The Sir Bobby Robson Trophy.
England 3 (Ferdinand, Thompson, Shearer [pen]), Germany 2 (Hellmer. Bobic)
I'm not a huge fan of Clive Tyldesley, but he's in cracking form commentating on the Sir Bobby Robson trophy match between veterans of the England and Germany teams of Italia '90. "To a man, St James's Park rises to it's feet..." he intones solemnly as the camera closes in on the man of the moment, the wax-faced and wheelchair-bound Bobby Robson. 11 of those who took part in that unforgettable World Cup semi-final 19 years ago have turned out to honour the former England coach and raise money for his charitable Trust which supports NHS hospitals on Tyneside. It's 12 if you count Tydesly's co-commentator, Terry Butcher, who's unable to play because he's had knee replacements in both legs. Gary Lineker just couldn't be arsed.
The pre-amble seems to last the length of three matches. Paul Gascoigne reminisces in rapid fire, scatter gun geordie on his 1990 World Cup: "Like I say, Aberdeen Angus Montessori school the lion the witch and the wardrobe pennies from heaven total eclipse of the heart James Gandolfini to be fair. Wilson Keppel and Betty inna gadda da vida do the locomotion with me catch a falling strar and put it in your pocket save it for a rainy day for the Gaffa, like..." David Platt nods in grave assent.
Of course, no England v. Germany match would be complete without a burst of 'Nessun Dorma'. Tenors Unlimited (I'm guessing that's how it's spelt - although, presumably it cost an unlimited amount of tenners to hire them) are wheeled out to over-emote and joylessly pummel the rapidly swelling crowd with unlimited quantities of vibrato.
Finally, the teams are presented to Sir Bobby. Peter Shilton is accompanied by the scariest mascot in the history of the game. If you can picture an even more pasty faced, un-made-up Michael Jackson wearing a Mick Hucknall wig, you'd get the idea. And probably vomit. The poor lass can't help it, I suppose. As Bobby is wheeled down the line of players and officials, it's all smiles, handshakes and bonhomie from both sides, with the exception of German player-coach Lothar Matthaus, who looks as if he wants to kill something.
Sir Bobby is presented with a UEFA lifetime achievement award, presumably for his contribution to touchline jigging and without any further ado, the match kicks off. "The average age of the England side is 45 years old, compared with Germany, who's average age is 41..." says Tyldesley, getting his excuses for the inevitable England defeat in remarkably early even for him. There's early danger as a German wingback strolls up to the byline and floats in a tempting cross to the near-post, but it's serenely plucked from the air by the ever-reliable Shilton, who promptly pulls a thigh muscle in the process of gathering the ball and throwing it out. Apart from picking the ball out of the net after Thomas Hellmer has opened the scoring for Germany, it's his sole noteworthy contribution before being substituted.
"The England bench is made up of a variety of R&B singers, TV quiz show hosts and one or two comedians", Clive Tydesley informs us, and as if by way of proof of the latter, Shilts is replaced by Dave Beasant. It's not long before he too is called into action, retrieving the ball from the back of his goal after Bobic has added a second for Germany. "The German goalkeeper is Oliver Recks", says Tyldesly. "We can only hope..", he adds mournfully.
2-0 down, with only 18 minutes played. This calls for a heavy dose of mid-match anaysis. "What's going wrong?" One of the small army of pitchside reporters ITV 4 have deployed to cover what is, let's face it, one of the key games of the pre-season warm up period, asks England manager for the day, Howard Wilkinson. " We need to inject a bit more pace up front, Wilkinson shrewdly assesses. "Do you think you can do that Howard?" " Oh yes", smiles the coach, adding obliquely, "...once the egos have been satisfied..." So, the England plan is to wait for the Germans to start coasting, take Shearer off and bring on Craig David...it *just* might work...
But intead, the wily Wilkinson conjures up an astonishing sleight of hand. Instead of Craig David, a naked man takes to the field of play. "There's a naked man on the pitch" shrieks Tyldesley, in what will transpire to be the game's major turning point. The camera studiously attempts to avoid him, but a raking crossfield pass is headed straight for him and so the nudist enters the camera's field of view. The naked man neatly dummies the ball for Jorge Albertz, whose low drive fizzes just wide of an upright. But the Germans' rhythm has been upset by the arrival of the portly streaker. "We don't have them in Germany", admits one shaggily haired and clearly distracted - possibly through medication - German player interviewed pitchside.
Within moments of the birthday suited one's appearance, England have pulled a goal back as Les "Sir Leslie" Ferdinand nods home from Alan Thompson's free kick. Still traumatized by their exposure to such flabby bellied northern nudity, the German defence concede another free kick on the edge of their box, one which Alan Thompson converts with a powerful drive. For some reason, I punch the air triumphantly. "They don't even have streakers", gloats a now bouyant Tyldesley. "Call themselves an international power?!?"
I'd been looking forward to watching Gazza play again, but he's having a pretty quiet time and is barely mentioned in the first 20 minutes. It turns out that he's used the time wisely though having stealthily spent the first quarter of the game walking into the German penalty area. Suddenly, there's a flash of the old magic as the ball finds him with a shooting opportunity ten yards out. But with characteristic selflessness, he slips a cheeky square pass to Shearer who, with atypical profligacy, blasts wide.
Finally substituted after heroically walking about a bit for thirty minutes, Gazza is philosophical about the missed chance. "Bits and bobs, la-di-da-gunner-Graham-French kissin' in the USA Borehawood Jeffrey Archer wish they all could be Californian girls Mantovani wristwatch abatoir Reesus pieces chicken korma, I probably should've shot meself, like," he gabbles, ruefully. You see, this may be a friendly, but it's also England versus Germany and, as such, a matter of life and death.
After what seems like three days rather than 45 minutes, referee Dermot Gallagher finally blows up for half time. "I wonder what they'll be drinking in the changing room..." asks a wistful Terry Butcher. We'll never know for sure, but with Gazza around, it's a fairly safe bet that whatever it is will be administered in a dentist's chair..
The second half ambles along in much the same fashion. "England can call on the likes of Angus Deayton, Simon Webbe, Craig David, Paddy McGuinness, Jim Rosenthal, Roger de Courcey and Nookie bear..." Clive tells us (I made up the bit about Roger de Courcey and Nookie Bear, obviously). All the same, Fabio Capello must be deeply envious of the strength in depth at Howard Wilkinson's disposal. Leeds United manager Simon Grayson comes on (at least I think he said Simon Grayson. It could, I admit, have been Larry Grayson - certainly as far as his tackling and distribution was concerned.) Ex-Port Vale trainee Simon Webbe comes on and looks quite a handy outside right. Craig David is poor. At last, with 10 minutes remaining, Alan Shearer runs onto a good through ball and is upended inside the area. Penalty. Shearer steps up and scores and England hang on to see out the result, Paddy McGuinness coming on to shore up the defence for the last minute and a half with the missing 'N' from the name on his shirt hastily written in black marker pen. Nick nack noo.