Archive | December, 2013

How I learned to stop worrying and love the Group of Death

12 Dec

As anyone who has ever watched Gordon Ramsay’s “The F Word” will testify, shock value is a cheap trick.  In Ramsay’s case, it wasn’t even a particularly successful trick as, by 2005, the British public had become largely anaesthetised to the shocking nature of the “F” word.  Had Ramsay upped the stakes and called the show “The C Word”, a few more eyebrows might have been raised.  The minute that Gordon demands someone passes him “the c**ting paprika”, we’re all sitting up and taking notice.

But, even then, the shock value would still ring pretty hollow.  A gimmick to boost viewing figures and nothing more.  Ramsay didn’t really want to swear at all those people; there was no anger in his eyes.  His contestants were just a load of middle-class berks, trying to impress a celebrity by showing him how well they could whisk an egg or grill some mushrooms.  How annoyed could he have possibly been with them?

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Too Good wouldn’t dream of treating its readers with such a low level of regard.  If there’s something shocking to be said on these pages, there had better be a jolly good reason for it.  And so it is with great caution that I make the following, rather jarring, announcement of my own.  Brace yourself…

I’m glad England have got a tough group at the World Cup.

You heard me.  Glad.

Such fearless pluck in the face of adversity hasn’t always been a quality I could lay claim to.  For years, I was terrified by the prospect of who England would get pitted against in major tournaments.  During the draw for the group stages, I could reliably be found peeping out from behind the sofa while FIFA dignitaries fumbled with their shiny balls.  The relief would wash over me when a Tunisia or a Trinidad & Tobago would be drawn into the same mini-league as England.

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Not any more, though.  This time around I wanted Blatter’s cronies to give me their best shot.

It’s not just wanton bravado either.  I think a tough group will help England to do well.  If you’ve seen Steven Seagal in the motion picture Under Siege, you will know that the best performances in life typically come from situations where the protagonist is forced to hit the ground running.  Being gently eased into a World Cup is no more helpful than being gently eased into a shark tank.  If we’re going in, let’s go in swinging.

I’ve been on a few first dates in my time, and the ones that went best were the ones where I was up against it from minute one.  Ice-skating.  Pottery classes.  Even vegetarian restaurants.  The more challenging the scenario, the more I would come storming out of my corner as soon as the bell tolled.  As a result of being jump-started into action, nothing seemed insurmountable.  Put my mouth guard in, smear my face with Vaseline and send me off for a three hour date at the opera.  I was fearless.

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Openers against Italy and Uruguay will alert the mind and prime the senses.  We’ll practically have steam coming off us by the time the knock-out stages arrive.  Think about it, if you have a game coming up against, say, Spain, what’s the better preparation for it – matches against Switzerland[1], Honduras and Australia?  Or duels against top class opposition?  This draw is a blessing, not a burden, and we should see it as such.  An opportunity to gain revenge on the Italians.  A gilt-edged chance to send Luis Suarez home early.  I wouldn’t swap these encounters for all the coffee in Costa Rica.

I’ve had a good look at the various algorithms that predict our chances of getting out of this so-called Group of Death.  Complex mathematical formulae have been pored over.  Eschewing the Black-Scholes valuation model, and throwing confidence intervals to the wind, I’ve gone for the one thing that I know will drill down into the truth.  A pie chart.

Tell us, magic pie chart, what are our chances of escaping the group?

Pie Chart

There you have it.  Better than evens.  Don’t go giddily accepting any wedding invitations in early July just yet. 

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A bit of sheer terror is exactly what we need.  Lord knows the weight of expectation has buried many a previous England team.  Let’s get thrown in against some genuine competitors and see if that doesn’t charge the electrodes.  I bet you all the grooves in Gordon Ramsay’s chin that we’ll up our game as a result. 

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.  We won’t know what we are capable of until Joe Hart has pulled off a double-save from a weakly struck Andre Pirlo penalty.  We won’t know what we might become until Jamie Milner has run rings around a bamboozled Uruguayan left-back.  Quite simply, we cannot lay a finger on greatness until we emerge from a difficult group with Pele describing Jordan Henderson as his player of the tournament so far.

Some of the world’s greatest achievements were accomplished by people not smart enough to know that such feats were impossible.  As fortune would have it, Hodgson’s heroes are not smart.  What’s more, they have sold their fear for the bargainous sum of a tough group.  The pressure’s off and the history books have yet to be written.  England are coming.

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Like a bachelor on his third eHarmony date of the week, England just have to buckle down and get on with it.

Like a bachelor on his third eHarmony date of the week, England just have to buckle down and get on with it.


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[1] Too Good’s legal budget isn’t large enough to consider this in too much detail (especially since we don’t know any good lawyers), however, suffice to say that a few knowing nods were exchanged on being informed that Sepp Blatter’s home country, Switzerland, had somehow found their way into the top-seeded pot.

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The International Break

4 Dec

I took a stroll around Too Good’s Advertising Department yesterday morning.  How anyone can do a day’s work wearing a pair of jeans that tight is beyond me.  However, amidst the restrictive garments and stench of Babycham, I actually learned a thing or two about business.

Chief Mad Man, Attros Flogsalot, was holding court about something called “The McDonalds Principle”. 

The McDonalds Principle apparently works thusly.  When a decision is required to be made by committee, no-one is permitted to simply say “that is a bad idea”.  Instead, one must say “I disagree with that proposal, but here is a better one”.  The aim being that, through incrementally better suggestions, you end up with the best possible answer the group could think of.

