Spurs Ease Past Partizan and Pranksters

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 28th 2014)

Rudely Interrupted

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Tottenham Hotspur guaranteed progress to the last 32 with a 1-0 victory over already eliminated Serbian outfit FK Partizan of Belgrade. The Serbian fans behaved immaculately despite three pitch invasions and the provocation of an Albanian flag being flaunted at them. They had their chances, but both teams were profligate.

Former Valencia striker Roberto Soldado being one of the worst culprits even though he got an unconventional assist for former French Under-21 international Benjamin Stambouli’s 49th minute game-winner. Stambouli put Soldado through and the striker did everything right but score. He latched on to Stambouli’s pass and chipped Partizan keeper Milan Lukač, but as was typical of his luck since joining Spurs, it hit the post and rebounded. Stambouli had followed in to score easily – his first goal for the club.

Amazingly, given the number of chances it was the only goal in the match. Within the first minute Erik Lamela, scorer of the fantastic rabona against Asteras Tripolis in the last Europa League match at White Hart Lane, found Soldado on the edge of the area. The former Valencia striker pulled his shot wide. Petar Grbić was at the heart of much of Partizan’s best attacks. With less than 10 minutes played Grbić crossed from the right flank, but Petar Škuletić couldn’t make contact.

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Near Misses

In microcosm it summed up the Serbians’ luck. Grbić’s long ball found Branko Ilić on the right wing after 17 minutes. His cross was controlled by Darko Lazović, but his shot went just wide of Hugo Lloris’ goal. Both Partizan and Spurs exchanged near misses. Moussa Dembélé, later to take down the third of three pitch invaders which organisers Troll Station called entertainment, won possession before spreading it to the left wing. Lamela crossed, but Soldado failed to connect at all.

Almost ten minutes later a nice move by Partizan culminated in another missed opportunity. Lazović bypassed Spurs’ defence by chipping it to Škuletić who rounded Lloris turned and squared, but the inviting cross eluded both Jan Vertonghen and then Lazović.

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Three first half ‘pranksters’ were rudely interrupted at White Hart Lane when 22 men insisted on playing a football match last night. Apparently the organisers of the invasions Troll Station think this was entertainment. The company whose t-shirts they were wearing headphones manufacturers BassBuds caught initial flak over it. The first of the invaders Nathan Brown amused the crowd by eluding security while taking selfies with Spurs players. The other two wore the joke out and the third managed to get play suspended for the best part of ten minutes.

More of the Same

After Stambouli scored Soldado had one last chance to ignite his Spurs career. His Head Coach Mauricio Pochettino claimed to be satisfied that he was getting into the right positions and making chances, but after Aaron Lennon’s delightful dink put Soldado through with just the keeper to beat, Pochettino must have expected to see his team’s lead doubled. Instead Lukač managed to save at point blank range. It summed up Soldado’s night and career to date at White Hart Lane.

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A minute later a flowing Spurs move ended when Vojislav Stanković blocked Lennon’s shot. Lamela went very close shortly afterwards. The in-form Harry Kane replaced Soldado with 25 minutes to go. His 30 yard free-kick was tipped round the post by Lukač. The resulting corner eventually broke to Algerian international Nabil Bentaleb. His shot took a wicked deflection off Škuletić, but Lukač managed to tip it over for another corner.

With less than ten minutes remaining a flowing Spurs move ended with Lennon picking the ball up on the left wing before cutting inside and putting Kane through. The striker scored, but a late flag – correct – ruled it out for offside. Playing for pride Partizan probed again. Lazović’s free-kick was cleared to Grbić – Partizan’s best player on the night. Grbić’s cross was headed at goal by Vladimir Volkov, which was well saved by Lloris, but substitute Andrija Živcović spurned the rebound by hitting the side-netting from a tight angle.

