DODGY TACKLE: Getting to the root of England's problems as Lionesses are VAR from world champions

England coach Phil Neville and players show their dismay at the final whistle in Saturday's Women's World Cup third place play-off at the Stade de Nice Picture by PA
Kevin Farrell


EURO’92 was as mad as a box of hatters at a frogs’ tea party, Ted. Eventually won by Denmark, who were only shoehorned into the thing thanks to Yugoslavia being flung out due to Slobodan Milosevic’s penchant for ethnic cleansing, the abiding memory is of England boss Graham Taylor replacing skipper and goal machine Gary Lineker with no-frills non-goal machine Alan Smith against Sweden in a group game.

With the game level at one apiece, the Three Lions needed at least a high-scoring draw but, more likely, a win to secure progress. With Lineker one goal off Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record of 49, he was then hooked by the lugs, in a scundering smörgåsbord of tactical slapstick, in favour of the Gunners’ gangly string bean. The rest, as they say Motty, is history.

Big Smudger bagged a hat-trick and received a knighthood and two Golden Boots the next day. England won the game, the Euros, World Cups galore and the former lanky Arsenal striker continues to be smug, tanned and smug again for a king’s ransom on Match of the Day every week...

Actually, that’s not totally accurate.

A pre-inflatable Tomas Brolin rammed home the final nail and that marked the sorry demise of both Lineker and Smith in England shirts – 50 international goals between the pair of them.

When ‘our boys’ then failed to qualify the following year for the 1994 World Cup, Taylor’s ill-fated cranium morphed into a sizeable Photoshopped turnip on the front page of that red-top which thrives

on flying the flags high before quickly hanging their tamed lions from the very same poles.

Taylor stood convicted of losing the vegetable plot etcetera. He walked the plank while nodding assistant Phil Neal sloped off towards the People’s Republic of Yesboss.

Steve McClaren’s umbrella, in hindsight, would get off fairly light down the same barren road.

With all that digression in mind, it was hard to know which root vegetable would be best suited to

the busy juts of Phil Neville’s relatively angled lid on Saturday past.

As England’s women prepared to take on Sweden’s women in, yes, you guessed, a World Cup third place deadish rubber, butternut squash and misshapen parsnips were the shortest of odds on this patch.

Four days after the USA had drunk all the English tea in England in the semi-final – thanks largely to English goal machine and former Oasis drummer Ellen White (pictured) not having the, er, china saucers or mock specks to take a penalty she’d won via missing a sitter – it was time to get in there and bring home a second bronze medal on the spin. Preferably with 11 ‘men’ on the pitch, as Phil himself might say, gender specifics obviously a nuisance.

Steph Houghton, meanwhile, had seemingly recovered fully from the worst penalty kick taken by a female baller since Diana Ross nearly got the men’s 1994 World Cup shut down before it started in Soldier Field, and the brave skipper was good to go again for the gutted Lionesses.

As Saturday’s kick-off in Nice loomed, the entire Beeb crew were parked in, er, an empty stadium in Lyon ahead of Sunday’s final in the same stadium in Lyon, surprise, surprise. It can be

a serious [foot]ball-buster when you get carried away and book ahead to snare the cheap flights and that.

Pre-match, a quite jaundiced Phil, in hue and view, consoled himself with the notion that bronze can sometimes look like gold “depending on a certain colour of light”. Wow.

Stopping just short of hitting B&Q for bulbs – a bronze medal already

in his waistcoat-cum-bodice pocket – a man who was Dear Johnned from two World Cup squads wasn’t in the mood for yet another sob story.

Alex Scott and Eilidh Barbour in the studio appeared hopelessly hopeful. Dion Dublin cut the jib of a man who couldn’t wait to get back to a crumbling mid-terrace in Bolton with a Shakin’ Stevens album and an Ikea gift voucher or similar.

As it turned out, the first half-hour nearly took the proverbial roof off the two-thirds empty stadium. Let’s see what it fetches at auction.

The Swedes went two up, the Lionesses grabbed one back and then scored an equaliser. Except they didn’t.

VAR clearly hates England’s guts like kids hate carrots and spuds and chalked the goal off for handball due to it being a handball.

Poor Ellen White’s surly tea-sipping celebrations were exchanged for eggs all round on long English faces.

The Golden Boot outright was soon out of reach and the bronze medals were soon skipping off to Stockholm. Phil, mind you, was going nowhere. He vowed to stick around, probably until the next bronze medal match.

Swedes 2 Turnips 1, anyone?

‘Beet’ again. Sweet [Potato] FA as

Saint George always sighs in the end.

The Netball World Cup tips off on July 15, we were soon reminded, with Phil’s sister Tracey at the English wheel. Redemption written all over it. Okay, after me everyone...

‘Netball’s coming home...’

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