by Richard Brook
It is Friday June 15th 2012 and England will kick off the second of their group matches at the European Championships very shortly. I arrive at the ground, present my ticket and make my way to the stand to take up my seat. Only I am not at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, I am, however, at a ground where England have played many times before. At cricket.
I am at test venue and home of Warwickshire County Cricket Club, Edgbaston and I am here to see a T20 game, a local derby of some significance between Warwickshire Bears and Worcestershire Royals. In truth, it has been a very long time since I have been here. Andy Moles and, legendary South African pace-man Allan Donald, opened the batting and bowling respectively, under the captaincy of Dermot Reeves, when I last set foot in the county ground, around about two decades ago.
So why did I pick today to reignite my love affair with county cricket? Why the day when the England football team will battle to build on a creditable, if somewhat fortuitous draw with, many people’s outside pick for the tournament, France, to keep up their push towards the quarter finals? The simple truth: I forgot. I had been meaning to go to a cricket match for some time, so when Warwickshire’s sponsors, Marston Pedigree, were generously giving away free tickets for the fixture, I took up the opportunity immediately, and without checking the date. I ordered two tickets, to drag my wife along to the cricket, by way of a revenge attack, for all the films about sparkling vampires I have had to sit through.
When I realised the clash, between the cricket and the Sweden match, I was disappointed in the extreme, I was already consigned by kick-off times and my long commute to my day job, to follow the France game on the radio, drifting in and out of signal on the train. With England’s grip on the knock-out stages even more tenuous than usual I was aware that the Sweden game might be one of only two chances for me to see England at Euro 2012. To my relief I found out that the T20 match was scheduled to finish around kick off time, and that England’s crucial fixture would be shown on big screens at Edgbaston, afterwards.
A couple of days before the game, I had volunteered to continue The Cutter’s series of articles based on watching England’s Euro 2012 fixtures in unlikely venues, and not wanting to be a let down, I contacted Warwickshire to ask whether the screening would go ahead if the cricket match was abandoned, as the forecast was not good. With all the accuracy of Michael Fish in hurricane season, I was advised that as the cricket had been selected for television coverage the fixture would go ahead unless it rained persistently throughout the afternoon, and that the latest forecast was for “sunny spells this afternoon”. Naturally it poured down from lunchtime onwards, and the T20 game was a wash out. The irony was not lost on me that rain also stopped play between France and Ukraine; on the day I went to the cricket to watch the football.
The only thing that wasn’t damp, in a somewhat soggy second city, was the spirits of those who chose to remain at the ground for the football. The result was an impromptu game of cricket, involving a miniature cricket set, in front of the big screen. Everyone was a fielder whether they wanted to be or not, as innocent bystanders found themselves being groaned at, for failing to hold a catch, or being hit in the back of the head by a ball at they might justifiably call it. Even this correspondent took a one handed, left handed catch, at the second attempt, while photographing the game with his right hand! The atmosphere was noticeably relaxed and enjoyable, which in itself felt somewhat unsettling given our national football team’s long history of delivering a let-down when you least expect it and it really counts.
The DJ for the evening played “Vindaloo” and “Three Lions” in the build up to kick off which were both heartily participated in and finished just in time for the assembled fan’s to join in with the national anthem. The rendition was rousing and the sight of shirts that harked back to times when international glory felt a hair’s breadth away added to the sense of national pride.
It hadn’t hit me, as an exiled Sheffield Wednesday fan, how many players with connections to England’s second city were on show, until I heard the crowd’s reactions. Of course I knew that the likes of Ashley Young, James Milner and Sebastian Larsson had variously represented Aston Villa and Birmingham City, but it hadn’t seemed overly relevant until watching the match with fans of both clubs. As, no doubt, in the rest of England it was Olof Mellberg, a Villain of some seven years standing in club terms, very nearly reprised his Villain status on the night, bagging both of Sweden’s goals that at one stage threatened England’s status as eventual 3-2 victors.
The buoyant Birmingham crowd, roared their approval as Andy Carroll headed the 23rd minute opener, a “proper centre forward’s goal” if ever there was one. One of the iconic moments of the evening, for me, was Carroll’s celebration, arms our-stretched, looking down from big screen at the pandemonium that he had evoked at Edgbaston.
Naturally enough the atmosphere became edgy as England, dropped too deep at the start of the second half, culminating in Mellberg’s two goals in ten minutes, that looked to have turned the match on it’s head. England however, displayed an oft missing strength of character to come back into the game, thanks in no small part, to the introduction of Theo Walcott. Walcott’s speculative equalising goal was met with palpable relief that simply must have been shared by the entire country. The unbridled joy that met Danny We beck’s winner, was quickly replaced, by incredulity at the improvisation, and the brash audacity of the finish
In spite of the lack of cricket, Warwickshire and their sponsors deserve great credit for putting on this event. It truly felt like a unique experience of the night, and all for the price of the postage of the free tickets. The final whistle was met with a cacophony of cheers, and “Vindaloo” again sounded out from the speakers and the hugging, kissing, piggy-backing and dancing commenced amongst friends and strangers alike. We left the ground to the sound of Queen’s classic “Don’t Stop Me Now”, and tonight I am going to have myself I real good time. I am going to allow myself to believe, for no better reason than because I want to, that maybe, just maybe England can prove me wrong.
Throughout England’s Euro campaign we’re looking for match reviews with a difference. If you watch one of the games away from the traditional confines of a pub or house – through choice or circumstance – please contact us. Our details are in the ‘About The Cutter’ section.