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There was time for Stambouli to make the wrong choice by passing to Lamela rather than shooting and for the officials to make a howler that simply should not have happened. Kane slipped past Vojislav Stanković and bore down on goal. Lazar Ćircović came across and tripped Kane in area with clumsy challenge. Astonishingly Ukrainian referee Yevhen Aranovskiy, and his assistant referees failed to give a foul. It was a stone-wall penalty that will fuel demands for technology to be used to get these decisions right. Lamela went close again, but Lukač was once again equal to the task. Spurs qualified for the last 32. Their position in the group will depend on their final fixture in Turkey next month.

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Pitch Invaders Mar Spursʼ Qualification

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar

Farcical

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Tottenham Hotspur clinched qualification with a round to spare due to Benjamin Stambouliʼs first goal for the club. Bottom of the group FK Partizan delivered a performance that belied their lowly standing in Group C. Just after 20 minutes the first of three pitch invasions occurred, allegedly just fans wanting selfies with players, although a more sinister explanation soon emerged.

The third invasion resulted in referee Yevhen Aranovskiy taking the players off the pitch after 41 minutes. It took minutes for the match to restart. The first invader Nathan Brown was treated well by the crowd as he made a mockery of the security. The second lost his shirt – well t-shirt to Roberto Soldado after 25 minutes. Both were led away by stewards and the third was roundly booed and quickly apprehended thanks to a splendid rugby tackle by Belgian international Moussa Dembélé.

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Tottenham Hotspur said that they had not expected a third invasion and did not want to over-react by increasing security around the pitch. However, it was clear that UEFA was not impressed after the second invader was apprehended as UEFA delegate Claude Runavot was seen having a word with fourth official Serhiy Bekker – enough was enough. But the message didnʼt reach Spurs.

Prank

The invasions appeared to be an orchestrated stunt. One man bought the tickets of all three invaders. The arrested men were all wearing the same t-shirt bearing the name of headphones company BassBuds. The company moved swiftly to condemn the antics. “We have been made aware of an incident at the Tottenham game tonight”, BassBuds said through their Twitter account. “We are appalled that the game was interrupted in this manner”.

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Their protestations of innocence were undermined by their previous support for the organisation – a You Tube Comedy Channel – TrollStation that was unapologetic for the stunt, which was broadcast on You Tube under the title Pitch Invasion Challenge. It claims that it was a prank, but why wear branded t-shirts then and why do it three times?

The first one was genuinely funny. The second less so – the third was just very annoying and TrollStation and its invaders got the publicity they wanted and to be fair it has done some genuinely funny stuff previously, but this got tedious fast and has caused problems. Spurs will get a huge fine for it and may even get a partial stadium closure. That will punish genuine fans who actually wanted to watch football.

Orchestrated

The evidence points to an orchestrated publicity stunt which also provided free advertising, but probably at the expense of future business with Spurs. BassBuds and TrollStation were told on their Twitter accounts that something was going to happen the day before by Gomes Garcia, one of the men arrested at the match. “Tomorrow, it goes down”, he tweeted. Dan Jarvis was the other invader. All three were detained overnight and have been banned from White Hart Lane.

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The club has removed all mention of the BassBuds brand from club channels and related stock from their shops while they investigate whether the company was involved. They have not severed all connection with BassBuds, despite reports to the contrary, although if the company is later proved to have been involved that will happen.

TrollStation has apologised to BassBuds, but claimed that it had to be done and tweeted yesterday, “The question is Emirates Stadium or Stamford Bridge”. Meanwhile, BassBuds is left dealing with a PR disaster that may have cost them their business relationship with Tottenham Hotspur. The club faces sanction by UEFA over the security lapses and BassBuds claim that they too were pranked by TrollStation, which has been the only winner from the pitch invasions so far

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The security lapses also included an Albanian flag seen as deliberately provocative to the Serbian fans. There were no complaints about the behaviour of Partizanʼs fans.

Meanwhile, BassBuds issued the following statement.

But their statement does not address the tweet to them and Troll Station the day before the match that it goes down tomorrow (the day of the match). Troll Station later tweeted: “Do you know what?all the people that are angry at us I Am truly sorry. Itʼs for entertainment purposes Donʼt hate us please we mean no harm”.

