You can’t keep an award-winning column down, so the very famous saying goes. With that in mind, I had to (legally) come back in this extended break with a column dedicated to the big man Junior Hoilett - the first Reading player to make an appearance at the World Cup since... well, since the last one (Jon Dadi for Iceland, fact fans) in 2018.
I started the pre-match build-up with a simple snack of Doritos (those new triple-cheese-flavour ones - they’re alright actually) and a can of Sprite like I was in downtown Toronto or something. Plenty of the ramblings prior to KO focussed on someone called De Bruyne (literally never heard of him), but the real attraction lay in the Canucks; Canada’s mighty reds; the red men; the soccer stars of Canada... you get the gist.
An elongated live shot of Tielemans’ face was followed by an anthem that Drake would be proud of as our man and his teammates sang their hearts out to “O Canada”, the official theme tune of the Canadian soccer team and all Canadian sports, actually.
Pleasantries were exchanged by the captains (confession time: I genuinely thought Junior was the captain, actually. I thought he’d been sacked until I Googled it and realised that I must have dreamt the whole thing up) with the Belgians handing over what looked like a bag you might be given if you bought your perfume at a branded shop instead of Boots like a normal person.
A proper feisty opening few minutes saw the number 10 drive the ball forward from the left and into the main goal-threat area. It took me a while to readjust my eyes to how advanced up the pitch he was, his attacking position literally sticking two fingers up to his more defensive position back home in Berkshire. And that’s when a few things hit me:
- I’ve met him a few times (all legitimate thank you) and now he’s on my screen, in a World Cup, playing in front of literally billions
- I was one year old when Canada last played in the WC
A nice corner put in was almost converted by Tajon (love that name) but the net minder gathered safely. BUT THEN VAR-MA! A handball felony in the area was spotted by the robots and the ref pointed to the white spot. The commentator started getting giddy about Canada winning which clearly meant Davies would miss it, which of course he did.
At that point, I waddled over to the fridge (forgot to say I was watching this game in my World Cup den in the kitchen) to grab something harder than a Sprite. Ever heard of Lucky Saint? Well, you should have! It’s a 0.5% beer that has less than 1% alcohol of a normal beer but all the bloody taste. Yeah, I know how to party.
As I arrived back on the sofa, I said to the cat next to me that Junior should have taken it. She agreed. Shortly after the words left my mouth, our man made a decent run off the ball and shot towards the Belgian goal. Cue Jermaine Jenas slagging him off and I just thought “shut up mate! How many World Cups have you been in?! Exactly!”
The Maple Leafs really were in the ascendancy at this point and it was only a matter of time before they scored. It made sense then that the first team to actually score was the team that least deserved it based on the run of play. That took the wind out of the wings and the half trundled on towards the water break.
At half time I seriously considered making and then eating some poutine, but upon investigation it transpired it was chips, gravy and cheese and as I wasn’t on a five-star night out in the north of England, I made a hard pass on that delicacy and made do with some cheese and crackers.
I wondered what Junior was thinking as he sat in the humid changing room of the Qatari desert, sipping on his Lucozade or equivalently fashionable energy drink. He really was making De Bruyne and co look like a bunch of players who had “had trials at loads of clubs now playing in the National League” on their resumes. A quick glance on Twit-face showed that the world, not just Berkshire, were bloody loving the Canadian Prince.
#2 ranked nation in the world getting chargrilled by Junior Hoilett from Reading Football Club— Don Phwoarleone (@Domboolin) November 23, 2022
On 54 minutes, Hoilett penned in Dendoncker like a middle-aged dad cornering a spider in front of his shrieking family. He forced a corner which sent both the commentators and the Canucks fans into raptures/mild applause. As the game wore on and the game stayed at 1-0, you could see the fear creeping into Roberto Martinez’ perfectly smooth face.
Watching Junior knock in those crosses and attack so fluidly made me want to email someone I know at the club to get them to email someone else to then email Paul Ince to ask him if he could do that for us in the Championship. Honestly, he really was rolling back the years like a curtain salesman selling roller blinds.
Four minutes later and he was hooked off the pitch. Was it tactical? Down to tiredness? Or did John Herdman have a gentleman’s agreement with Ince SNR whereby Hoilett wouldn’t be in the shop window too much to ward those January vultures off? Either way, his race was run and my interest in the game declined as a result. Of course, I wanted them to win still, but you stand less of a chance with your best player off the pitch and so it proved as the game faded away into the warm midnight (Qatar time) air.
The next two games will hold no fear for the Leafs. Having held their own against, on paper, the best team in the group, they will believe they have a chance against Croatia and Morrocco. They’ve never scored a goal at the WC; what odds that it becomes our very own Junior-of-all-trades that breaks the goose?
See you Sunday! COME ON YOU CANUCKS!