The match itself was pretty unremarkable up until the last, dying moments. A goal was disallowed by the Swiss referee because of the English players jostling and pushing the goalkeeper. Nothing new about that, is there. I mean, players push and grab - kick, trip and hit each other all the time, don't they. So, why should England be penalised because they do it?
It's because it is against the rules - and the spirit - of the game. That's why. If English football players would like to play a "contact" game, they should try to play rugby, heaven knows that the English rugby squad need some new players on the team! Football, however, is classified as a "non contact" sport. I suspect there aren't many players that would manage to make much of an impression in rugby though - they are just not up to playing a real mans game at all - with the possible exception of Rooney, that is. He is the young man that has become the star turn of the English football establishment, with a value placed on him in the order of £50million now. I wonder how long it will be before the young, inexperienced Liverpool lad that currently is playing for Everton, the 'other' Liverpool club - ex middleweight boxer - becomes intoxicated and then destroyed by the fame, glamour and money that football brings to it's little 'Gladiators"? Not long, I suspect, before he discovers that 'Coke" is the "real thing" for him!
But, back to the game for a moment. A couple of days ago I poked scorn at the Italian side for crying "fix" in the direction of the two Scandinavian teams that, by drawing, both went through into the next round of the competition. Well, now England are doing the same thing. There is, of course, the claim that the Referee either 'fixed' the match or was just simply blind/stupid/ignorant/Swiss, etc. There is another claim that the cause of everything (well, England losing anyway) is the pitch itself. It is seemingly in such poor condition - especially the penalty spot - that it caused Beckham to slip and then miss the goal.
Oh, really? I thought it just had to do with it being a GAME - or am I missing something here? It might actually have something to do with Portugal being the better team on the night as well, of course - especially as the match was really won by the Portuguese goal keeper, Ricardo, who saved the ball from Darius Vassell and then went on to kick the final penalty himself, scoring and winning the match for Portugal.
But wait, there's more. No sooner do England lose, than the violence and aggression that seems to have become so closely associated with English football rears it's ugly head again. There were reports that a "wave of disgraceful attacks" were taking place all over England against Portuguese owned or run businesses. How utterly reprehensible. The first ,reported incident was in sleepy Norfolk - in quiet rural Thetford in fact. Hardly the sort of place to envisage a racial attack taking place against fellow Europeans - people that have a very long association with English history - just because of a football match, is it? Well, this particular situation took place in a pub that is managed by a group of Portuguese businessmen, a pub in which the game had been seen by a group of Portuguese fans, including children, that numbered around 80. There were a further estimated 40 English supporters in the pub watching the match as well, so it wasn't a "Portuguese only" pub. It seems that a large group of disgruntled English supporters gathered outside the pub after the match and started shouting abuse and throwing bottles and anything else they could get their hands on at the pub. It required more than 50 police officers to restore order in this sleepy Norfolk town.
There were further reported scenes of violence in many small towns across England. As Heraldo Viegas, 29, one of the Portuguese businessmen who runs The Red Lion, said: "What is going on? It is only a football match. I cannot believe it. It's like a bad dream."
It is always interesting to see how the British press handle the reporting of European Issues. The latest issue that should be of some interest and concern to Britain is the arrival in Brussels of the 12-strong contingent representing the UKIP party. You will recall that the UKIP are campaigning for the complete withdrawl of the UK from the EU. That is ALL they are campaigning for - nothing positive at all - to call then xenophobic would be to do an injustice to xenophobes around the world.
The only newspapers that had reference to the story were the Guardian and .... well, that was it. The Guardian. Not in the Telegraph, the Times, the Mail, the Express, the FT, the Daily Mirror, the Sun - not even the Independent carried the story. Of course, the BBC reported the issue but not ITN.
My feeling is that it reflects only too clearly the general apathy of the British people toward Europe and the EU - or do I mean that it causes it? Surely, the ordinary person in the UK only know what they are told in their newspaper or TV News Programme of choice? Despite vigourously claiming to 'know' that the EU is a drain of the Great British resource, it is barely ever mentioned that the membership of the UK in the EU is a Great British resource, after all.
Now we have 12 British MEP's, whose avowed intention is to " fight for an 'amicable divorce' from the European Union" despite their new membership of the EU parliament to which they have been elected - and from whom they now all draw a high salary, generous expenses and (something not mentioned in any of the news stories) an excellent pension. Maybe it's the pension rights they have acquired that has made Kilroy-Silk rethink his initial threat to "Wreck" the EU Parliament as soon as he took his seat.
I will leave the last word to Graham Watson, leader of the Lib Dem MEPs, who described the UKIP contingent as "12 angry Victor Meldrews". He went on to say, "With their ill-informed prejudices and their petty parochialism, they don't look or sound like the Britain I know". Bravo.
