With a new stadium and back into European domestic football's premier competition, there are plenty of reasons for smiles from Athletico Bilbao supporters...
There's a clear problem in a Premier League diary that takes in the weeks without Premier League football. It's an obvious one, and most have you have probably spotted it by now, but let's spell it out: you can't spell Premier League diary without 'Premier League'. You also need 'diary', but that can be made out of an anagram of 'dairy', and we always have a cup of warm milk with cheese for dipping while we write these columns. So you don't have to worry about that part. But the rest is not just our problem, it's yours, and not just because you've committed to reading this now. The problem is that the England football team is the least exciting team in the world, and supporting the team is the actions of a plain wrong jerk. Put them together and you have a spectacle less edifying than a horny football journalist tweeting after dark.
Right, Moldova and Ukraine. But it might as well be any two countries for the amount of quality on offer. People might have seen the game against Moldova, but they won't have watched it. In the pubs, the option will have been for people to have exchanged opinions on literally anything - quantum physics, Syria, the rights of sex workers, how awful a writer and person Tim Stanley is - but there cannot have been a single person in the country who wanted to waste a single second more of their existence on watching the horror show of England vs Moldova. In homes across England, the game might have been on the televisions, but surely nobody could have had any reason to watch it. There were relationships to start and relationships to destroy. There were first and last kisses. And even these last kisses - as a relationship came to an end, as children saw the inception of a divorce, as men and women realised in the pit of their stomach that they just couldn't stand to be near one another anymore - won't have been as painful as watching Roy Hodgson order a right-back to step slightly closer to a centre-back.
In the stadium itself, the corporate hospitality users will have been the only people coming out of the whole sorry spectacle feeling like they'd achieved anything worthwhile, with their protest. It might have been hushed up by the media, but here's an exclusive.
Yes, they could have been watching the football, as, it is reported, England scored four goals against Moldova. They could have watched a meaningless and routine victory, but most of them wisely chose the following option. Faced with the opportunity to watch Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, world-beaters, in tandem; faced with watching Joe Hart exist in goal, with that nickname, with that face; and faced with watching Rickie Lambert, who at least seems to be doing a passable impression of a decent human being, they took the only wise choice available They retreated to their boxes and conference rooms, and stuffed their faces with greasy fistful after fatty fistful after oleaginous fistful of cooked, fetid and sweaty pork meat. Some stuffed into puff pastry, some stuffed into synthetic, edible casings, and some just slopped into a trough for assorted businessmen and busybodies.
They stood there in unison, in silent agreement about what to do faced with what was going on out there. On the TV screens that usually showed the action going on outside, so you can sip free white wine and not miss the action, a caretaker changed the feed to a screening of La Grande Bouffe. Instead of racing one another to see who could down oysters the fastest, they improvised, and started simply opening their gullets and pouring in the processed swinemeat. Stomachs started to ache. Intestines started to shake in panicked expectation. Meat started to back up, up through the oesophagi, until people were filled with pork and its rusk filler components from colon to tonsils. It got too much for some people. They returned to their seats for the second half, and promptly fell asleep, all energy diverted to their stuffed stomachs, after the human gavage session.
The hardcore remained. While Lambert and Danny Welbeck impressed, it was a sideshow to the real action. The corporate diners called in for dessert. The staff were impressed, nonplussed and nauseated. It was time for trifle. It was a risible showing. The rich simply jammed their heads into big bowlfuls of the stuff, inhaling sponge fingers through nose and mouth and eye-hole. Cold custard covered their cheeks. The sherry scent mixed with the curdling porkiness of the whole place, creating a new scent that made the nostrils of the innocent weep. People late to the display would variously see the spectacle and gag, or realise the futility of international football and join in the corpulent protest.
As the game came to a close, people passed out, and some stomachs even burst. It was disgusting. It was horrific. But everyone knew. Everyone knew. At least they didn't have to watch the football anymore. Ambulances were called. Bodies were pumped and forcibly evacuated. Somehow there were only two fatalities. The first binge is farce, the second is tragedy: this will all be repeated against Ukraine. This is Roy Hodgson. This is England. Pass the sausage rolls.
Andi Thomas and Alexander Netherton