It’s the height of the 2014 summer in England – you can tell because the seemingly incessant rain is at least getting warmer. That still hasn’t prevented a drought being declared by the government. Oh yes, and a hosepipe ban is in force. The pubs are all full, and anyone not occupying space in a local hostelry is sitting in front of their television. Why is this, you may ask? When the rain is now slowing to a drizzle, why not be outside enjoying traditional English pass times such as pretending to like long aimless walks through muddy woodland, stints of cycling or other such alliterative activities? Well, I’ll tell you why.
Over in Brazil the World Cup finals have reached the quarter-final stage and, wonder of wonders, with a mixture of English cussedness in defence and a couple of surprising flashes of genuine footballing excellence, the Three Lions are in the last eight. Back in Blighty, we’re all pretty damn chuffed at the way Uncle Roy has marshalled the boys and having reached this stage, there’s no shame in getting eliminated now, is there? This is probably just as well, as we’re up against Germany – naturally – and after putting in a ‘backs to the wall’ defensive display, we’ve dogged out a 0-0 draw after extra time. Penalties? Against the Germans? As Del Boy would say: “It’s like déjà vu, all over again!” But maybe not. Maybe this time, it’s something different.
Hodgson, in all his forward-thinking excellence has resolved to involve Sir Dave Brailsfod, doyen of the GB cycling golden days, with all his ‘positivity’ and ‘winning mentality’ in England’s preparations for the tournament. So impressed were the squad with the inspirational way that Brailsford ‘spoke’ out, rumour has it that the England boys have adopted a new technique for taking spot kicks. No-one has seen it yet, but it’s understood to have been inspired by the ‘Bikemeister.’ The country waits with barely-bated-breath. We’re primed and ready for disappointment. At this stage of a tournament it’s our inalienable right as English football fans to be disappointed. We expect. England expects. Do your duty. Step up. Miss your penalties and make a pizza advert. It’s just what we do.
We lose the toss for ends, or course, and will take the kicks in front of the German fans. Shades of Chelsea in Munich come to mind, but quickly disappear again. Steven Gerrard steps forward and places the ball on the spot. But wait. Why has the entire England team changed their kit into an all yellow outfit?
The yellow-clad England skipper takes a couple of steps back then trots forward to take the kick. Suddenly, just as he’s shaping to take the kick, he appears to slip and falls to the floor at the side of the ball, then with a swift scissor-movement propels the ball into the corner of the net. It’s a goal! Gerrard springs to his feet and salutes the England fans. As he jogs back to the centre-circle though, he adopts a cycle-riding stance, and points up to a place in the stands. The camera pans across and alights on Sir Cycle himself sitting satisfyingly in the crown smiling to himself. Everyone suddenly cottons on. Gerrard didn’t slip. It was a planned way of taking the penalty. This was the secret penalty technique that England had been working on. It’s the ‘Brailsford’. It was a ‘bicycle kick! Yellow jerseys – of course!
The Germans are unimpressed, and still think Gerrard slipped. Up steps Lahm to square the score and Joe Hart walks between the posts. Instead of squaring up to the German skipper, he turns sideways and picks up on the way that Gerrard walked back to the centre-circle. He’s ‘mock’ riding a bike up and down the goal-line. Lahm looks at the referee with indignation. The official shrugs his shoulders. Nothing in the rules against it, so long as he doesn’t advance from the line. Lahm advances, but has clearly been put off and lifts the ball over the bar. Hart gives it a cheery wave and cycles off to the touchline.
In the goal Manuel Neuer gives a knowing nod. Nobody is sure what he’s thinking, but it’s probably not ‘Vorsprung durch Technik!’ England’s next penalty taker is Daniel Sturridge. The Liverpool man is a relatively new addition to the England squad and Neuer doesn’t know him well. Back in England everybody is thinking that the keeper will know what’s coming this time. Neuer however doesn’t realize Sturridge is left-footed. He mirrors Gerrard’s approach, but falling the other way before scissoring the ball into the opposite corner. The left-footed ‘Brailsford!’ Neuer never read it. 2-0 to England.
The Germans are clearly a little put-out by now. Next up for them is Franz Beckenbauer. Yes, ‘Der Keiser’ himself is back in the squad, called in as a late replacement. Hart cycles across the line, clearly fully confident in his technique. Beckenbauer waits, and then as Hart cycles away for the left-hand post, he rolls the ball into the corner that Hart was leaving. Anticipating the ruse however, Hart stops, and back-pedals towards the ball, deftly flicking the ball around the post with his heel. “Nein,” demands Beckenbauer. “You were cycling that way!” he declares pointing to the other post. Hart ‘cycles’ over to him and whispers in his ear, “Ah, but I had a fixed wheel so I could stop and reversed quickly.” Beckenbauer nods slowly, realising it was a fair cop.
Next for England is…Paul Gascoigne. Another late call up. “Remember Italia ’90” scream all of England. Gazza does. It’s payback time. Neuer is clearly unsure, but is resolved not to be tricked again. The yellow clad Gazza runs towards the ball, then as he falls to one side, Neuer reads it as a left-footed ‘Brailsford’ and moves to the side, but Gazza flips backwards at the same time and back-heels the ball into the other corner. It’s a reverse ‘Brailsford’ and England are 3-0 up! One save from Hart and England have won.
The next German up is Andreas Moller. The player who struck the winning penalty that knocked England out of Euro ’96, and then stood there, surveying the crowd. In steps Hart, but he seems to have ditched his bicycle technique. There’s no leaning forward on imaginary handlebars. Still side on though, he wobbles back and forwards as if unbalanced. “It’s fine” he calls out to Moller. “I’m on a unicycle!” Moller’s composure is gone and he hits the ball straight at Hart who casually catches it and cycles off towards his jubilant team-mates. 3-0. 3-0! On penalties against Germany!
All I can hear is the sound of bicycle bells going off. Hang on, where are they coming from? I turn over in bed and see the alarm clock going off. Oh, no. It was just a dream. I feel like Bobby Ewing (for those old enough to remember) I sit up and rub my eyes. None of it happened. Beckenbauer? How could it be? Gazza? I should have realised.
So, none of it happened. It couldn’t happen – apart from the rain, drought and hosepipe ban that is. Or perhaps, it could…
If you were the England manager, who would you want to address the England players ahead of Rio? Lord Sebastian Coe? Sir Bobby Charlton? Or perhaps someone from outside the sporting world?