England stand firm in Euro Qualifier against Bulgaria

Last night’s game will stand as a particularly significant one in the timeline of racism within football. England put up a crushing performance against floundering Bulgaria, securing a 6-0 Euro qualifying victory in Sofia. This should have been a joyous occasion but instead, the moment was marred by the sound of shameful racist chants from Bulgarian supporters.

The shocking abuse continued throughout the match with threats even made about abandoning the game. Sadly, the warnings did not eliminate the toxic atmosphere created by Bulgarian fans. The game carries significance not simply because of the disgraceful behaviour displayed by the home fans but ultimately the inspiring way that England handled the tense situation.

England were well within their rights to walk off the pitch. They could have chosen not to be subjected to such injustice but instead did something even more powerful. They persevered and stood strong in the face of adversity.

Rather than giving any power to the abusers, they instead made a statement that they would not let racism defeat them. The fact that they persisted and went on to secure a thrashing victory, professed a more profound message.

England Manager, Gareth Southgate, stated that ‘in the second instance, we could have walked off but the players were very keen to finish the first half and talk it through. Not one player wanted to stop, they were absolutely firm on that.’

Bulgaria captain, Ivelin Popov, even addressed fans at half time in an attempt to curtail the abuse. However, the reaction that ensued following the warning over the tannoy, suggested that Bulgarian fans did not see any issue in their actions.

What was even more shocking was Bulgaria coach, Krasimir Balakov, claimed that he did not hear any racist chanting but was quick to point out that British fans whistled during the Bulgarian national anthem.

England soldiered on with a strong first half which saw effortless goals from Marcus Rashford, two from Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling, who went on to win Man of the Match. Sterling then went on to score his second goal in the second half and it was none other than Harry Kane who scored the sixth.

Tyrone Mings made his England debut, also putting up an impressive first performance. Speaking to ITV he said ‘It was a great occasion, I made my debut, slightly overshadowed by a few disappointing chants. It was quite clear to hear on the pitch but I think we showed a great response and showed a great togetherness and hopefully let football do the talking.’

There was no denying that Bulgaria simply put up a poor performance yesterday. All efforts were futile as their flimsy attempts to take control allowed England to move the ball from side to side at will. England football fans have taken to Twitter to argue that the monumental loss was payback for the actions of Bulgaria fans.

Football fans are hoping that England will continue this fighting spirit in their next game against Montenegro in November at Wembley Stadium.

Racism has noticeably become more prominent within football this year. This game has not only highlighted the severity of this issue but also what can happen when a team unites and perseveres through the chants and the taunts. In the words of Marcus Pickford, the game was ‘not an easy situation to play in and not one which should be happening in 2019’. Despite the jeers, England have come out victorious and have proved that their spirit will not be broken by bigotry.



England’s World Cup Dream Ends in Heartbreak

So, football isn’t coming home – defeat to Croatia 2-1 in extra time. You can argue the England performance in this World Cup on two contrasting levels.

First, we did far better than anyone expected – which we did. Some terrific performances along the way. Lots to build on with all the young players coming through.

Second, we beat nobody any good – Tunisia, Panama, lost to Belgium’s reserves, Colombia and Sweden. We had a huge slice of luck, with Spain and Germany, not getting through our side of the draw. But you can argue we deserved that down the years in the wake of previous World Cup outrages such as cheat Diego Maradona’s Hand of God and Frank Lampard’s disallowed ‘goal’ in South Africa when it was miles over the line.

Ironic that Gareth Southgate goes out as a player at the semi-final stage of Euro 96 and goes out at as a manager at the semi-final stage of World Cup 2018. His performance in Russia was over-hyped and now, one suspects, he will be over-criticised. All too often in this tournament we have sat back and sought to defend a lead when attack is always the best form of defence. And so it proved against Croatia.

Ahead from the 5th minute via a great free kick by Kieran Trippier, we missed the opportunity to kill it off with Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard fluffing wonderful chances. We were all over them in the first half, totally dominant.

Then second half we gradually went deeper and deeper, allowed them to play, tried to defend our advantage ridiculously far out, and payed the price. Goals by Perisic in the 68th minute and Mandzukic in the second period of extra time. Southgate’s use of substitutes, not for the first time, was appalling. Not getting them on soon enough and ending up with ten men – how do you do that? And was the composition of the team ever right?

Dele Alli never really imposed himself, Lingard was mostly unconvincing and Kyle Walker was always uncomfortable playing centre back – responsible for the Perisic goal. Raheem Sterling stretches defences with his blinding pace but can’t score at international level and constantly runs up blind alleys. It left Kane isolated. No creative midfielder in the role of Luka Modric. The big positives were John Stones, Harry Maguire, Trippier and Jordan Pickford, a base to work off.