So for instance, if you’re discussing the need to buy a striker, one person might say “let’s buy Cameron Jerome”.  The next person isn’t allowed to then just say “don’t be ridiculous, Jim, I’d rather spend a long weekend glamping with Gary Megson than sign Cameron Jerome”.  No sir, that would offend The Principle.  He has to say something constructive, like “put the marker pen down, Jim, I’d sooner saw off my organs of reproduction than sign Cameron Jerome.  But, hey, why don’t we investigate Demba Ba’s release clause?”  And so, by each standing on the next man’s shoulders, you’re always building towards a better answer.

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One can only presume that UEFA doesn’t employ such a sound methodology to its decision-making.  If it did, we would never have ended up in a situation where international football is played on a Friday.  Friday nights?  UEFA ought to be given a medal for managing to find a time of the week when I actually don’t want to watch football. 

Nobody wants to be staring at a screen on a Friday evening.  I’ve spent the entire week reading BBC Sport and checking my Gmail.  The last thing I want is for my eyes to be trained on more electronic images.  I want to be out on the town drinking lager tops and eating peanuts!  Not bemoaning Kyle Walker’s shortcomings.

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England games on a Friday guarantee one thing.  An entire weekend of no football.  And I think this gets to the nub of most people’s general irascibility with the “International Break”.  It’s just so bloody long and empty.

I’ve never had to come off heroin after a lengthy period of usage.  But if it’s anything like the international fortnight, then I’m steering well clear.  For two interminable weeks, I lie on a mattress while an unconscionable sweat of sporting inactivity chills my body.  At one point during the most recent international break, I’m fairly confident a baby with Roy Hodgson’s head crawled along my bedroom ceiling.  – Look Roy, it wasn’t me who spilled the beans on that astronaut joke.  – Now come down from there.  – That’s not true Roy, I never said Andros Townsend was any good.

I’m climbing the bastard walls by Day 14.  The return of league football at midday the Saturday before last, a 6-goal Merseyside derby thriller, was like a syringe brimming with the goods being slingshot through my veins.

It’s funny because, as medical conditions go, IBS (International Break Syndrome) is a relatively new affliction.  In the days before Sky, two televised games in a fortnight was all you were likely to get anyway; so you were breaking even when the national teams circled their wagons.  These days, a paltry 180 minutes of live football over a fortnight feels like a slap in the face. 

Informing someone that an International Break is forthcoming tends to evince the same reaction as telling them that the clocks are going forward and they’re about to lose an hour’s sleep.  Or that they’ve underpaid on a gas bill.  You’re greeted with a look that’s equidistant between discomfort and misery.  The sort of grim facial expression usually reserved for a failed actress that has resurfaced in a pornographic setting.  Mind you, faced with the choice of either starring in a Too Naughty For The English Game sex tape, or spending another cold November fortnight with only televised games against Poland and Montenegro for my viewing pleasure, I know which side of the TV screen I’d rather be on.  Fetch me the tassels.

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These days, televised football is daily fare if you want it to be.  Assuming you’ve made arrangements with the necessary subscription providers, there are a total of 48 games of live football to be had in the coming week.  And that’s just from the UK service providers.  No wonder we’ve all got the shakes.

This can all get a bit much for the nearest and dearest.  Having watched both the 1:30pm game and the 4pm game on a Sunday, Lady Too Good is slightly exasperated as to why I’d want to watch a Spanish team called Elche at 6pm.  She’s never heard of Elche and she doesn’t understand. By the time I’ve told her it’s a double-bill and Bilbao are on at 8pm, she’s practically having kittens.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the only reason she hasn’t left me is, deep down, she has a grudging admiration for my persistence.

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So, for those of us condemned to a life sentence with the footballing needle, what can we do to make the international break a little more tolerable?  Well, here’s one proposal straight out the bat – why bother stopping the league schedule?  Just have the international matches played contemporaneously with their league equivalents.  Concerns are always being raised about young players at top clubs being given enough first team action.  Let’s give youth its day while the grizzled veterans are off conscripted on national service.

Naturally, rather than welcome the opportunity to blow the dust off Josh McEachran, domestic managers are more likely to blow a gasket at the above suggestion.  Surely there’s some sort of concession to be found though?  Throw us a bone, gents.  At least give us the e-Cigarette that is the League Cup to soften the comedown.  There’s no reason why these fixtures can’t be run be run side-by-side with the international game.

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Radio disc jockeys, TV commercials and Transport For London all make the same mistaken assumption; that I have a busy weekend ahead.  I really don’t.  I have five shirts to iron.  After that, it’s up to the nation’s broadcasters to cram as much live football into a 48-hour period as they can. 

It’s no use me wheeling out the old “I suppose I’d better creosote the fence this weekend” line, either.  I have no idea what creosote is. More pertinently, I don’t own a fence.  So, a personal plea, Mr Horne and Mr Scudamore.  When the next international break comes around, and we’re all working out which goalkeeper isn’t going to play behind Joe Hart this summer, don’t let us fend for ourselves for the remainder of the fortnight.  At least give us some methadone-soaked Capital One Cup encounters to keep the demons at bay.

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“Please.  Just give me 45 minutes of West Brom versus the Villa...”

“Please. Just give me 45 minutes of West Brom versus the Villa…”