You don't have to be a Manchester United fan to feel nostalgic when you read about the Class of '92. Ordinary boys in the middle of an extraordinary coincidence...
Our Johnny still gets tears in his eyes when he remembers Middlesbrough's finest moment. For fans of such clubs, the Europa offers a sexy holiday romance...
Mikey played for a locally popular band. They'd sold out this rock club in the improbably named Tarzana and I was hanging out backstage, watching the big bad world of LA rock 'n' roll go down like a wide-eyed boy on his first date.
"I've only got one piece of advice for you, Johnny," said Mikey, while he was back-combing his hair to an outrageous height. "Out here, never go for the obvious groupie. Never. If she thinks she's an angel sent down to pleasure musicians, man, you don't need her. First she'll be crazy and you'll never get rid of her, second she'll be no good anyway. They never are. They put all the work up front, man. Ya dig me?"
He was often asking me to to dig him and indeed, I did.
"So who do you go for then?" I asked, looking at him and wondering if applying that much eyeliner was strictly necessary.
"Okay man, here's my thing. Always go for the quiet ones who are in the background. Okay she's there, you know she's into you or the band or the scene or whatever, but she ain't trying too hard, ya dig? If it happens, it happens if it doesn't, she's still cool with it, she ain't crazy. The quiet one - she's your baby tonight. The crazy ones who offer to blow you within five seconds of meeting them, leave them to the roadies, man. You've got nothing to gain from her except an interesting disease. Dig?"
I did dig.
After the gig, sure enough, the phalanx of women backstage had their own hierarchies. They flocked around Mikey, who was the tight-pants singer, all hoping to be The One. But the next morning by the pool I learned that the The One that night was actually someone I hadn't noticed at all. Apparently, she'd brought in some drinks as part of the post-gig hospitality. One thing led to another, as it inevitably does in a linear universe, and the next day in the Hyatt on Sunset, Mikey was happy, she was happy and it had been a good night for all at the coal face of rock 'n' roll. It was a win for the quiet one, ya dig?
I've always thought this principle was a good one to follow in many areas of life, perhaps especially football. When you think about it, picking England players really isn't so different to picking groupies.
Currently we have a situation where we are about to play Rickie Lambert who, in almost any other set of circumstances, would not have been picked despite his obvious quality. Other more fashionable, higher profile and, well, just more obvious players would have been played in front of him, regardless of their form for club or country. Indeed, even if Lambert continues to play well, the feeling is he will still be replaced by one of the higher-profile strikers as soon as they are fit.
Lambert is old at 31, he's not at a top club, not at a fashionable club, he has worked his way to the top from the unpampered lower order. When other England players were playing like an especially large useless potato for their country, he was treading the muddy boards at Rochdale or Bristol Rovers.
When he was called up, national newspapers disgracefully derided his inclusion as emblematic of the paucity of English football talent. Talk about disrespectful. What this patronising, insulting attitude showed was just how snooty English football is and just how wedded it is in some quarters to the big, obvious names. It's like the big names are the big brands who they buy by default.
Consequently, the big brands have an inappropriate, stupid amount of belief and praise heaped upon them which they are unable to live up to, leading to equal amounts of derision, which creates an unvirtuous circle of pressure. Meanwhile, the less obvious players at smaller clubs are ignored despite their qualities. This is how we get to a situation where some players - we can all name them - seem to be an automatic pick no matter how well they are or are not playing for their club and no matter how many times they've played poorly or, more typically, anonymously for England.
It has often seemed to be the case that a high-profile player at a big club only has to have a couple of good performances in an England shirt to be picked for another 30 games simply out of hope that he might play well once again. Everyone has to make way for the The Big Man. But it turns out all too often that the big man ain't always so big. And then England fail again.
It is as though the higher your profile, the more you are picked, which increases your profile, this guaranteeing you get picked again. Your form is irrelevant, your name is everything. This is profoundly wrong.
Surely we need in-form players rather than the same old players. While you can't field a new 11 each time, when the same old rubbish turns up, plays like a drain and still gets picked time and again, it is the very embodiment of stale, crushing predictability.
Down the years England has always been scared of new or different talent, waiting too long to play someone who is in good form while hanging onto old warhorses for years.
It doesn't matter if we only get one good year, or one good month, out of Lambert for England. Anyone who can do the job when required to do the job is the best man for that job. International football is not some uniquely elevated standard most of the time. Most of the time you're playing Moldova. You really don't need the best English players to play for England, you need the English players who are playing the best to play for England.
Lambert brings a fresh, uplifting quality that we usually lack. Just his down-to-earth 'bloody hell I'm playing for my country' joy is something we can all appreciate. His unselfconscious, genuinely delighted goal celebrations presents us with a simple pleasure all-too-often absent on this stage. The usual fatal England mix of psychological inhibition and over-stated quality seems absent from his performances. Great.
But remember, all of this positivity would never have been seen without injuries to higher-profile players. Lambert was not destined to be an England player no matter how many goals he scored for Southampton, no matter how well he played. His name was not down until injuries forced the issue. Doesn't that tell us all a lesson? It bloody should.
We ignore the less-fashionable talent at smaller clubs to our own detriment because, just as with LA groupies, sometimes, the quiet ones in the background are the really hot ones.
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We asked "what is your least favourite thing about a John Nicholson column?" 29% said "the constant reliance on 70s rock stories"; 42% said "people moaning in the comments about the 70s rock stories"; 17% said "he supports Middlesbrough"; 11% said "he seems to hate me personally"; 1% said "Frank Lampard".- quoththeraven