No sooner is there someone (il Presidente del Consiglio, Silvio Berlusconi) complaining that his defeat in an open competition has been "rigged" by competitive 'players', than another conspiracy is announced with a claim by Italian soccer federation president, Franco Carraro, to excuse the failure of the Italian football team to get their act together and actually play football well enough to stay in the Euro2004 competition. Yes, maybe I'm being a little harsh about the team as a whole, as there were several players that actually did play consistently good football. But, and this is a big but, there was a singular lack of team spirit and barely any show of the kind of patriotic spririt which any national team must have if it is to succeed on the sports field. Totti being suspended for spitting was a sad indictment of Italian luck in football - with players earning more than the majority of Prime Ministers and other world leaders, is it any wonder that they have the ability to overreach their importance. The fact that footballers are not usually considered to be amongst the brightest or best educated representatives of their country doesn't seem to get in the way of them expressing their views of the world (often amounting only to a view of their own self-importance) to the world press making themselves look like complete and utter fools into the bargain.
Well, it had to happen, I suppose. Il Presidente del Consiglio, Silvio Berlusconi, has now claimed that the European Elections, where his party, Forza Italia, scored only 21% of the votes, was rigged. Yes, I'm being serious here - he (il Presidente del Consiglio, Silvio Berlusconi) is claiming that the left-wing political parties in Italy have it "in for me" and he has now claimed that some ballot papers marked in favour of his Forza Italia party were cancelled by officials.
Former left-wing prime minister Massimo D'Alema said Berlusconi's comments were "a desperate gesture by somebody who is in trouble". He added, "If a prime minister reaches this point, the best thing is to leave him alone in his delirium".
I've seen claimed many times by various English visitors that Milano is a dead city as far as touristic entertainment is concerned. I would like to try and set the record straight here now. Last weekend was a so-called "White Night" weekend. That is when Milano opens itself up with it's shops open and entertainment, music and art of all kinds, available for everyone right through into the wee small hours.
They estimate that half a million people, perhaps more, took to the streets until four or five in the morning for rock, jazz, tango and classical music, exhibitions, poetry readings, film shows, chess and draughts. Piazza Duomo was off limits to traffic. The pavements of Via Torino were as crowded as they are usually in the run-up to Christmas. The streets were so busy it was almost impossible to move with young couples, families and groups of friends everywhere enjoying themselves in the city centre. Bars and restaurants were packed. For the occasion, the portico of the church of Sant'Ambrogio was open to host ten philosophers, who offered their nocturnal musings on the ten commandments. An audience of 350 or more listened attentively as philosopher Giovanni Reale discussed Plato and the Existence of God. The organisers from the Teatro Parenti, who were not expecting such a large audience, had to add a hundred extra seats, because even the ten commandments can be fun, it seems.
"The main thing is living, moving and taking part", said 61-year-old Bruno as he waited for more than half an hour in the queue at Santa Maria delle Grazie, at 3 am, to see the Last Supper. Just this once, Leonardo da Vinci decided to stay up until four in the morning, to the delight of visiting art lovers. The queue was enormous, but people waited quietly and cheerfully for their turn to experience one of the great delights of the art world. After the Last Supper, what about a stroll to Porta Ticinese? Or, as 20-somethings Alessia, Vanessa and Manuele suggested, to the Duomo to see short films on the maxiscreen that had shown the European Championship football games earlier in the evening. And after that? On to San Lorenzo for the "Nostalgia de Milan" concert.
Last year, Rome's White Night was ruined by a power failure, the famous power blackout caused by a fallen tree in Switzerland - apparently. The fear that "Murphey's Law" would strike started with fears about the weather, worries which disappeared after a couple of hours of light drizzle, just as people were thinking about going home and plastic sheeting was being thrown over the tables in Piazza Duomo and the musical instruments in Piazza Santo Stefano, where the Centro Mogol was to hold a concert of music by famous song poets. But the rain relented. After fairly heavy rain during the rehearsals, it stopped and after a very short time, everything had dried leaving the fears of rain as a dim and distant memory. Piazza Duomo was packed, like everywhere else, although the manager of one clothing store in the Galleria was hoping for bad weather. "We're open until midnight, but in commercial terms, we're hoping for rain, because people will then take shelter in the Galleria".
The plastic-encased front of the Duomo discouraged only the Japanese tourists, who gazed wistfully up at the few spires still visible, cameras in hand, headsets in place, listening to the exhaltations of the Japanese tourist guide. The rock concert on the large stage set up by the RTL broadcasting station attracted entire families from as far afield as Saronno, Bassano, Parma and even Palermo. Fathers even applauded Paolo Meneguzzi, as their daughters waved deliriously and shrieked, "True, that I still love you true. False, that I cheated on you false...". Kids took improbable photographs with their video mobiles, as did the 30-somethings who had travelled from Pavia and Lodi to see the Pooh or Paola and Chiara. After serving as a tango dance floor, Piazza Affari was taken over by outrageously dancing young fans of House or Electronica music until about one in the morning.