Spurs face sanctions on December 11th that will affect real fans. Meanwhile, UEFA has yet to comment on what [security] measures were demanded by UEFA for Europa League matches?

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Branded

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 28th 2014)

Pitch Invasions

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Tottenham Hotspur booked their place in the knock-out phase of the Europa League with a 1-0 win over Serbian outfit FK Partizan of Belgrade. Benjamin Stambouli scored his first for the club, but the story was might have been different as three pitch invasions, which appear to have been a co-ordinated marketing ploy caused Ukrainian referee Yevhen Aranovskyi to take the teams off after 41 minutes. Spurs could still face sanctions from UEFA over it.

The first ‘fan’ gave stewards the run around after he posed for selfies with a less than amused Argentinian international Erik Lamela, Mr Rabona. The first invader was given a rapturous reception as he evaded capture for a couple of minutes. A bit later a second so-called fan breached the security to run on the pitch. Roberto Soldado can’t catch a goal by accident, but he managed to grab the fan’s t-shirt. That fan was led off too.

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Enough

The third invader was booed loudly by fans. He was quickly captured thanks to a magnificent rugby tackle by an irate Belgian international Moussa Dembélé, which suggests he may have an alternative sporting career should he choose. All three were arrested and led away. Spurs have announced that the fans have been banned and that all three had their tickets bought by the same person.

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The three pitch-invaders were wearing the same branded T-shirt. Bassbuds a company making headphones was at the centre of the controversy. Pending an investigation Spurs have suspended any involvement the club has with the company. Spurs say that they could not have predicted the third invasion, even after the second and therefore saw no reason to increase security around the pitch.

Both Tottenham Hotspur’s Head Coach as Mauricio Pochetino prefers to be called and his counterpart Marko Nikolić said that they were not worried for the safety of their players, but that it affected the flow of the match. UEFA was asked for comment, Partizan were ordered to play their next match with a partial stadium ban after an offensive banner was displayed by their fans in the match in Belgrade.

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Their coach lost no time praising the conduct of Partizan’s fans tonight. Despite claiming that they could not have predicted the third fan bursting onto the pitch Tottenham Hotspur can expect UEFA to take a dim view of tonight’s events.

Harsh Lesson

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 23rd 2014)

Germany Poops Party

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The European champions are currently ranked second in the world. England came into the historic and prestigious friendly oozing confidence from an impressive run in World Cup qualification – both sides had won all ten of their qualification matches, but the gulf in class was clear. Nevertheless, Karen Carney celebrating her 100th cap and striker Eniola Aluko still believe that England could pull a surprise at next year’s World Cup.

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6 minutes into the match Melanie Behringer’s corner was headed past Karen Bardsley to give Germany the lead. The goal was credited to Simone Laudehr, although other angles showed that it was an own-goal by Alex Scott. Six minutes a team huddle heralded further organisation was necessary after conceding a sloppy second.

Miscommunication between the captain Stephanie Houghton and their most experienced player Fara Williams resulted in Williams prodding it into the path of Germany’s skipper for the afternoon Célia Šašić1, who was playing her 99th international. Šašić needed no second invitation. Her progress was easier than it should have been. Scott couldn’t get to her and Lucy Bronze fell between two stools – neither challenging her nor covering another attacker. Šašić found the far corner from the left.

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Awed?

The Lionesses have never beaten Germany in 19 attempts. Five years ago they were beaten 6-2 in the final of the European Championship. There was no shortage of spirit, but German quality and organisation was superior. The benefits of their infrastructure, development policies, youth structures and longer established league were plain to see.

Carney showed that spirit to dispossess Tabea Kemme near the halfway and press forward before Lena Goeßling came across to snuff out the danger at the expense of a corner. Williams was poised to take it, but Swiss referee Ester Staubli raced across and refused to let her take it – apparently ordering her to go and get treatment for a leg injury. The corner was wasted.

