Same old, same old.

There are going to be a few days rolled into one here, as appears to be turning into a habit on my little site as, barring a day out in Belfast, mot much of note happened before I returned “home” to London on 10th August and which begged the question was I leaving “home” or going “home”. The facts of the matter are that I lived in Northern Ireland for the first 28 years of my life and have now lived in London (when I am not on my seemingly endless travels) in London for 30 now. As always, any comments would be most welcome on the subject of what you define as home?

I was helping to look after my Dad a little although his care programme, between some wonderful carers who attend him at home, and my brother and sister-in-law who live about 500 yards round the corner ensure that there is nothing to worry about on that score. I was just doing some little tasks and trying to help out where I could. In truth, I think he enjoyed the company, and I know for a fact that he was well pleased on one day when my S-i-L had arranged not to cook for him (she is a brilliant cook) and I knocked him up an Ulster Fry, the dish which has featured so much in this series of blogs and which he declared to be very tasty so that was good enough for me.

I had fallen into a bit of a routine which, on the evidence or previous visits home, had the potential to bore me to tears and yet it didn’t. I was quite happy pottering about the house during the day, taking the odd day trip to Portadown or once to Belfast for reasons which shall be explained later, going to the local pub in the evening for a few drinks with friends and jamming occasionally. I was eating regularly (as the images show and which is not necessarily the case at other times) and reading a lot of good books (my Dad has no internet access). Leaving aside my Father’s health for a moment, it appeared to be doing mine a power of good.

I do realise that this is all a bit heavy reading for the occasional visitor to the site who does not know me, and let’s be honest, I have a meagre bunch of followers here who I thank for their support but, as I said in one of my opening pieces here, this is my last shot at blogging. I am not going to risk another commercial site being pulled from under me and so this is, at times, going to be pretty brutally honest. At some point this site, such as it is and may eventually become, will eventually float about the ether and provide my epitaph to some degree. At least hopefully you’ll be able to read it online as a diary of mine would be totally illegible due to my utterly appalling handwriting!

Yes, this started off as a travel orientated site and it remains so although not exclusively. For the first time I have complete editorial control albeit I still cannot free myself of the mindset of travel sites but I am getting there. I have all sorts of odd ideas like daily limericks and who knows what else.

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Proper cheese on toast, Tandragee style.

So back to Northern Ireland on what had turned out, yet again in my case (a very small case as it happens) on what was intended to be a five or six day trip and I was two months down the road. If you have read some of my other exploits and if you read any of the many that are still to come then you will know that this is the way I am and, frankly, it suits me. My idea of travel Hell would be an organised trip as in breakfast at 0730 sharp, on the coach at 0800 sharp, famous museum at 0900 sharp, you get the idea.

I might as well start with one of my usual subjects i.e. the fry-up or ( often not so) healthy alternatives to it. The image above shows a little variant which is probably marginally less unhealthy than the Ulster Fry which has featured so prominently here. Let’s be honest, everyone loves cheese on toast but I love making it with soda bread. The effort pictured above features the said bread, Branston pickle, and a decent Red Leicester cheese I had picked up on offer at the little local supermarket. A quick crack of freshly ground pepper completes the dish. Again, I will digress here so I warn you in advance.

I am all in favour of a bargain in my food shopping and hunt out special offers in the same way I will go to a fresh produce market late in the day as they are virtually giving the stuff away. Also, I will mostly buy “own brands” from supermarkets for many things as they are every bit as good and often produced in the same factories as name brands but there are a few things I will not compromise on. Pickle of that type has to be Branston, English mustard has to be Colman’s and Worcestershire sauce has to be Lea & Perrins. Just about anything else is negotiable but these are not. Certainly there are a thousand other pickles and chutnies available and some of them very good, but this type has to be Branston.