But Milan's White Night was more than just a football stadium atmosphere. It's not every day you see the statue of Manzoni in Piazza San Fedele with a couple of pigeons on its head and a crowd sitting at its feet, in the street or on one of the few benches, listening respectfully to roller-coaster saxophone riffs. Nor is it easy to find in Milan a place where dialect singer-songwriter Aurelio Barzaghi from Vimercate is singing his "Ho vist un pret" ("I saw a priest"). It's provincial - or at best Italian country/folk - stuff, and not at all Big City, self appreciating music. Yet Aldo Beselli, his paunch prominent and showing his dramatically lined features, was singing away, "ma vegn in ment la prima dona biòta..." ("I recall the first naked woman..."), concluding sagely, "El mund a l'è di giuvin, sota a chi toca" ("The world belongs to the young. Who's turn is it next?"). Well, the youngsters were there, sitting on walls, arm in arm, swaying and deliriously happy. Dialect is back in fashion, and who cares if it's vernacular? Everything goes into this pot, to make a primordial, nostalgia-rich soup. It is no easy matter cramming all this in to a single night - "all this discomfort of choice", as Marta put it, on her way to Palazzo delle Stelline to hear a poetry reading with music.
Another group of young people, each with several ear or eyebrow piercings, proclaimed "every night should be a white night". Seventeen-year-old Fabiana enthused, "Being able to go shopping at midnight is great, isn't it?" Will she stay out until four? "Of course. I might not even go home at all". Her companion Claudio is an IT consultant. He remembers Rome's White Night last September. "Power cut or no power cut, we still had a good time". The evening's schedule for Andrea, beer in hand, is to "get seriously wasted". But Silvia is more cautious, "We're going to Porta Ticinese and we'll stop for a drink at the place that has put most stuff out. Then we'll take a look around"..
All in all, a great weekend, with literally thousands of happy, well behaved people of all ages and social classes, mixing freely and enjoying themselves immensely. The magic of Italy, putting it simply.
With the agreements reached in Brussels last Friday regarding the Constitution (Italiano o English), I felt I should just go over some of the issues and try to find some sense in the discussions and the Constitution itself. The moreextreme flag-waving British have always seen the rest of Europe as a bit of a serpant headed monster - fuelled by centuries of war and argument, perhaps a little reminiscent of the Japanese soldier rescued from the small island in the Pacific that still believed the war against the USA was happening - after 29-odd years.
It is interesting to see the situation from the perspective of distance - away from the British press and television - and also away from the influence of the French press and television. You might gather that my own belief is that Britain and France are equal in their tendancies toward xenophobia - but France has learned how to have it's own voice heard across Europe far better than the British have. There can be very little doubt that it is France that has campaigned for a Federal Europe - dragging a still guilt-ridden Germany with it - although with a far smaller voice than France has, despite having a population 50% larger. With the growth of the EU, admitting a further 10 Member States to the alliance of Countries that make up the EU, there has been a shift of power away from France and toward a more balanced position. The downside of this movement is, of course, the fact that the whole political movement of Europe will now be substantially slowed down from the vision of Europe that has become the cornerstone of French thinking.
The great tragedy now is that British thinking has been subverted and led into believing the mistruths of the politically inept glory-seekers of the likes of Kilroy-Silk because of the disasterous involvement of the UK in the US led war of attrition and aggression against the Middle East countries that either directly oppose the Israeli State or the US ownership and control of oil resourses. Of course, these are a relatively small number of people that, like political groups are demonstarting in Britain at the moment, are able to control and direct the beliefs of the general population of their countries by means of propoganda and calls for religious "duty".
Well, what of the EU in al this now? With all of the argument over Federalism, have we actually "lost the plot" of the EU? It is certainly true that there is surprisingly little interest taken in the EU in Britain these days - if there ever has been any taken since Heath managed to negotiate entry into the then EEC, despite the best efforts of the French government to prevent British entry. The situation in Britain isn't singular though. Several other Member States have similar views and feelings that they have stiffled publically declaring because of their own localised political issues. So, we are guilty of having abdicated our own responsibilities in Europe just for the sake of a quiet life. We have certainly been quiet though. It is rare that anyone feels any kind of comitment or involvement in the very many problems that the EU has generated for itself. Problems mainly surrounding accountling and accountability. Problems that should have been dealt with promptly - if even accepting they should have even been allowed to develop and grow in the first place. With our (and othe MS's) lack of interest in the whole process of the EU, the process has been allowed to develop in the best self-serving interests of those with the self-seeking ambition to milk it for all that it's worth - and it's worth an awful lot!
We have to ask ourselves whether this situation is one that we can continue to simply feel observers of - or should we take it on the chin and admit our own mistakes in order to prevent the mistakes continuing - which would surely lead to the ultimate failure of the grand "European Experiment".
So long as there are people with the raw, self-seeking ambition that Kilroy-Silk has demonstrated he has in abundance (ironic) over the years - or, in France, Le Pen - or any of the other Fascist politicians that are always going to exist in our faltering democracies, there will be a movement to destroy the foundations of a European alliance of countries. Who wants a Europe when they can have the ultimate power in their own backyard - without the responsibility for their actions that would be the case if their country were to remain in the Europe as in the original visions of Europe - not the Federalised vision of Germany and France. Perhaps a Federal Europe will be possibly - in the future - but there are just too many problems that need addressing before anything Federal can be included in the short-term discussions of the EU - despite there being individual politicians that would dearly love to see themselves as the first President of a Federal Europe, I've no doubt.