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Šašić’s goal – assuming that the first is credited as an own goal – was the first conceded by England to a European on home soil since 2009 against Iceland. The defence was normally their greatest strength at home, but the opponents were a different class and uncharacteristic errors and perhaps awe. Meanwhile, the Germans had insisted that they were excited about playing at Wembley, but would not let pressure get to them. They were good to their word.

Positives

It could have been different as England almost got the perfect start within seconds of the start. Jordan Nobbs’ swerving 22 yard effort thudded against the cross-bar with keeper Almuth Schult, deputising for team captain Nadine Angerer who couldn’t make it over from Australia in time, beaten. Germany countered swiftly. Bardsley denied Melanie Leupolz’s effort from the right of the area.

Nobbs went close again with a looping header that Schult claimed and took to the line. Nobbs appealed for a goal, but there was no evidence that the whole of the ball had crossed the line. Another marginal decision occurred around the half hour mark.

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Leupolz was denied again after savvy defending by Arsenal striker Lianne Sanderson defending a free-kick. As Behringer took it Sanderson stepped up to catch Leupolz offside. It was needed as Leupolz headed it in. It was rightly disallowed for offside. Interestingly the officials got both major decisions right without the aid of technology.

Williams almost profited from a poor defensive clearance by Jennifer Cramer, which she controlled neatly and then volleyed at goal, but too close to Schult. In first half injury time Alexandra Popp found Kemme on the right wing. Her cross was headed in to Bardsley’s left. A record attendance for a women’s international of over 45,000 was a positive too.

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Improvement

The Lionesses failed to score, but they held the European champions in the second half, although Silvia Neid’s team lost the fluency of their first half play in the final quarter with one notable exception. Just over 20 minutes into the second half substitute Anja Mittag crossed from the left wing.

Šašić sensing a hat-trick stretched to connect, but her header was weak and easy for Bardsley. Šašić was unaware that substitute Luisa Wensing coming in behind her was in a better position. Wensing was not amused.

Mittag had been quite rightly booked for a sliding tackle that sent Williams flying ten minutes earlier. With injury time beckoning England went close. Bronze found space on the right wing and pulled it back to Jodie Taylor who put Jill Scott through, but her shot hit the side netting.

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1 Šašić, formerly possessed the longest surname in German women’s football – Okoyino da Mbabi – before marrying Croatian footballer Marko Šašić last year.

A Long Time Coming

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 23rd 2014)

A Change is Gonna Come

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It;s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come”, sang the legendary soul singer Sam Cooke. Just 42 years ago Englandʼs womenʼs football team played their first international against Scotland at Greenock since the FAʼs 50 year-long ban on womenʼs football was overturned. Prior to that outrageous ban womenʼs football had been popular. Before the ʻWar to End All Warsʼ it had even threatened to eclipse menʼs football.

The ban had a seriously detrimental effect. Other nations had not stood still and there was now a lot of catching up to do as the lack of exposure, investment and development of infrastructure all took a heavy toll on the sport. The first international that England played was in Scotland, but that squad had trained at Wembley Stadium ahead of that match. That team captained by Sheila Parker, who was later inducted into the Hall of fame, never got to play a match on the famous turf.

Against the Odds

This afternoon – almost 50 years after Cooke was murdered – a seismic change will come to Wembley Stadium. History will be made and itʼs long overdue, as Englandʼs women will play at Wembley Stadium against European champions Germany in front of around 50,000 football fans. Five years ago England met Germany in the final of the European Championship, losing 6-2. Both teams have a very impressive record in qualifiers for next yearʼs World Cup.

Just five years ago the best English talent had to go abroad to develop their skills to the maximum. There was no professional league here. Lianne Sanderson is a classic example. She had the dedication and talent to become a professional footballer, but like Kelly Smith before her, she had to go to the USA where the sport was taken seriously.