England now play Belgium again in the third and fourth placed play-off on Saturday, and will probably lose because the Belgians are far more skilful and our boys will be out on their feet. The “final” was France v Belgium.

Prediction for Sunday’s France v Croatia showdown, 4-1 to France. Sadly, we will not be seeing the expression on Novichok Putin’s face had he been handing the trophy to England!

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England leave it late against Tunisia in World Cup opener

Harry Kane pulled it out of the fire as England beat Tunisia 2-1 with a late injury-time strike.

The victory, plus three more points against Panama on Sunday, should see England through to the next stage of the World Cup.
Hopefully, all set fair for a showdown with Belgium a week on Thursday to decide who tops the group.

It took two old-fashioned England-style goals – corners headed on by first John Stones and then Harry Maguire saw Kane free and converting the opportunities.

His first with the boot, the second a clever header.

England made hard work of it – started magnificently and could arguably have been three or four up in the first 30 minutes.
But they spurned the chances, Jesse Lingard being the main culprit, and one feared the Three Lions might suffer for it.

And they did when Kyle Walker, a wing back playing centre back, was adjudged to have fouled his man in the penalty area with a wandering elbow. Sassi scored from the spot.

England were then aggrieved that two rugby tackles on Kane in the box went unpunished by an ineffective referee – disappointing because the men in the middle have been generally good so far. Where was the VAR system when England needed it?
For long periods of the second half a stuffy but toothless Tunisia looked like they would scrape an undeserved draw.
Cue Captain Kane to the rescue.

Kane, Henderson, Trippier and Stones were top quality for England. But Sterling lacked effectiveness and the laboured Dele Alli, seemingly injured, should have been pulled off long before he eventually was – a poser why Gareth Southgate failed to act earlier.

The manager will also be baffled how England could be so fluent in the first half and so ineffective in the second.
Plenty to work on but we are off to a flyer.

The Belgium game now looks like being a cracker. Especially as the Belgians easily beat Panama 3-0 with a beauty from Dries Mertens and two from Romelu Lukaku. Panama look as if they will be the whipping boys of the group. England must make sure they put them away, then bring on the Belgians.

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2018 World Cup Warm-up – England V Nigeria Review

For the first half at Wembley it felt like a new England, a vindication of nearly two years of work from Gareth Southgate trying to lift the burden of history from these players.

England walked away with the win, even after a second half resurgence from a seemingly inspired Nigeria. In a week of headlines dominated by Raheem Sterling and Nigeria’s eye catching new kit, it was refreshing to see the game itself in the spotlight.

England started very brightly, coming close with a few early crosses, before Chelsea defender Gary Cahill celebrated his return to England’s squad by opening the scoring with a powerful header after only seven minutes. It was a triumphant return for Cahill, back in the squad in place of Harry Maguire. While the Leicester man may hold the edge in terms of passing ability (A key attribute for Southgate), Cahill showed he can be a big threat on set pieces, an area that England could possibly exploit during the World Cup.

England’s total first-half domination was emphasized when captain Harry Kane scored his eighth goal in his last seven appearances. Kane struck from outside the area just six minutes before the interval when Nigeria keeper Francis Uzoho allowed his 18-yard shot to slip in. The 19 year old really should have saved the effort, but for Kane its yet another reminder of his value to the side. Alongside Kyle Walker he stands out as the world class talent in the England squad, and thus, if England are to have a successful campaign in Russia, you would think Kane has to play a leading role.

Southgate, however, will be pleased by the pace and movement shown by his attacking players in a thoroughly convincing opening 45 minutes.

Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi gave Nigeria’s thousands of fans inside Wembley hope two minutes after the break with a crisp finish but England – who had Raheem Sterling booked for diving – closed out the victory in relatively untroubled fashion. Nigeria had a few more chances to level, but unlike against Italy two months ago, England held out for a morale boosting win.

“The most important thing I do in the next six weeks is to protect the players” – Southgate

England’s preparations continue with another friendly against Costa Rica at Elland Road on Thursday, where it is anticipated that Southgate will look to rotate his side to allow the likes of Vardy, Loftus-Cheek and Alexander-Arnold to get some minutes under their belt. The national team has played at Elland Road twice before, a 3-3 draw with Sweden in June 1995 was preceded by defeat against Italy in 2002.

They will look to better that record this week, and no doubt Gareth Southgate will be hopeful of a performance to get the fans dreaming again, ahead of a big summer in Russia.

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England v Scotland 6 Nations Review

England in pole position after victory over Scotland – Next up France

An excellent day of rugby was enjoyed by Eventmasters clients at “Merits”, the No 1 hospitality venue at Twickenham, where over 500 guests witnessed a hard fought England victory over the auld enemy Scotland and in doing so keeping their 2015 RBS Six Nations hopes alive. Stuart Lancaster’s side retained the Calcutta Cup and now top the table going into the final weekend with Wales and Ireland in a three-way fight for the title, point’s difference looks likely.

