A friendly is like an electrical grid. Parallel currents at different voltages headed to different destinations. Directions and objectives opposed but still getting and giving energy to a bigger network. It’s bodies and it’s running but it’s not a game exactly; it’s more and less than a game. Everyone on the pitch is playing their own game of candidacy, but they’re also just an x on a chalkboard in motion. Speeds become personal: while some players are just going through the motions, jogging in place, others fight for their lives. On the surface a friendly can seem boring, exclusively theoretical, but if you look more closely there's terror and panic. You never know when you'll hit a live wire; an unanticipated connection; a shock to the system.
Other things a friendly is like: a video game, or even table football. The manager twisting and rearranging the players at his whim; living, breathing coordinates. So for someone like me who still has a lot to learn about tactics, friendlies can be very useful. Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself as I wasted the afternoon away at the bar with a couple of old drunks, mesmerized by the first post-season England friendly against Mexico and taking non-game game notes on a napkin (see below).
And in every grid lights flicker in and out and reveal unexpected things in unexpected places: just as the last weeks of the regular season revealed more about the possible English team than the clubs, this game’s first use was to distill the flaws and strengths of the clubs this season. Notes: The absence of the Chelsea players- not absence, since more than present in sideline smirk- only confirmed their supreme efficiencies and how much more likable the team is when they’re not on it (Lampard excluded). Wayne Rooney is just one man. He can’t do it alone. Crumbling looms, under expectations of team and empire. Is this being attended to? Who is attending to it? Easy connection for goal between King and Crouch a reminder Tottenham was playing better Arsenal football than Arsenal at the end of the season. Not that I’d forgotten. Midfield is starving for someone as mobile and resourceful as Fabregas or Modric. Couldn’t Spain spare just one?
And as for Arsenal: there are revelations on both sides. First, the hollow promises of Walcott. My Saturdays miss his ritualized deflation already. That dizzying burst of glorious speed down the flank capped by a swift, incisive and direct pass straight to the other team. I mean- Is it getting any better? How long do we all keep hoping? I don’t like to question Wenger; I worry that if I pulled out one seemingly irrelevant card the entire Swiss house of logic would tumble. I admire and respect his loyalty to players that are struggling like Eduardo- and yet look at Vela when he’s allowed to lead! He’s bossing the whole Mexican side right now! Wenger’s neutered use of him is inexplicable.
The game also confirms that Rafa Benitez has pictures of Hicks and Gillett in full bondage gear. I’ve suspected it for a long time, but today I’m sure. Sickening how much fine football his players his players had stored up in them. They looked like they were longing to play, like their bodies were aching to be put to some tactical use.
When Manchester City’s Adam Johnson is introduced it takes hold before I can control my hands: spontaneous girl applause. Fast, fluttering little claps, like a seal. Arms held high under my chin. Official evidence that a football crush has taken hold. When he trots onto the field a row of cornflowers blooms everywhere he steps. His inclusion is a very encouraging sign- he's exactly what this team needs: freshness, raw laddish desire and a speedy left foot. Also it becomes clear that I desire to dress him up in girl’s clothes and make him have tea and biscuits with me. This can only mean good things for England.
And while the England game occupied all the flat-screens, one lone television deep in the corner of the bar showed the Argentina game. Even there Liverpool shackles were being shook off: Maxi Rodriquez looked like an entirely new player as Argentina cheerfully demolished Canada. The reception was bad and the sound was off, and the game looked like it was streaming directly from 1970. Streamers and confetti streaked across the screen. It made me think of a television that would be on in a gas station in a horror movie, fuzzy and ominous: something’s coming from the South and it’s gaining beauty, gaining ground.
Part 2: The Power of A Head Bandage: The Rebirth of Steven Gerrard to follow