She had played for both Arsenal and Chelsea before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. She also played in Spain before another stint in the USA. After that she returned to Arsenal, the club she started her life in football at, a better player, having benefited from a commitment to womenʼs football in the USA that was absent here at the time.

Now the Football Association has demonstrated that it is committed to womenʼs football. In 2010 the FA delivered a long-awaited promise – the Womenʼs Super League. Liverpool recently won the title after a nail-biting conclusion to the season. Sanderson has returned, helping to build that league and pass on what she has learned.

Making History

The challenges are immense. Television wasnʼt interested in womenʼs football at first, but that has changed. The first time they will play at the home of football, the BBC will cover the match live. Another piece of history will be made as Birmingham Cityʼs Karen Carney will receive her golden cap.

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Carney, like Sanderson, has come full circle – a journey that took her to Arsenal and then Chicago before returning to Birmingham. She won her first cap in 2005 – the youngest player given a debut by former manager Hope Powell. The winger has scored 14 times for England. She also played five matches for Great Britain during Londonʼs Olympic Games in 2012 including at Wembley against Brasil.

She will become only the seventh English female player to reach the landmark. She will join Gillian Coulthard, Kelly Smith, Casey Stoney, Rachel Unitt, Fara Williams and Rachel Yankey as Englandʼs female centurions. She will also be the youngest, aged just 27. Carney hopes that this afternoonʼs match will be the first of many at Wembley.

Coulthardʼs record of 119 caps was beaten by Yankey two years ago. Yankey is Englandʼs most capped player with 129, but she is over 200 caps shy of the most capped player ever, the USAʼs Kristine Lilley who appeared for her country a staggering 352 times.

No Challengers?

by Nathan Adams ©Nathan Adams (November 15th 2014)

Nathan Adams at Wembley

Centurions

Manchester Unitedʼs Wayne Rooney marked his 100th appearance with a real captainʼs performance, which anchored the Three Lions to a 3-1 win against Srečko Katanecʼs Slovenian side. Nearly 300 male players have reached that milestone – the most recent being the Republic of Irelandʼs John OʼShea yesterday. Two more are due to join the club tomorrow in the same match Italy v Croatia – Romaʼs one club defensive midfielder Daniele de Rossi and VfL Wolfsburgʼs Ivica Olić. But this evening was about Rooney.

They have a long way to go if they intend to catch the man with the most caps, Egyptian great Ahmed Hassan on 184. They certainly wonʼt match the most capped international footballer of all time, the USAʼs Kristine Lilly, who is a full 51 caps ahead of her nearest competitor. Lilly boasts an incredible 352 caps!

Captainʼs Performance

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After a goalless and rather drab first half, the match sprang to life when Slovenia took the lead through a Jordan Henderson own-goal from Milivoje Novakovićʼs cross. Almost straight from the kick-off England attacked. Sloveniaʼs captain Boštjan Cesar inexplicably upended Rooney in the box, earning a booking and conceding a penalty which Rooney dispatched to settle Englandʼs nerves and keep the over 80,000 crowd onside.

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Mariborʼs goalkeeper Samir Hanadanović got a hand to it, but could not deny Rooney his goal, which brought him level on Englandʼs all time list with the great Jimmy Greaves. Only Gary Lineker and Sir Bobby Charlton ahead of him – he could claim third place in his own right against Scotland on Tuesday night in Glasgow. With nerves settled the stage was set for Arsenalʼs Danny Welbeck to grab some headlines of his own, netting a brace.

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Handanović denied Liverpoolʼs Adam Lallana with his legs, but it was headed out carelessly by Mišo Brečko to Welbeck who scuffed his shot past the crestfallen keeper. A neat interchange of passes with Liverpoolʼs Raheem Sterling got the finish it deserved from Welbeck to give England their third and the former Manchester United Striker his second.

False Dawn?

Slovenia made their presence felt by throwing in some very physical challenges early on. Luckily no England players were hurt as a result of the crunching tactics begun by Aleš Mertelj in the first 5 minutes. Lallana was left in a crumpled heap. Portuguese referee Olegário Benquerença had a firm word with the Mariborʼs midfielder after another rustic challenge on Rooney after 12 minutes.