I will certainly buy other styles of mustard (you can read in my European jaunt of 2017 on this site of how I went to Dijon in France purely to buy mustard for a foodie mate) but there is only one English mustard although the multinational Unilever, apart from their failed bit to Eurify to a single base in Rotterdam recently in September 2018 are moving from Norwich, it’s original home to two sites in Burton (Staffordshire, UK) and Germany. No surprise there and I wonder how that will play out when, or if, given the spineless nature of our alleged leaders, we eventually actually escape the mendacious clutches of the Federal States of E.
As for The Worcestershire sauce (which my Canadian friends call “W” sauce as they cannot get their tongues round the pronunciation, which admittedly is odd. I doubt I could cook without it (not that I can really cook anyway) to the extent that when I go to visit my friend in Sri Lanka I take a bottle of it with me as it costs a fortune when imported there for the expats. As a further digression off a digression, if such a thing be possible, why are there two pronunciations of the word pronunciation? Answers on a postcard please, as they say!

How can I write so much about a couple of pieces of cheese on toast? Very easily actually and I have just edited the above paragraph fairly seriously before I took off into a further digression about the origins of these fine British firms. Then again, I do have to keep reminding myself that this is MY site and I can do what I like.
I know opinion is very much divided about my writing style, if it can be called that, but on other commercial sites I have written for before more people seemed to like it than disliked it. In truth, I can only write in one style although I am trying to rein myself in a little bit. Being naturally inquisitive (for which read nosy if you like) I simply have to research everything I mention even tangentially in a blog entry and then include it in whatever I am writing. I reckon I’d have made a Hell of an intelligence officer in some field or another.

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What, no fry again?

Right, back to the narrative. That was brekkie on the 2nd of August, and the 3rd was equally subdued with a toasted sandwich and some tomato soup for the morning meal. What was I thinking?

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That’s better.

Thankfully, normal service appears to have resumed on the 4th as you can see above. A friend of mine who is a real foodie speaks of “food porn” which I used to scoff at a little but I reckon this is full on XXX rated. I am actually salivating now just looking at this image even if I did cook it myself. I swear this is turning into an Ulster Fry site!

I’ve rambled enough here so I’ll break off for another entry where I finally get back to Belfast so stay tuned and spread the word.

Time to catch up.

For those few of you that may have been following my little excursion back to the place of my birth I thank you and I do realise that it is getting on for three weeks since I posted here. As we have now entered another new month I thought I had better bring you up to date a bit once I have finished wondering where this year has gone to. Like so many clichés the old one about time moving quicker as you get older does indeed have a basis in truth and I really have no idea how the last seven months have slipped by.

I am still in Northern Ireland and enjoying myself although doing nothing worth writing about which is the first reason for the long absence here. I have not been at all idle on the blog front though despite my very limited internet access as I have been concentrating on constructing pages about my rather crazy ramble about Europe last year and have been quite pleased with my progress although it is time-consuming. The only way I can hope to keep myself vaguely organised here is to back publish entries to the dates to which they refer which means that you may not have seen them as they are buried away at the bottom of the homepage. If you would like to have a look you can click on the link here and see what you think. Believe me, it was a pretty mad journey one way and another.

There are a few bits and pieces for me to share with you and I shall start with the World Cup which was in full swing the last time I posted in this section. Despite the increasing hype in the British media football didn’t “come home” as England did very well but eventually fell short losing to Croatia in the semis. They are a young side who should get much better especially if manager Gareth Southgate remains in charge as he seems to know how to get the best out of them. They certainly did not disgrace themselves by getting to the semis.

When I saw the way the semis had worked out I actually managed to predict what would happen although in truth it was not too difficult. The fixtures were France vs. Belgium and England vs. Croatia and I said that either team in the first match would beat either in the second and so it was to prove. France beat Belgium and then an ageing Croatian side who are probably just about over as a group defeated the considerably younger English team.

In the game that I never see the point of i.e. the third and fourth place playoff a very decent Belgian team saw off England fairly comfortably. I didn’t think England looked that good in the game.

On to the Sunday and the Final and naturally, with the odd things that happen to me something a little strange took place. I was going to the pub quite early as I knew it would be crowded for the game and I wanted to get a seat. I popped into my local supermarket and saw a middle-aged guy wearing a Croatian football (soccer) shirt accompanied by a teenage lad who was almost as tall as me. I know that number of Eastern Europeans have moved into the village of late but I had not heard of any Croatians and I was intrigued as they seemed to be poring over a computer printout of a map with the young lad who works in the shop.

