I’ve not followed England, or been too bothered about their results, for well over a decade. But when, on Friday afternoon, my girlfriend won free tickets at work and suggested taking my little brother I thought “why not?” He’s only ten-years-old and too young to be bitter and cynical about football like his older brother and he was to thoroughly enjoy the day.
This was also my first football match at the Etihad, built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games but now home of Manchester City. I watched a Ricky Hatton fight there once but this was a chance to watch a match, and not one involving City.
I must admit, prior to being offered the tickets I had no idea England were due to play this weekend. It seemed odd, a day after the FA Cup final, but then I realised it was part of England’s preparation for the upcoming Euros.
We arrived with only a few minutes to spare which, whilst allowing us the delight of avoiding the national anthems, meant that we couldn’t enjoy the food on offer at the stadium which seems to have more variety than its counterparts. However, a quick pie, a drink and a program and a couple of minutes later I was £17 worse off.
Thankfully the seats were fairly close to the pitch, and near to the Turkish fans who, despite their relatively small numbers, were in fine voice throughout. My little brother said to me “imagine a stadium full of them!” and I thought once again how amazing it would be to watch a big match in Turkey.
Those same fans were silenced a couple of minutes into the game when Harry Kane put a neat finish past the Turkish ‘keeper to make it 1-0. Many were expecting a drubbing but England were fairly lacklustre for the rest of the half despite dominating possession. Kane’s goal was to be his highlight and it was all downhill from there, as he hit a few wayward free-kicks and even missed a penalty following a trademark Vardy dive. The Leicester forward, incidentally, drew the biggest cheer from the crowd when the teams were read out before the match, and he was to ultimately score the winner following a Turkish equaliser.
Overall the game was a little flat, and England’s sponsorship link up with Lidl started to make a lot of sense. It had the feeling of an end-of-season friendly in which no-one wanted to pick up an injury. Only really Alli and Vardy showed any real bite in their work, and the Spurs man in particular will need to make sure he keeps cool when the tournament comes around. Wilshere was miles off the pace, as to be expected from someone who has barely kicked a ball this season. Hodgson will have to think long and hard about whether taking a half-fit Wilshere is worth the aggravation. Joe Hart’s distribution was abysmal, and I don’t recall a decent kick from him, but the full backs Rose and Walker were fairly impressive.
England will play Australia in Sunderland on Friday before a final warm-up game against Portugal at Wembley on 2 June. We’ll learn more about the squad during those games. The 2016 European Championship in France begins on Saturday 10 June.