Sunday, October 15, 2006

Oliver Holt

Oliver Holt

Steve McClaren and Paul Robinson weren't the only Englishmen to get it all horribly wrong in Zagreb last Wednesday night.

"Award-winning" Mirror hack Oliver Holt produced a tour de force of ignorance, malice and bias in his preview to the Euro 2008 qualifying game in Croatia's capital.

Entitled "DANGER LURKS FOR MCCLAREN IN CITY OF HATE" Holt tries to whip up the xenophobia ahead of the game and justify his prolonged anti-Sven, anti-foreigner agenda.

Here are a few gems from the piece:

"THE last time I visited Zagreb, in the late Eighties when civil war was coming to Yugoslavia, the train from Venice arrived in the dead of night.

The hard, searching faces that always haunt railway stations after dark stared out from the shadows and said silently that this was not a place to loiter

Actually Zagreb is well known for its safety 24/7, then and now; even children can "loiter" at low risk.

"As we hurried away with our backpacks to try to find the address where we were staying, shapes followed us at a distance, only turning away when we rang on a bell and a door opened."

Oliver is obviously a nervous traveller.

"The England team are staying in a deluxe five-star hotel a couple of hundred yards from that train station, a hotel that wasn't there 18 years ago."

The 81-year-old Regent Esplanade hotel, where the England team stayed, was around when Oliver last brought his backpack to Zagreb, but he must have missed it in his haste at being 'followed'.

"But along with the battalions of new coffee shops that crowd the city streets, there is still a distinct edge-of-Europe feel to the Croatian capital."

Ollie's a star at geography. Zagreb is slightly to the west of Vienna.

"The faces are hardened by the pain of war now, smoking is still endemic, racism is rife and there is an underworld menace about the men who cluster outside the hotels in their black leather jackets."

Olllie hits the nail on the head about smoking, but is off the mark on racism. Racism is an issue to be addressed in all societies, including the UK, and it is unfair to point the finger at Croatia. Has Mr. Holt heard of Stephen Lawrence and Anthony Walker?

The Croatian FA is keen to promote its joint bid with Hungary for Euro 2012 and have implemented strict anti-racism measures at domestic games, the Croatian team carried an anti-racism banner on to the pitch before the match and there were no complaints of racist chants directed at England's black players, similar to those endured by the U-21 team in Leverkusen, Germany, the day before the senior match in Zagreb.

"Zagreb still feels like a cloaked danger, a place tilting between light and darkness, a place that doesn't quite know which way things are going to go."

"Somehow, that seems to make it the perfect venue for John Terry's England side to play a match which is absolutely pivotal to its hopes of putting the waste of the Sven Goran Eriksson years behind it."

England lost 2-0, a worse result than any achieved under Sven Goran Eriksson in a qualifying match, there were no reports of racist incidents at the game and Croatia's opening goal was scored by a naturalized Brazilian. More and more Brits have decided on "which way things are going to go" in Croatia by returning to the Adriatic resorts in summer and buying up holiday homes there.

The only trouble was seemingly caused by ticketless England "fans" trying to break through the security cordon outside the Maksimir stadium, followed by the abuse of the England players on the team bus by more disgruntled English supporters after the game.

We're looking forward to Ollie's previews of Israel, Russia and Estonia -- no doubt Andorra will be more to his liking and John Terry's England might actually win there.

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