If that is the case England may regret not finishing off the catalogue of chances they created, particularly in the first half. Centre Jonathan Joseph showed his brilliant footwork and power to open the scoring inside five minutes with his fourth try of the tournament. But the England backline failed to finish further openings created by Mike Brown and Luther Burrell. Antony Watson had a try ruled out, much to the annoyance of a packed Twickenham crowd. Despite England’s superiority they somehow found themselves trailing at half-time 13-10 after a Mark Bennett try and two Greg Laidlaw penalties.

Fly-half George Ford produced his best performance in an England shirt restoring the home sides lead after 42 minutes, throwing a dummy and waltzing in untouched under the posts. Brown thought he had extended the advantage but his try was called back for a forward pass by James Haskell. Replacement hooker Tom Youngs ran a great angle to break the Scottish defence but his wild pass didn’t find a teammate as another chance went begging. Winger Jack Nowell was rewarded for his fine performance as he crashed over in the corner and the score finished 25-13.

hostess-servicePrior to kick off guests enjoyed full hospitality from the excellent Merits Hospitality Complex situated within the Shadow of the South Stand. On arrival you are welcomed by our event team including VIP hostesses, a full complimentary bar (Champagne Reception) is available throughout the day along with a superb catering package provided by our own specialist outside catering company – Eventmasters Catering Services Limited (Please click here for details of our award winning menu provided).

rugby-legends-guest-speakersTim Stimpson (England & British & Irish Lions) our resident celebrity host was joined by other ex-Internationals rugby players Tim Payne (England)  and Gavin Hastings (Scotland & British & Irish Lions) providing a real Clubhouse environment in which to entertain your important guests.

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6 Nations Weekend Three Review

A desperately disappointing defeat for England against Ireland in the RBS Six Nations Championship … but perhaps not if they learn the lessons going into this autumn’s World Cup.

Key players out injured have still to come back, and it may all end up good.

England could yet emulate the heroes of 2003, but they must improve.

While Ireland deserved their 19-9 victory it was a tight game, just a try in it with England conceding too many kickable penalties.

Something of a master class from Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton at the home side’s pivotal 9 and 10 positions.

But why, why, why didn’t England head coach Stuart Lancaster give Danny Cipriani the last 20-25 minutes at fly half?

George Ford had played well but at 19-3 down England were already contemplating defeat and had little to lose. If anyone in a white shirt can turn a game with a moment or two of brilliance it is Cipriani.

You win close contests by being brave – Lancaster was too conservative.

Things did improve in the last 20 minutes but it was all too little too late. Ireland had the game in the bag and knew it.

Indeed Lancaster didn’t even win the kicking for position duel.

As former England star Jeremy Guscott pointed out afterwards, the kicking game has become crucial in international rugby.

Murray and Sexton kicked the ball 19 times between them, regaining possession on six occasions. England’s half-backs Youngs and Ford kicked the same number of times and didn’t get the ball back once. Before the game England had retained ten per cent of the ball they had kicked in their first two Six Nations matches; Ireland were almost double that at 19 per cent.

Teams that have won World Cup finals do not concede tries, knocking over the penalties, playing the percentages.

Still, I expect England to return to form at Twickenham against the hapless Scots.

Scotland had gone into the series hopeful they had turned the corner, confident in their backs and seeing improvement in the forwards.

In reality Scotland’s defeat by Italy appears to show they have gone backwards from last season.

A defeat littered with missed opportunities and basic errors.

After England they face Ireland – potentially with a Grand Slam to play for – at home on the final day.

The wooden spoon beckons.

As for Ireland it is another “decider” coming up, this time against a Wales side that rediscovered some of their best form to beat France in Paris.

Wales have a habit of bouncing back and with home support at the Millennium Stadium will be formidable opponents.

Very hard to call the game.

Wales are packed with good players – after all they formed the basis of the British and Irish Lions win over Australia in 2013.

They still aspire to win the Six Nations and this just might be where Ireland come unstuck.

As for France, they look out of sorts and will be facing a jubilant Italy in Rome.

France should still win but if their poor form continues it is not out of the question that Italy could turn them over.

It is shaping up to be one of the most exciting Six Nations in years with Ireland, England and Wales all still in the race for the title.

In fact England may yet snatch it if they put plenty of points on the Scots and the Welsh turn over the Irish.

England in free attacking flow should be a great spectacle coupled with a VIP corporate hospitality package.

Who was your Team of the Weekend?

Here are a few names to start you off: Johnny Sexton, Connor Murray, Sergio Parisse, Robbie Henshaw, Mike Ross, George North, Paul O’Connell, Alun Wyn-Jones and Dan Cole.