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COMMENTARY

Bringing the Team Down

July 03, 2006|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

LONDON — Sigh ...

There's that jet on TV again.

Remember that jet? The spiffy British Airways Airbus A320 painted with the words "Pride of the Nation" and carrying England's World Cup team? The plane some of us with no life whatsoever eyeballed for 90 minutes of live TV over here on June 5 as it turgidly taxied, waited, waited, waited and took off for Germany?

You know, the one chockablock with scones and jam and clotted cream for the ride?

Yeah, that.

We saw the vessel again Sunday, reminding us that even when England exits a World Cup in the quarterfinals, and the circus seems to end, and the usual post-circus lull seems to begin, it's English football, so ...

So the circus never really ends!

As the screen crowed, BREAKING NEWS, ENGLAND TEAM LANDS AT STANSTED AIRPORT, that plane carried so much baggage.

The heavy-metal superstar carried David Beckham, 31, newly resigned from his 5 1/2 -year captaincy, and eventually we'd see Becks and Posh and the three boys descend the airplane stairs, 7-year-old Brooklyn carrying a soccer ball with which to practice penalty kicks for 2022.

The envy of many a jet carried England's most ferocious talent, Wayne Rooney, 20, who'd learn his pariah quotient after his blunder of Saturday, when his temper short-circuited his neurons, like Beckham in 1998, leading to a red card, like Beckham in 1998, all but assuring England's ouster, like Beckham in 1998, but thus far not resulting in Rooney's being hanged or burned in effigy by disgruntled pub denizens ...

Unlike Beckham in 1998.

The plane carried outgoing Coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, 58, back into England, when so many fans would have preferred televised coverage of a plane carrying him briskly out.

And the plane brought many of the world-famous WAGs (Wives and Girlfriends), as German retailers wept, and nightclubs quieted, and Baden-Baden Veuve Cliquot sales plummeted.

The plane descended before our eyes between scant little clouds, with England's World Cup drought set to balloon from 40 years to 44, with fans standing at the fences.

Here came the jet, and here came the aftermath. Who would become the new captain -- maybe John Terry? Would new Coach Steve McClaren free Eriksson's shackled offense? For how long would FIFA suspend Rooney?

Could this aftermath match the 1998 aftermath?

Back then, Beckham was hanged in effigy somewhere, purportedly in South London. And the nation pilloried him for months until a tabloid -- a tabloid! -- called for a cessation of the denigration. And coach Glenn Hoddle released an absurd World Cup diary that irked some players and suggested Beckham might benefit from Eileen Drewery, the faith healer Hoddle famously had hired for the team.

Yep.

And come winter, Hoddle did an interview in which London's Times quoted him saying he believed in reincarnation and that disabled people were paying for sins in past lives. And the Football Assn. canned Hoddle pronto. And a heckler turned up to interrupt the news conference to shout at Hoddle, then admitted he'd had a few drinks beforehand.

The heckler, not Hoddle.

No, the aftermath probably can't -- shouldn't -- match 1998. Already Eriksson said, to England, of Rooney, "Don't kill him, I beg you, because you will need him." But maybe Eriksson will pen a book. And surely spectacle can persist.

After all, we saw that plane again Sunday.

It came back down.

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