Watching Croatia v England in a huge sports bar with 100 screens and hundreds of Three Lions Fans is great when you win, and for Theo Walcott the cool 19 year old Arsenal Gunner it was a night to remember. A hat-trick in only his second start for Fabio Capello and the boys a hero.
Two years ago when then coach Sven Goran Eriksson announced that the young 17 year old would be on the plane to Germany World Cup 2006, there was a chorus of dissent, especially after he didn't get on the field once. I thought it was a great move for this future England regular. I remember when I was young that England manager Walter Winterbottom brought a young forward to the World Cup 1958 in Sweden for the experience,who never played a minute of any game. His name is now Sir Bobby Charlton, soccer legend with Manchester United and England, and World Cup winner, and four months earlier he had been in a Munich hospital with a head wound after the Manchester United aircraft disaster at that city's Reim Airport.
The Maksimir stadium in Zagreb, home of Dinamo Zagreb, is a fortress for the Croats who had won over 30 times there and never been defeated-until England ran out 4-1 victors. In the prelims. for EURO 2008 England had lost 2-0 and again 3-2 in Wembley Stadium under Steve McLaren. Slaven Bilec, ex West Ham United player and now national coach, had a stadium full of noisy Croatian fans behind him-to no avail. One thing about young Theo is that he is very cool under pressure, and was chosen for this match over the 100 plus capped experience of David Beckham, who came on as a sub with 3 minutes of regular time left with a smile and a high five.
It was also a very sad anniversary. On this very day 23 years ago I was in the VIP box at Ninian Park, Cardiff for a qualification match for World Cup 1986 Mexico. A disputed late penalty by Davie Cooper after 81 minutes levelled the score against the Welsh Dragons 1-1 following a 13th minute Welsh goal by Mark Hughes and about 10 feet in front of me, legendary Scots coach Jock Stein stumbled while trying to ward off photographers wanting a photo of the coach now due to take his team to Mexico. He collapsed, was taken to the first aid room, and we learned shortly that he had died of a massive heart attack at age 62.. His young assistant Alex Ferguson was to lead the Tartan Army to the finals with a new assistant, Craig Brown.