All soon became clear and it transpired they were a Father and son, the Father indeed being Croatian but they were now resident in the USA where they had flown from into Dublin airport that morning. They were heading for Limavady in the Northwest of the country as the son was playing in a large international youth football competition in that area. Almost unbelievably, the shop assistant did not know where it was which surprised me as Northern Ireland is such a small place and Limavady is a comparatively large town. How they had managed to deviate off the A1 and ended up in Tandragee is something of a mystery to me but here they were and in a bit of a bind as their hire car had no satnav and the guy could not get his American mobile (cell) ‘phone to work here. I told them the place was the best part of two hours drive and had formulated a route for them but when I told them that they would be struggling to get there in time for kickoff they asked if there was somewhere local that they could watch the game. No better man to ask and I told them to come with me for the 100 yard walk to the Montagu Arms of which I have spoken often.

In I walked with the two Croatians and announced to the assembled company that as it was the biggest day in Croatian footballing history I had arranged a couple of my own fans to help interpret the finer details of their team. Utter nonsense of course but my mates looked incredulous until the situation was explained and I bought the guys a drink (Cokes all round for them), introduced them and we all began to chat. As you probably know by now I am a great believer in the “interconnectedness of all things” as the late Douglas Adams so wonderfully termed it and also “what goes round comes round” as they say. Some years ago I had been in Zagreb during a major football tournament and I was staying in an obscure local area as usual. It was my practice every evening to go to a particular little locals bar to watch the games and I was treated brilliantly despite not a single word of a common language and here was I returning the favour to a couple of Croatians all these years later.

There still remained the problem of getting them to their ultimate destination after the match and fortunately my mate Ritchie was on hand. When Ritchie is not entertaining people with one of his selection of excellent guitars he is by trade a lorry driver and knows every road in the country. I had picked my route not because it was the shortest but because I thought it was the simplest involving mostly motorway driving but Ritchie came up with a shorter and apparently equally simple alternative which he managed to get printed off on the bar computer and explained in detail to our new Croatian friend who seemed well pleased.

When we are not slaughtering each other the people of Northern Ireland are the friendliest you will ever hope to meet and I am hope the man and his son will take home happy memories of their brief unplanned stop in a tiny village they had undoubtedly never heard of. What are the odds of such a thing happening? If I had been five minutes earlier I would never have run into those lovely people but, as the late Terry Pratchett once very intelligently remarked, “Million to one chances happen nine times out of 10”!

Whilst they may have been happy with the hospitality the result of the game was less to their liking with their home nation going down to a very talented French side who had played some stunning football throughout. Still, for a nation of a shade over four million people they had done remarkably well. For those of you who do not love “the beautiful game” that is the end of that although the domestic season is merely days away now.

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An unusual departure for me.

My other two staples of blog entries are breakfast and the weather so I’ll do breakfast first and it rarely changes although, in an unusual departure it was bacon sarnies (Brit slang for sandwiches), orange juice and coffee today which is not usual but I do like a bacon buttie (more Brit slang) now and again. I have posted photographic evidence of same here! I did hear once that the majority of vegetarians who go back to being carnivores do so because they want to eat bacon. This was borne out as one of my Father’s carers came round when I was “slaving over a hot stove” and the incomparable smell of bacon wafting about the kitchen. She told me that although she had eaten recently that her mouth was watering with the smell. I genuinely feel sorry for those that for religious or dietary reasons cannot enjoy this quintessentially British item that has kept armies of builders and the like going since time immemorial.

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Hard to beat.

Other than that it has been fries all the way so I’ll include another image here of one of my better efforts. This really is causing my poor Father some bemusement as he regularly sees me photographing whatever I am about to eat and, on the odd occasions my sister-in-law does not cook for him, what I have prepared to eat for him. I suppose he has a point but I reckon I shall have enough for a decent gallery of “Fry-ups of Northern Ireland” when this little jaunt comes to an end. I promise to post a warning at the top of it so you can pass quickly on if you do not want to induce a heart attack at the mere sight of my cholesterol-laden offerings.

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Normal Northern Ireland weather service is resumed.