Ales Mertelj

But that was to be expected. Slovenia came to spoil and smash and grab. England had to outwit these tactics and in the first half they didnʼt have an answer. Throughout the first half England seemed to have no sense of direction in relation to their play and unaware of the movement of their own team players around them.

What seems to be definitely missing from the team is a strong play-maker in the centre of midfield. Having Rooney up front is all well and good, but a player with the same influence and respect from both team-mates and opposition is a must for midfield. Through out the first half I donʼt believe there was any direct play from the England team. Over 90 percent of the crosses were very poor quality and incomplete.

Positives

There was a marked improvement in the second half, which saw an injection of pace with Sterling playing in multiple positions sometimes in front of midfield and others deep in midfield and being the centre of movement within the team. Slovenia took a shock lead after 57 minutes due to Henderson’s header. Joe Hart had no chance.

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Thankfully, due to the new Captain Marvel, we didnʼt need to wait very long for a reply, as he won the penalty and converted it. After 58 minutes game on! England seemed to grow in confidence with direct passing and fluent movement. Sterling continued his runs from a forward position and then deep in midfield.

Despite being named Man of the Match it seemed as though Wilshere is not putting in as much work as Sterling in midfield. I thought that Sterling, rather than Wilshere should have had the award. Another positive was the performance of Southamptonʼs Nathaniel Clyne who had a decent game and grew from strength to strength as the match progressed. Overall a well deserved 3-1 win for England, which established a substantive six point lead at the top of the group after four matches.

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Upset

During the press conference I had the pleasure of asking England manager Roy Hodgson about my personal view of the teamʼs performance. “Do you feel that the lack of awareness and link up play was an issue as players are unaware of team-mateʼs movement”. Hodgson was neither impressed nor amused. “No”, he replied tersely before rapidly moving on to the next question.

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The Slovenian team were also upset with the FA as they were advised that the team were not allowed to walk from the nearby Hilton Hotel to Wembley Stadium. They had wanted to savour every moment of the Wembley experience, although it later emerged that they didnʼt really think that they could or would get a result at Wembley. They came looking for a point. Perhaps the occasion finally got to them as both Mertelj and Chievoʼs winger Valter Birsa implied afterwards.

Valter Birsa

All-rounder

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 15th 2014)

Records

Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck scored a brace against Srečko Katanec’s Slovenia at Wembley tonight. That brought his international tally to 13. Of the current England squad Welbeck and former Manchester United team-mate Wayne Rooney are the only players in double figures. Welbeck is a full 31 goals behind Rooney, who tied the great Jimmy Greaves for third place on the all-time scorers list for England tonight.

Welbeck matched Ipswich Town’s Paul Mariner, Tottenham Hotspur duo Bobby Smith and Martin Chivers with his brace. He may also tied one other – the least known of the quintet, but the only one to have once held the scoring record – Nottingham Forest’s Tinsley Lindley. Shamefully, despite being an icon in and out of the sporting arena the multi-faceted Lindley was buried in an unmarked grave in 1940. A campaign to honour the shamefully neglected all-rounder resulted in a headstone marking his final resting place being unveiled in March 2014.

Long Overdue

An appreciation of this neglected icon of English sport is long overdue. Lindley scored at least 13 goals for England in internationals between 1891-96. His record was beaten by Steve Bloomer and then equalled by Vivian Woodward. Later Sir Tom Finney broke their record and was equalled by Nat Lofthouse. Jimmy Greaves and then Sir Bobby Charlton broke it again and Lindley was forgotten about.

But Lindley was an all-round sportsman. Not only was he an effective striker, mainly for Nottingham Forest and England, but he was a talented rugby player in his youth and played First Class Cricket for Cambridge University and Nottinghamshire, although he didn’t play many matches. Lindley was also a barrister and later judge too – a genuine all-rounder on and off the field of play.