penalty area. David Baddiel, by contrast, would be good at undermining the confidence of opposing forwards by making fun of their less-than-aerodynamic locks.
PR guru Lynne Franks could be hired to promote Hoddle and his boys in the most positive light possible to overcome any doubts and get all the people on their side. Gazza could be groomed to fit into a new image as the canny yet mature, thinking man of the squad, the Danny Blanchflower de nos jours.
Or perhaps not.
But Elizabeth Emanuel should certainly be able to design a kit capable of temporarily blinding the opposition, or a long, flowing goalie's jersey for the style-conscious Italian, French, and Brazilian keepers which would weigh them down and get them tangled up in the goal-nets.
Another way Of undermining the opposition would be to send a comedian out on to the pitch, in the guise of the England mascot.
He could then tell jokes to the opposing captain as he waits to toss up in the centre-circle, thereby rendering him helpless with laughter throughout those vital opening stages.
A whole range of Jewish humorists - from Jackie Mason to Ben Elton could be ployed in this way, depending on which nation we were playing.
One drawback, of course, is that this particular tactic is unlikely to prove at all effective with the Germans.
I'd better not suggest any more, in case somebody takes me seriously. For modern footballers are indeed surrounded and cosseted by an army of life-enhancers, from the ubiquitous agents and business advisers to dieticians, drivers and clothing consultants.
Time was that a player didn't require psychological motivation, least of all to play for his country in the World Cup, but I suppose that defeat wasn't the cataclysmic disaster then that it has now become.
And this attitude has spread far beyond the confines of professional football.
Jewish league soccer is not immune. There have been a number of incidents in recent years indicating that many of the participants including managers and, in some cases, spectators - are seriously lacking in the sense-of-proportion department.
In one Maccabi League match last season, a player (as in "playing," as in "it's only a game," remember) embarked upon one of those aforementioned "darting runs" that managers always expect of their midfield men. The difference was that this particular player was not - àla Paul Ince - motoring into the opposition penalty area but - à la Mike Tyson - into the facial features of a fellow human being: a linesman.
The ensuing fracas involved the linesman's father, who was watching the game, and brother, who was playing in it, along with several members of both teams.
If you want to take a charitable view, I suppose you could say that this unseemly episode stemmed from a dedicated footballer's passion for the game. Believing the linesman to be guilty of an unreasonable number of erroneous decisions - thereby spoiling the pure, objective beauty of the noble spectacle of two groups of finely tuned athletes pitting their skills and strengths against each other - he raced over to plead with the hapless official to concentrate harder.
But you would have to be feeling extremely charitable, given that the erroneous decisions complained of were all against the offending player's team, and that his manner of pleading with the linesman was one of eloquent gesture rather than reasoned dialogue - in other words, he head-butted him.
You may say that football, indeed all sport, has forever been prone to outbursts of hot-headed behaviour (though I can't recall anyone head-butting a linesman when I played Maccabi football 30 years ago) and that such incidents no more indicate a general departure from the true spirit of the game than does the garish, expensively merchandised playing kit of the average Premier League club.
But what do you make of the decidedly cold-blooded manoeuvre by one Jewish league side, heavily losing and reduced to eight players at half-time through injury and a sending off, in contriving to lose two further players so that the match had to be abandoned?
Today's philosophy is: "All's fair in love, war and football." Winning is the name of the game, any way you can do it. So perhaps employing Uri Geller is a wise move, after all; he may be able to bend the rules in our favour.
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