The third part of my unholy triumvirate of topics here is the weather, that perennial staple of conversation here, and I really do not know where to start. I have been telling you about the record-breaking heatwave we had been having but, with it being Northern Ireland, that didn’t last. We had been hearing horror stories on the TV news from farmers (are they ever happy) that there would be no carrots for Xmas dinner as the crops were failing, we had a hosepipe ban and so on and everyone was praying for rain. Be careful what you wish for as last weekend not ten miles from here in Lurgan there were homes and businesses destroyed by flash floods. Today was absolutely awful with rain all day being driven by a blustery and none too warm wind.

In due course I shall get round to writing a series of entries here about my wonderful trip to Sri Lanka earlier this year where I had enjoyed 30 degree temperatures every day and watched TV images of Western Europe gripped by blizzards and battered by Atlantic storms. Six months later and we are having a heatwave and flooding in the space of a few days. What is going on with this weather?

In local news (as they say on TV) we have had what they refer to as “the marching season” in Northern Ireland which can be a lively time of year to say the least. Without boring you it revolves around a series of marches by the Orange Order which is a Loyalist organisation and which have caused (the marches, that is) untold trouble in years past for reasons mired in centuries of history in this all too volatile country.

Traditionally, the “11th night” i.e. the eve of the marches was a time when huge “bonies” (bonfires) were lit and when I say huge I mean huge. Vast pyres of wooden pallets and tyres were constructed over a period of weeks if not months and usually dwarfed the surrounding buildings leading to all sorts of issues for the Fire Brigade. There were some problems this year when contractors, who had to wear ski masks to avoid reprisals. were brought in to dismantle some of them. Yes, when I say that things have changed out of all recognition since when I left, there is still an undercurrent of fear which I think will last for many generations. I should be clear here and say that the visitor has absolutely nothing to fear because, as I mentioned, we are the friendliest people imaginable towards outsiders, it is purely an internal friction.

With the bonfires done, the marches themselves passed relatively quietly but all things are relative, especially here. In the lead-up to the marches there had been all sorts of trouble in the City side of Londonderry / Derry (they cannot even agree on the name) at the interface between the Nationalist and Loyalist areas with shooting incidents and so on. They have been roundly condemned, and rightly so, by community leaders on all sides and seem to have calmed down and yet again I must stress to the potential visitor that they have nothing to fear from this as they would need to be Hellishly unlucky to stumble upon it accidentally.

I have some more observations to make about the last few weeks but, as usual here, time is against me and the delightful Sam is going to kick me out of the bar shortly so that is my internet done until tomorrow. I think that if I work quickly I can get this posted and the further observations will wait so stay tuned and spread the word.

Football’s coming home? Probably not.

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My egg has grown horns!

Up early again on the morning of 3rd of July and I probably don’t need to tell you that it was another gloriously sunny morning with apparently much more to come. There is even talk that this good weather might last for the whole month. I know the farmers are complaining but I love it. I also probably don’t need to tell you what I had for breakfast as shown in the image above. No, I do not ever get tired of eating fries.

The morning was spent in the usual fashion of watching documentaries on TV, occasional forays into the back garden for a read whilst slowly roasting myself and doing some offline writing for this website. Hopefully I shall have my Lundy Island piece ready for uploading next time I have internet access.
I prepared lunch for Father and then some more of the same routine before the first game of the day between Switzerland and Sweden. The winners of this match will face the winners of the England game and again I am writing in real-time whilst watching the match. I am beginning to feel more like a sports journalist rather than a travel blogger.
The first half is not nearly as good as some of the football we have seen at this stage and both sides seem to be cancelling each other out. the Swedes are having the better of it but their best effort on 27 minutes came to nothing. It was 35 minutes before the first corner of the game which must tell you something. Switzerland had a good move on 38 minutes but blazed it over the bar and Sweden have just skied a wonderful opportunity on 41 minutes. At least it is livening up. Half-time now and no score yet. I hope it gets better in the second period.
The second half has started a bit livelier with decent chances at each end, both squandered. 65 minutes now and the deadlock is broken with a Swedish goal which was heading straight for Jan Sommer, the Swiss keeper, until it took a serious deflection off a defender. Having gone a goal down, Switzerland have to really go for it and they have but with a minute of normal time remaining they have not broken through. Three minutes of added time and in the first the Swedish ‘keeper has just made a fine save form a Swiss header. High drama now. Five seconds to go in extra time and a penalty to Sweden with the Swiss player sent off. Hold on, VAR review to see whether it was inside or outside the penalty area. Result, a free kick on the edge of the box. An excellent free kick was matched by an equally good save which was the last kick of the game and Sweden go through 1- 0.
I am becoming increasingly aware that this blog is getting very repetitive so I shall try to liven it up a bit with items that are not perhaps strictly related to the events of the day in question. I am going to share a brief overview of Northern Ireland with you which I wrote for Virtual Tourist a few years ago and which I have edited slightly to make it read correctly.

