Posted: 6/27/2009


         No, this isn't about Michael Jackson and his 14 minute ground breaking video, or his tragic death. I flew quite often from the splendid little Santa Barbara Airport (SBA) on the short commuter flight to LAX, and sat upstairs on the balcony of The Overlook Cafe, ordering a club sandwich and french fries and a beer, watching loads of private planes take off and land, for this is where Jackson, Oprah Winfrey and other stars live. I once saw Michael's private jet take off. The airport is near the Pacific at Goleta and next to the campus of University of California Santa Barbara,(UCSB) where the Gauchos soccer team have large and enthusiastic crowds.

        Unlike crowds in Los Angeles, New York, Shanghai, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, London, Paris and Berlin who were dumfounded, and in shock, I was at the Otley sheep auction, where the woolly sheep and lambs were oblivious to the black sheep who turned white, and the buyers were discussing the price of wool, mutton and lamb. Two sheep for 80.00. Send me your credit card details and your Fedex account and I will send you a couple!! The next auction is on Tuesday.

        Anyway, the REAL Thriller was at Gamla Ullevi in Gothenburg, Sweden where the host nation were playing England in the first semi-final of the UEFA U21 Championships on Sweden's West Coast before a sell-out crowd of over 16,000.   What a start. Just fifty-three seconds after the kick-off referee Cuneyt Cakir of Turkey was signalling for a goal and England were one goal up from Martin Cranie from a James Milner corner, and they doubled the lead from Nedum Onuoha, again from a Milner corner. By the 38th minute it looked to be all over as defender Mattias Bjarsmyr scored an own goal. 

       3-0 at the break and I was texting Swedish friends to jokingly ask if their team should throw in the towel, boxing style, and go to Il Professore Pub to drown their sorrows, or  the road to all the fun of the fair at Liseberg Park.  WHAT A MISTAKE. The Viking spirit took over and the Swedes, urged on by the partisan crowd chanting Sverige, Sverige and Hija, Hija, Sweden hit back-three times to tie the game.  With two goals from Marcus Berg to take his total to 7 in this tournament, and one more from Ola Toivonen,they tied the match 3-3 after 90 minutes. The stupid substitute Frazier Campbell was sent off in extra time,for a second yellow card, and it was touch and go.

        So, to penalties. England under coach Stuart Pearce had gone out 2 years ago to Holland in the last U21 semi-final.  Pearce had also personally suffered penalty defeats twice as a player in the Italia 90 World Cup semi-final in Turin, and the Euro 96 semi-final at Wembley.  Disaster!! The first PK taker was James Milner in his 45th, U21 match for his country, a record. He slipped and shot wide. but then goalkeeper Joe Hart saved from Marcus Berg, of all players to not score.

       Hero Joe then took the next penalty himself and scored on Johan Dahlin. Eventually came sudden-death kicks. Kieran Gibbs scored and Guilermo Molins hit the post, and The Three Lions were through to Monday's final in Malmo, against Germany, 1-0 winners over Italy in Helsingborg's Olympia Stadium.  Joe Hart got a second caution of the tournament from the card happy referee who gave  out 14 cards in a qualifying match between Spain and Switzerland.  FIFA has wiped out all yellow cards ahead of the Confederations Cup Final. Why can't UEFA follow their lead?