Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth, Wednesday, 23rd June 2010.
Tommy Cooper's England needed to win against Slovenia to progress to the second round and remake their World Cup future. Anything less, and less than 11 days after Tommy Cooper's England had stepped out against the United States, "…it could be curtains 4 England 4 another 2 years!!" 4 - 4 - 2 was on Fabio Capello's mind too, as he told Tommy Cooper 4 - 4 - 2 jokes to the England squad in his much heralded pre-match team talks.
Fabio Capello, Tommy Cooper's England were facing a historical test, because if they went out now, it will be the first time they will have been eliminated at the first stage since 1958. That time, they had four West Brom players in the squad, you could argue, though, that the current England squad was nothing like as good as it was then.
As is 'normal' in all of the England pre match preparations, Fabio Capello was reeling off Tommy Cooper jokes about how England will still win the World Cup. Tommy Cooper joked;
- "Where is Theo Walcott when you need him? Walcott would be the greatest player the world had ever seen, if only football pitches were a quarter of a mile long. Hoof it, run. But he just gives the tackler too much of a chance."
- "The developers of Fifa Superstars reckon to have simulated this match, with England to come out 3-1 winners. Emile Heskey will be on the scoresheet in the first half. OH, HANG ON, HESKEY'S NOT PLAYING. False alarm. It's so easy to confuse computer simulations with cheap PR stunts these days..."
Everybody in the England dressing smiled, but Tommy Cooper wanted a big laugh so as usual he made an even greater joke to get it;
- "Outside in the stadium, you will see England flags everywhere, including one demanding better from players: "6000 MILES FOR WHAT??" Those England fans have had 44 years of fruitless supporting experience under their belts. All of you put bets on that England are going to lose, then if you do you won't feel so gutted for the England football fans!"
Everybody in the England dressing was rocking and laughing and on their mobiles too, getting their wagers on!!
I had been imbedded into the World Cup England footballing set up for weeks and as an on the spot reporter in this 2010 World Cup combat, there was no doubt about the very high positive energy in the England camp that we were going to be crowned winners of the 2010 World Cup!
Tommy Cooper's plans for the game revolved around the fact that England have had 33 shots so far, the fourth best at the World Cup. And Slovenia have had just 14 - the fewest in the competition.
Tommy Cooper's inspirational tactical team talk before the Slovenian match was a joy to behold;
"Lads, FIFA are running a competition this evening, 'Fancy winning the actual ball used at kick-off of the England-Slovenia game?' Well one of you stand outside the stadium as Emile Heskey's about to attempt a half-volley!"
Everybody in the changing room laughed to their high horses, even Heskey. We were all still laughing at the joke over cups of tea in the England team dugout during the singing of the English and Slovenia National Anthems.
Tommy Cooper joked;
- "Look at Matthew Upson, he has got a fine pair of lungs on him singing the National Anthem. Terry singing too, that is a good sign. Rooney and Gerrard are not singing, I'm not entirely sure they know the words.."
A roar of laughter around the England dugout, surprised the FIFA Officials.
As standard protocol, the Tommy Capello-Cooper motivation tool was stuck up around the England dugout;
"Tommy Cooper was introduced to the Queen after a Royal Command Performance.
- 'Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?' said Tommy.
'No, ..." said the Queen, '....but I might not be able to give you a full answer.'
'Do you like football?' said Tommy.
'Well not really ' said the Queen.'
'In that case, ...' said Tommy, '....do you mind if I have your Cup Final Tickets?'
Fabio Capello has that on his wall at home, in all of his cars and in the England team bus!!
The match official, Wolfgang Stark of Germany, blew his whistle and England's World Cup victory campaign was again under away. Slovenia kick us off. Milner takes it down the right and tries to clip a ball over the top for Defoe. Defoe can't quite rush hard enough to get on the end of his kick, though. Johnson fails to control a high ball and it goes out for a Slovenia throw in an advanced position. The throw ends up at the feet of Ljubijankic in the area, but Gerrard takes it away from him. Defoe wins the ball in the Slovenia half and Milner has the first chance to cross. Cesar clears it. England look like they want to get stuck in. Brilliant ball from Johnson finds Rooney on the left. He runs and clips it in, and it's headed behind for an England corner.
