The Croatian football federation has ramped up the tension ahead of Sunday’s Group D Euro 2020 opener against England at Wembley, by declaring that prior to kick-off, they will present their English counterparts with a bronze statue of the “Wally with the Brolly” instead of the traditional pennant.
In 2007, Croatia, led by Slaven Bilić, ended Steve McClaren’s England from appearing at Euro 2008 on a rain-soaked evening at the national stadium. The game is most remembered for Macca’s second-half appearance, when he emerged from the tunnel with an umbrella and a cup of coffee as the Three Lions failed to qualify for a major tournament for the first time since 1994.
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Paddy Power understands however, that some of the hierarchy within the Football Association are unhappy with what they consider to be mind games being played by the country who also knocked England out of the 2018 World Cup in Russia at the semi-final stage.
We tracked down McClaren earlier today to get his take on this controversial move and he told us that: “It’s all in the past now so why should it bother me? As I’ve always maintained, I saw Bilic in the tunnel at half-time with a woolly hat on so I couldn’t copy him could I?
“Imagine what legacy I could have left, I could have been remembered as the ‘Tw*t in the Hat!’”
We also managed to track down Bilić who is now Head Coach at Chinese Super League side Beijing Guoan and after we’d told him about what his fellow countrymen were planning on doing and when he’d stopped pissing himself laughing.
“The wally brolly was the funniest thing I ever saw in a football stadium – and I’m old enough to remember Lineker sh*tting himself at Italia 90!”
“You have to remember guys that my country will be up against it at Wembley and we need to get any little advantage we can, so if this means presenting Harry Kane with a bronze wally brolly instead of the usual pennant, then so be it.”
“If you can’t take a joke then you shouldn’t be in the game.”
And according to reports, outgoing FA chairman Peter McCormick is concerned that Croatia’s actions on Sunday could set a precedent moving forward.
“If this is allowed to take place then what next? Wales presenting Italy with a 12-inch thick crust pizza covered in pineapple before their clash at the Stadio Olimpico, or the Belgians walking out to face Russia wearing Cossack hats?” he said to a close aid when discussing the controversial umbrella.
European football’s governing body UEFA has stressed that there is nothing in their football handbook that states that it must be pennants that the two captains exchange before kick-off.
When we asked if anything like what Croatia have in store on Sunday had ever happened in the past we were told that: “One time, when Estonia hosted Andorra in a World Cup qualifier, the visiting captain did hand over a bag of pigs liver instead of the traditional pennant, claiming it was the closest thing they could find at short notice to verivorst (blood sausage), which is a signature dish of Estonia and which caused some consternation at Nyon headquarters.”
Our insider in the England camp told us that when the players found out what Sunday’s opponents were planning to do, it has only motivated the side even more England to go out at the quarter-final stage in agonising fashion.
Skipper Harry Kane is so pumped up for the weekend’s showdown that he has spent hours this week throwing darts at a chequered tea towel, drilling it into the players to leave nothing out there on Sunday, especially shin pads with their kids photos on them.
The National Football Museum in Manchester are also keen to take the statue off the FA’s hands to add to their collection as they plan to dedicate a whole floor of the centre to England’s failures in major tournaments. Some of the artifacts already being prepared to go on display later this summer include, the ball Chris Waddle fired over the bar v West Germany in the 1990 World Cup semi-final, Maradona’s shirt from Mexico 86, Roy Hodgson’s tactics flip-chart v Iceland at Euro 2016 and Fabio Capello.
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