A quick history lesson.

I suppose that if you are not from there, your opinions about Northern Ireland depend a lot on your age. If you are of a certain generation (i.e. mine) you will probably conjure up images of riots, bombs, soldiers on street corners and so on, and that was the sad reality of life for over 30 years in the country of my birth.
I left in 1988 to live in London and do not actually return that much. Every time I do it seems as if so much has changed. I know this would be a normal situation anywhere in the world but it seems much more pronounced in Northern Ireland now that there is a semblance of normality there.
When I wrote this piece for VT I knew they strongly opposes political discussion, and rightly so, but it is difficult to speak of Northern Ireland without at least touching on history, religion and politics and this brief piece must, of necessity, only vaguely scratch the surface.
Without going too far back in time all of Ireland had been ruled by Britain from the Middle Ages until 1922. The “indigenous” population of the island tended to be (although not exclusively) Roman Catholic. Certain parts of the island, predominantly in the North and East had been settled by what were known as “Plantation Stock”, mostly Scots and Northern English, who tended to be (again not exclusively) Protestant.
Fast forward then to 1922 when, after several uprisings and a guerrilla war waged by Republicans, the island was to be divided. The six counties of Fermanagh, Down, Armagh, Londonderry, Tyrone and Antrim remained as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the remaining 26 countries became a Republic which has been variously known as Eire and the Irish Free State over the years. It’s correct title now is the Republic of Ireland. If you want to remember the counties of N.I. FAT LAD is a useful acronym!
Fast forward again to the 1960’s when certain Nationalist groupings were involved in demonstrations etc. in relation to civil rights matters, either real or imagined depending on your point of view. Large marches degenerated into rioting and in 1969 the British Army was deployed in support of the civil power to restore order on the streets. They were to remain for over 30 years.
Rioting (although it continued sporadically over the years) in its turn gave way to either a guerrilla war or terrorist campaign, again depending on your political stance. Groups like the PIRA, INLA, CIRA and RIRA were on the nationalist side, basically demanding a complete British withdrawal from Northern Ireland, although the last two mentioned are more recent additions. On the Loyalist side, i.e. those that wanted to remain in the UK, were groups like the UVF, UDA, OV, RHC and LVF. I mentioned before that Northern Ireland lives (and too often dies) on acronyms.
Over the next 30 or so years over 3,000 people lost their lives and many many more were permanently maimed. It is a fairly appalling toll in a country with a population of less than two million.

Back to the present.

In 1998, after protracted and often acrimonious discussions, leaders from the British and Irish governments and the major political groupings signed what is known as the Good Friday Agreement which effectively put an end to terrorist activity and led to the situation that exists today. I won’t mislead the reader, there are still very occasional incidents, mostly carried out by dissident Republicans who did not want the agreement, but the visitor would be extremely unlucky to ever be caught up in one of these.
So having painted this picture of recent death and destruction, what would possibly bring the visitor to Northern Ireland (or “Norn Irn” as it is rendered in the local dialect)? Well, any number of things.
Firstly, the hospitality, which is legendary. For a people who seemed hell-bent on annihilating each other within living memory, the Northern Irish really are the friendliest people going and visitors from all over the globe will attest to the welcome here. Then there is the scenery which is beautiful. From the natural wonder that is the Giants Causeway to the wildness of the Sperrin Mountains, the Mournes, the Glens of Antrim and the wonderful Fermanagh Lakes which are home to some of the best coarse fishing in Europe.

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Party time, Belfast style.

Belfast is now one of THE party towns of the world and the craic, as they call it, has to be seen, heard and survived to be believed. We’re back to the hospitality thing again. And then there is the food. People in this part of the world just love to eat, it is like a national pastime. From the haute cuisine of chefs like Paul Rankin through some excellent gastropubs and all the way to the ubiquitous “Ulster Fry” (as featured prominently in this blog). You really have to try one of those, just don’t tell your Doctor!
I’ll stop this now before I start sounding like a Tourist Board advertisement.
All I can say to you is that if you haven’t been, what’s keeping you?”

