Give Me your Tired, your Poor, your Huddled Masses


David Beckham came into this world on May 2nd 1975. By my reckoning that makes him 35 years old. When Fabio Capello told the media that Mr Beckham no longer featured in the England manager’s plans for the future, newspapers front pages and tv news bulletins went bananas. Some called it a disgrace that Golden Balls had not even received a phone call to tell him of his forced retirement, others pointed out he was a 35 year old recovering from injury and was clearly past it. On the other hand, there were those that said Beckham was sill the best crosser of a ball in the country. Then again, The Daily Express predicted that Beckham’s retirement would effect house prices.

This week Liverpool have been trying to re-sign Sami Hyypia from Bayer Leverkusen, but the Germans want to keep hold of the 36 year-old. A few weeks ago Capello thought 40 year old David James was the best goalkeeper in England. Fabio is 60-odd so we can put that down to dementia.

Paul Scholes was born on November 16th 1974. Scholes was recently awarded the man-of-the-match prize when his team Man Utd beat Chelsea at Wembley for the Community Shield, whatever that is. In a pitch-side interview after the game, Scholes was asked if there was any point Capello calling his to select him for England duty. “Probably not”, smiled the meek Scholes.

Like Scholes, Marcus Trescothick withdrew his services from his national team well before time. The brilliant opening batsmen for Somerset and England retired from international duty at the ripe old age of 31, citing manic depression and an unwillingness, nay incapability to travel, preferring to play county, not country. A good decision for him and his family, a potentially disastrous for the England team, as four years on Marcus is one of the most destructive and successful batsmen on the professional circuit, proving an old man can still play professional sport, even with two black labradors strapped to his legs.

Temporarily free of black dogs chasing me around the outfield, I again took to the field yesterday at the grand old age of 45¾. I dunno how Scholesie, Trescothickie and Beckhamie keep fit enough to run round around at the weekend, but Bealingie was more than a little fatigued after throwing down 9 overs of assorted rubbish. Both ankles, both knees and a hip were (and are) screaming out for mercy, and the fat, overripe pumpkin which passes for a head on top of my shoulders was in danger of meltdown.

The two Kiwis and one Aussie in our team were genuinely concerned as to my wellbeing. But from my position of all fours at fine leg, and between retches, I indicated I was fine and that I always looked like this. Elsewhere on the field, the two lads from Bangladesh lads were struggling to contain their amusement. Surprisingly, I’ve let my Bangladesh vocab slip of late, but by the way they were doubling up, puffing their cheeks out and pointing at me, I suspect they weren’t discussing field placements. Having said that, I understood little more of what the antipodeans were chortling about. “Here, mite, you seck?” Now what the fuck does that mean?

Our team, as you can see, is a cosmopolitan affair. It always was a rather rag-tag bunch of hack journalists, retired hacks, wannabe hacks, mates of hacks, mates of hacks’ sons. But over the past couple of years we’ve widened our net to include brothers and cousins and mates of mates of sons of hacks. Anyone really. It’s sad, as what started out as a journalists’ team can no longer raise 11 good men and true from it’s own ranks to enable us to put out a side every Saturday. Journalists get sent away on assignment, work weekends and work shifts. Sometimes the skipper would make 70 phone calls to try to raise a side, but to no avail. Hence the need for outsiders or ‘ringers’ to fill the breach.

The great thing about it, of course, is that the wider your net the more chance of including men that can actually play the game. And this has certainly proved to be the case for us. We take no notice of nationality, creed or colour. Just as long as you can wield a bat, throw a ball and run around for a bit then you are in. If you can actually catch a ball you’ll probably be made captain. If you buy a round after the the match, Life President. Complete arses need not apply. We’ve had a couple of infiltrators but they’ve been spotted and weeded out before they could do too much damage. They’re easy enough to spot:- they don spirally caps, old school tie as a belt, play for themselves not the team, buy their own beer, drink halves – you know the sort.

So yesterday, for example, we took to the field with 2 Kiwis, 1 Aussie, 2 Bangladeshis, 5 Englishmen and a Welshman (he has to play – he’s the skipper). There’s a few more New Zealanders, Strines and a couple or Welshmen who also play regularly, making us quite a little League of Nations. And you know what ? We’ve started winning games. A lot of games. Winning a lot of games very well indeed. Yesterday we beat The Times by ten wickets. A complete stuffing. Broke my heart, well almost.

The English Cricket team is full of South African ringers at the moment and seems to be doing ok. The New Zealand All Blacks have more than their fair share of Pacific Islanders drafted in to bolster their number and no-ne seems to mind. There have been a couple 6ft 6″ ginger Antipodeans representing Japan at rugby over the years, Aussie cricketers with Afrikaans accents, assorted Africans running for Denmark at the Olympics, Canadians masquerading as British tennis players. Half the Scottish rugby team would be more at home in Dunedin than Dundee (mind you, who wouldn’t ?).

So it seems Flags of Convenience are de rigueur. It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you were born, you can play for who you like, if you can demonstrate you will actually improve the national side you’re bidding for. Would Mikel Arteta be a welcome addition to the England football team ? He has apparently made himself available to Fabio Capello. He made 12 appearances for Spain, his country-of-birth, at under-21 level but none as a senior pro. You gotta believe (as he obviously does) that at 28 he’s obviously missed his chance to do so. So now he’s offering England his services. Does Fabio choose him over all the young English lads who are striving to make the grade in their own country ? Do we embrace him as one of our, as we did with Greg Rusedski, Kevin Pietersen, or Zola Budd (another Daily Mail triumph) ?

Would we be happier winning nothing with our own nationals, or winning everything (maybe) with these sporting mercenaries ? It’s all a matter of personal taste and judgement, I guess. Personally I’d rather have an old Scholes, a past-his Becks, or a Manic Marcus, than a fit-but-foreign Zola, Mikel or Kevin. But, if it’s all the same to you, I wanna keep our Aussies and Kiwis to help us stuff The Times at cricket one Saturday every summer.

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