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Speed Read – Ronaldo and the red Goliath

Each week The Friday Speed Read assembles a team of eleven millionaires and plays 90 minutes of high-tempo, pressing football against the week’s biggest news stories with predictable results

If you’re sitting at your desk / kitchen table / steering wheel of a stationary car / ludo board not being able to work / cook / drive / play ludo because all you can do is count down the hours to a certain football match that is happening at 8pm this evening then fear not! We are are here to help by distracting you with our usual collection of words, sentences and paragraphs loosely related to what’s happened in the news this week. And we’re going to get at least a couple of hundred words in before any reference is made to the sport of Association Football and then a few hundred more before I chuck in a specific reference to this evening’s battle between you know who. You’re welcome. We’re here to serve.

If you’re reading this after the match has occurred then can I ask you not to spoil things for the rest of us by travelling back in time and letting us know the score. Have you seen Back to the Future 2? Yes you could make us rich but VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN including terrible haircuts. So please don’t be tempted. Thanks.

(By the way, to all our Welsh readers let me say “wow”. Your boys were absolutely superb against Turkey and we won’t ever mention Bale’s penalty kick).

So after the sun-kissed bickering over post-Brexit trade arrangements at the G7 meeting in Cornwall, the country’s attention shifted in anticipation of the Prime Minister’s decision on lifting the final Covid restrictions in England. If anyone was surprised when Boris said that there would be a delay then they’d likely be the type to also be surprised by the wet sensation when they took a shower or the feeling of bitter nausea when remembering the oeuvre of Noel Edmonds. Despite an increasingly vociferous minority of his own MPs (egged on by the public heath experts that write headlines for The Daily Mail) bemoaning the ongoing lack of freedom, Boris Johnson’s announcement that “Freedom Day” (to be fair, not his term) would be put back by a month seemed like a sensible decision to anyone sensible. And even to many people who aren’t sensible.

The ongoing increase (although in the last 24 hours there’s been some suggestion that this increase is slowing) in Covid infections from the Delta (née Indian) variant has been in parts fascinating, from an epidemiological perspective at least, but mostly depressing as all of us got that heavy-stomached feeling that after months of things patently improving, we were about to slide back down the snake to square one. So, a further delay in allowing strangers to snog in nightclubs might be upsetting be it was also inevitable.

But crucially, this isn’t square one. I don’t know if my snakes and ladders metaphor will stretch but this is probably square 68 (assuming we’re playing on a standard Milton Bradley snakes and ladders board of 100 squares) and there are a lot more ladders in the final third of the game than snakes. However you look at it and regardless of the various controversies and setbacks on the way, the fact that as of today all over 18s in the UK can book their first vaccine and over 30 million of us have now had two does is all kinds of incredible. And the vaccines are working. Their effectiveness against even the rapacious Delta variant is high, once you’ve had two does, and without them the current situation would be catastrophic rather than just annoying. I don’t know about you, but for the moment I’ll take annoying.

The other massive story of the week pitted a single human being against a global behemoth of a corporation and in a heart-warming ending guaranteed to have even the most cynical eyes moistening, the plucky little human scored an unlikely victory. It’s a David and Goliath story for the Tik Tok generation with David played by the shy, publicity-shy billionaire Cristiano Ronaldo and Goliath played by all of the Coca Cola corporation. You’ve seen the story already but that’s not going to stop me taking this into another paragraph.

During a press conference at the misnomered Euro 2020, Ronaldo looked in disgust at the two bottles of Coke placed for reasons of HARD CASH on the desk every time the world’s media asks questions of footballers at the tournament such as “are you going to score a good goal?” and “what is your favourite type of kick – overhead, flying or pumped up?”. With two swift movements of his immaculate hands the Portuguese legend removed the Coke bottles from view, replaced them with a bottle of water (also made by Coca Cola but let’s overlook that) and in the best piece of advertising copywriting since Don Draper hit Kodak with “carousel”, he uttered a single word: “agua”. And in doing so wiped $4 billion off the market value of Coca Cola. Now all you carbonated drink fans shouldn’t worry, I think the big CC is going to survive but it was an incredible demonstration of the power of the ultra-influencer. On this occasion, Ronaldo with his billions of followers chose the righteous path in promoting water over sugar but what if he went rogue? What if after a long day of scoring goals he fancied a sausage and called a press conference and uttered the word “salsicha” into the nearest microphone? Party time at Wall’s for sure but catastrophic for the world’s health. WHO KNOWS WHERE THIS COULD END? Drunk Ronaldo shouting “cerveja”; Spoiler Ronaldo ruining the end of Line of Duty by tweeting the identity of H (let it go Jim); political Ronaldo destroying the Conservative majority at the next election by mouthing “Starmer” at the nearest camera . . .  okay, now we’re in the realms of fantasy.

We’ll return to football shortly but let’s for a moment at least, acknowledge that even though Dominic Cummings’ reveal of WhatsApp messages sent to him by Boris Johnson last March isn’t going to bring down the government, the messages do reveal something rather unpleasant. Was anyone surprised that Johnson described Health Secretary Matt Hancock as “EXPLETIVE useless”? Not really. And that’s the point. The point isn’t whether Hancock was indeed EXPLETIVE useless – and there’s evidence on both sides of this debate and you’ll have your own opinion as I have mine – but that his boss was happy to describe him in such terms, well, it’s not what good people do is it? And if this makes me a liberal snowflake who should get a backbone and face-up to dirty, bare-knuckled realities of governing in a pandemic then it’s a badge I’m happy to wear. Although it will have to be a big badge or you’re going to have to use a tiny font.

As for Hancock himself, when deluged in questions from reporters as he left his house asking if he was indeed useless, the Heath Secretary managed to blurt out the rather endearing “I don’t think so” in response. We should all follow his excellent example. Say it out loud today: “I don’t think I’m useless”. Good, because you’re not. You’re ace.

And talking of ace, I’m a sucker for an international football tournament and the excitement I’m feeling about England’s match against Scotland is making me feel a little giddy. I know for many, turning on the television and finding football every blimmin’ evening is something of a nightmare but what can I say? I love it. And I know that at 8pm this evening I am going to be a bundle of nerves, joy and anticipation . . . . sorry, I intended there to be a punchline to that paragraph but I just got overtaken by my 12 year-old self. Oh well. Even if football doesn’t “come home” I’m very glad that it’s come to visit.

Here’s a song! No reason for it apart from it’s contemporary, excellent and features Robert Smith. You are welcome.

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