Right, that is the Northern Ireland very brief briefing over so on to the second football match of the day which is England vs. Colombia and which has understandably been getting so much media hype here. As usual I am trying to report on this in real-time but it is now half-time and there is not very much in a footballing sense to tell you about. England started well at a high tempo but there have been virtually no chances of note bar one very difficult chance which Harry Kane put onto the roof of the net.

What there has been is niggle aplenty including an incident where a Colombian player head-butted an English player in the chest and in the same movement went on to “nut” him on the chin. Clearly a red card for violent conduct but inexplicably the American referee only issued a yellow even after a review from that awful VAR. Even as they were running off for half-time one of the Colombian technical staff elbowed an English player prompting the fourth official to admonish him. It really has been that sort of game.
Into the second half now and let’s hope we see some football and less messing about as thus far it is far from thrilling and a long way short of some of the other games we have seen in this round.
51 minutes and another yellow card for Colombia. 53 minutes and a penalty to England for pushing in the box at a corner. Sanchez yellow carded and rightly so, it was virtually a judo throw he used to put Kane down. The Colombians are really messing about to delay the pen., not to mention scuffing up the penalty spot. It took over three minutes from the award of the kick to it being taken but Harry Kane is totally unflappable and hammers it straight down the middle to put England 1 – 0 up and pulls him further away in the Golden Boot competition which he already leads.
England are falling into the trap Colombia have set for them and are getting involved in all the shennanigans rather than just walking away. Two thirds of the way through now and Colombia have brought on a striker for a holding midfielder. Two minutes later and another Colombian booked for dissent. Frankly, the ref is losing control here. 63 minutes and Colombia get their fifth yellow card. This really is a very poor spectacle indeed.
If the football is poor then Harry Kane is breaking records left right and centre. Six goals in a single major Finals to equal Gary Linekers record and has scored eight in 12 starts as captain.
Fifteen minutes of normal time and Colombia are starting to press a bit but I suppose they have to. 80 minutes and Kyle Walker gifts the ball to the opposition who break away and then hammer the ball high, wide and not very handsome. England survive but they were lucky. Another good chance for the South Americans on 85 but could not finish with a header. Into injury time now with five minutes added. 92 minutes and Colombia equalise from a corner after a superb save by Pickford from an excellent long-range shot. Extra time here we come again. What is the betting on penalties and you know England’s record in that department!
Five minutes into the additional period and Pickford smothers a good cross from the left. Colombia are definitely looking the more likely now with more of the possession and more attacks.England are showing no urgency to get forward and are messing about at the back and then giving it away in midfield (Lingard has just been guilty of this) leading to a Colombian corner. They really need to liven up again. 13 minutes in and Falcao has just directed a header wide of the post.
Half-time in extra time and still deadlocked. Penalties coming ever closer which is probably the best England can hope for as they don’t look like winning through open play. Having said that on 21 minutes of extra-time the substitute Danny Rose has just slid one right across the face of the Colombian goal. Seven minutes to the dreaded shootout and Rashford on for Kyle Walker. 27 minutes and yet another yellow card for Colombia for a seriously reckless challenge. One minute of extra-time in extra-time and then you know what.
Here we go, another shootout and I know who my money is on. Colombia shoot first and Falcao scores. Captain Harry Kane buries his effort and then Colombia score equally emphatically. Marcus Rashford slots his home in the same spot as his skipper did. Muriel sends Pickford the wrong way to score. Jordan Henderson up next and the ‘keeper palms it round his left hand post. History is surely repeating itself but then Uribe hits the underside of the crossbar and back out. One miss apiece and Trippier up next. He scores well. Bacca takes one which Pickford saves brilliantly with his left hand and then Eric Dier goes to the ‘keepers right and beats him despite him getting a fingertip to it. England through to face Sweden on Saturday in only the second penalty shootout they have won at majors in eight attempts and I dread to think what level the media hype is going to ratchet itself up to now.

 

Off to bed for a read so stay tuned and spread the word.