England Draw on Art of Sven
Byline: Ged Scott at Villa Park
So that's the Sven art of international football team maintenance . . . simple really!
Appropriately enough, the Swede began his reign as England's gaffer on the ground where the Turnip was once revered. And, on the evidence of his first month's work, and first night result, Sven Goran Eriksson has nurtured a healthily growing crop no longer cruelly chided as vegetables, but as a soccer nursery at last capable of giving our national game some proper roots.
Cleverly, to avoid the risk of being labelled flops, the FA had chosen to stage the game not on Pancake Day, but on Ash Wednesday. And, instead, it was the poor frozen Spanish who were pan fried. Stripped as bare, by the end, as the evening's most fearless performer . . . a late second half streaker!
The immediate future of English football, under this new foreign yoke, was entering a new era, yet this big night still recalled the past.
It had been over 42 years since Villa Park last staged a full England international fixture. And, appropriately enough, on the day English soccer lost one of its greatest sons in Stan Cullis, it all evoked that November 1958 date with Wales.
Not just because of the respectful minute's silence afforded Cullis, along with the victims of that tragic morning train crash. But especially as England's two-goal hero that day, Wolverhampton Wanderers inside forward Peter Broadbent (later to star with Villa), along with team-mates Billy Wright and Ron Flowers, were all moulded into footballers by the Master of Molineux.
Like another Stanley, this time last year, the almost immortal Mr Matthews, who also died on the day of a game (in his case, against Argentina), Cullis's departure was a throwback to another age when the world did not revolve around the capital and its greedy capitalists.
And, with Wembley's reconstruction having enabled England to be shipped out to the provinces, those Midlanders lucky enough to get a ticket were out to make the most of the night.
Not that there was any obvious lessening of nationalism now our national game has gone European, and we've got a Swede in.
It wasn't just the booing of the Spanish anthem, or the rousing second half chorus of 'Stand up, if you hate Scotland'. …