Thursday 10 September ~
England's qualification for the 2010 World Cup finals has been deemed important enough to knock even current tabloid fixation Jordan off the front pages. To qualify with eight consecutive victories, scoring 31 and conceding only five, is indeed an impressive feat. Last night's confirmation, with a resounding victory over Croatia, was also noticeably un-English. Today's papers quietly acknowledged that over-hyping the national team has been counter-productive in the past. But they were completely unable to resist the temptation to do so again.
There has been plenty of time for African puns to be carefully crafted and stored for use in such an event. Judging by today's headlines, however, England's success took some by surprise. The Mirror went for the distinctly limp Bok Of The Net and That Veldt Good. The front page of the Sun, meanwhile, offered a list of South African items, including Zola Budd and wildebeest. This was coupled with a pun, Get De Beers In, so forced it had to be explained on the same page.
Across the coverage there was a set of common themes. A major one was gaining revenge over Croatia – England have now Stoned The Cros. Everywhere were comparisons between Fabio Capello and Steve McClaren – forever doomed to be a fool with an umbrella. There was optimism over Aaron Lennon's pace and several comparisons with the watching Usain Bolt. While there was some doubt over the role of Emile Heskey, the fact that both Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard scored was enough to guarantee a general mood of self-congratulation and a firmly held opinion that England are now "world class".
Some of English football's big personalities were wheeled out to confirm this. Even by his standards it has been a vociferous two days for Ian Wright. Yesterday he claimed: "To be accused of raping a country and exploiting the kids is a disgusting, cheap shot. I will not stand for it." Today in the Sun he'd cheered up: "What a wonderful world! ... These players are good enough to win the World Cup." In the same paper a grinning Harry Redknapp caught a similar mood: "We have a group of players which cannot be bettered by anyone." The Tottenham manager went on state (twice) that foreign defenders can't cope with Peter Crouch. There's nothing like talking up your own club's footballers.
This morning's most quoted statistic is that there is 273 days until the start of the finals. Plenty of time to get excited then. But with the football press in this mood, let's not forget that the England women's team play the tabloid enemy Germany in the European Championship final this evening. The so-called "Three Lionesses" have never beaten German opposition in 18 attempts. If the unexpected happens, however, expect more England headlines tomorrow. We may even be treated to a quote from Ian Wright.