Tommy Cooper joked;
- "God, that pitch looks awful out there, even worse than Webley and that is saying something. The pitch is cutting up like a Madeira cake. Where is the picnic hamper, I wouldn't mind a chunk of Maderia, give some out to the lads!"
Another roar of laughter around the England dugout, which yet again surprised the FIFA Officials.
Lampard shoots, and it's a good one! It swerves and dips like a Shane Warne googly. Handanovic does a good job to hold that. Better from England! Cole, getting forward, finds Rooney, who tries to slide a dainty ball through for Lampard. He can't get on the end of that, but it's encouraging to see Lampard getting so far forward.
As the tension mounted, Tommy Cooper's reaction was to crack another joke;
- "Blimey. Lampard making a late run into the oppostion's box. I though they had been banned and I am the England Manager, so what do I know!"
Terry gets his head on the corner! It goes wide, but England are awarded another. Referee Stark is being extraordinarily kind to England here. England are playing a flat 4-4-2, with Gerrard on the left, drifting into the central channel. Milner tight to the right touchline. Lampard getting much further forward, and Rooney playing in a much freer role, wandering out wide, dropping into the hole...
Defoe steals in ahead of Mavric from six yards and volleys the ball home after a perfect cross from Milner. Stemming from a Slovenian handball as they tried to break, and a quickly taken free-kick. That was what England wanted!
Tommy Cooper gets to his feet and starts pointing to the Slovenian supporters;
- "What happened to the vuvuzelas? All I can hear is England chanting. You have gone quiet over there! You have gone quiet, You have gone quiet over there!
Everybody in the England dugout burst out laughing at this typical Tommy Cooper joking from Fabio Capello.
At half time, Tommy Cooper's England 1-0 Slovenia, Tommy Cooper hands in the air, strides triumphantly down the tunnel and laid the jokes straight to the players;
"That was brilliant. No pies today. I couldn't even hear any vuvuzelas from the Slovenian fans!! What is up with you all, you have been playing well, I just understand why? To quote Sir Alf Ramsey, 'You won it in the first half, have a cup of tea and then go out and win it in the second half."
As always with Tommy Cooper, the England players spirits rose and they had an even greater laugh about it. In the second half, England played like a team that had gelled together. For Tommy Cooper's England, this was the day that our lions rediscovered their pride and Fabio Capello's cubs returned to him. All is well in the den. The dream lives on.
From all round the world, the plaudits for Tommy Cooper's England came flooding in!
"I don't want to spoil your party," said a voice from Germany, "But just imagine a clash with Jogi's boys waiting for you around the bend in the next round."
"Kek matching Capello point for point on the rageometer today. He's got good reason."
"It was a beautiful Wednesday afternoon, and yet most people in England were indoors, joining David Cameron, Lily Allen and the Queen in front of a flickering TV screen."
The Scottish reaction, Mixu Paatelainen is the new manager of Kilmarnock. This is the kind of thing Scots talk about during the World Cup, when England win.
"David Beckham was in the dug-out as England players warmed up, so the player liaison role has gone well, no?"
"I cannot bear to watch, with an office like the Marie Celeste, all staff, mental health social workers and nurses, suddenly find they have urgent appointments out in the community!"
"It's England's World Cup nemesis in 1970 and 1990 reappearing after another 20 years, giving England a chance to settle a famous score."
Tommy Cooper at the England debrief press conference afterwards;
- " "This team played together. I refound the team that I know. We will go forward. Their mind now is free, without fear, without everything. All the fans, they follow us on TV. Thank you very much!" And with a double fist pump, the 64 year old bounded out of shot." ul]
Tommy Cooper to players after the match;
- "The USA have come fashionably late to the party, leaving us at the mercy of the Germans. It's World War Two all over again. Cheer up and have a cup of tea!!"
That is why Tommy Cooper is a genius with the England players!