Day Two and it was time for England to make their bow in Qatar, the BBC lads wondering if the players had been distracted at all by off-the-field issues. But then their anthem struck up in the Khalifa Stadium and Mason Mount sang “God save our gracious Queen, long live our noble Queen…”, so it was clear that they haven’t been paying much attention to the news.
“Another day, another controversy,” said Gary Lineker, this time the English FA, and six other European nations, backing down from their plan for their captains to wear a “OneLove” armband in response to Fifa’s threat that they would be booked, “OneLove” being quite a menacing message.
And then the players of Iran refused to sing their anthem, while their supporters in the crowd booed it, in solidarity with the protesters back home, and suddenly worrying about picking up a yellow card seemed quite, well, lily-livered.
By then, Gary had already saluted Iran’s captain Ehsan Hajsafi for having spoken out in support of the protests in his homeland, before the Beeb man went on to inform the viewers that a Briton, Zac Cox, had fallen to his death while working on the building of the Khalifa Stadium, an inquest in his native Brighton later described the conditions he was working in as “downright dangerous”.
In other words, Gary isn’t relenting in the face of all that “VIRTUE-SIGNALLING COMMIE!!” abuse. Good man, Gaz.
Off we went, Declan Rice starting his first World Cup game, leaving you wondering if he had any regrets about not playing in that friendly against Malta on Sunday instead?
There were just two minutes, six seconds on the clock when Jermaine Jenas declared that “it’s been a really good start from England”, which seemed a little previous, but by the other end of the half they were 3-0 up, the first scored by Jude Bellingham who will now cost his next club in or around the price of staging this World Cup.
Harry Kane wasn’t among the scorers in the first half, but Jermaine started talking about him winning the Golden Boot, this despite Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi, Neymar and the like yet to lace up their boots.
“If he got less than two here he’d be disappointed,” he said. “He could fill his boots,” said Guy Mowbray, before pausing, then adding: “This isn’t us being triumphant about England.”
But sure look, if you were 3-0 up at half-time in a World Cup game, you’d be triumphant too, so the BBC lads were understandably chuffed.
Gary: “Goodness me! Wow!”
Alan Shearer: “Magnificent! Superb!”
Rio Ferdinand: [Hardly able to breathe].
Micah Richards: “I’m absolutely buzzing!”
Liam Brady (over on RTÉ): “They’re not up against a lot.”
In fairness, Liam’s mood was impacted by Clare MacNamara making him and Stephen Kelly stand up to do their half-time analysis, the pair having to leave the comfort of their enormous red couch so that they could see replays of first half action on the biggest telly in the whole of the world.
But he was refusing to lose the run of himself over England’s first half display, having forecast prematch that they’d “fail” at this World Cup, because of the quality of the opposition, just about resisting suggesting that you wouldn’t see defending like it in the Phoenix Park.
Second half. It was beginning to look like Bukayo Saka would have the Golden Boot sewn up by the hour mark, Iran managing to score twice, but Jack Grealish, who also missed out on that friendly against Malta, making it six.
It was Bellingham, though, who had everyone swooning, Jermaine concluding that he was “like Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard rolled into one”, before adding that it was probably best not to put too much pressure on him because he’s only 19.
Painful as it is to mention this, Bellingham was a year away from being born the last time our lads made it to a World Cup (2002).
No matter, time creeps on. As Kevin Keegan once put it, “the 33 or 34-year-olds will be 36 or 37 by the time the next World Cup comes around, if they’re not careful”.
England up and running, then. It’s coming home, isn’t it?