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The English Mess
by Ed Bottomley

England lost 3-2 to the Netherlands this week. The reaction was very predictable. A swathe of journos and fans shrugged their shoulders and dismissed this as a crapulous England display. They noted that the Netherlands won without exerting too much effort whilst simultaneously not noting that England were understrength.

The common opinion of many fans when it comes to England is that they are a degenerate mass of disappointment barely worth a sneer. Supporting England ranks only slightly higher than respecting Piers Morgan. People think that the red tops expect too much and that we have delusions of grandeur. People also like to blame the failures of the England Rugby team on the England Football team, as if it’s a virus the rugger boys got off those common as muck footballers. I have several problems with this point of view.

Delusions of Grandeur

Firstly I don’t think England have delusions of grandeur. Players like Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney, and Ashley Cole have all played in the Champions League and have vast amounts of experience. They are fixtures in some of the best teams in Europe. They are some of the best players in arguably the best domestic league in the world. Crap they are not. To say England are poor and have no hope of success is to dismiss a squad of highly accomplished and talented professionals. No, we are not Spain, but we certainly aren’t Scotland either.

The Press Toy With Us

Secondly, the press are the ones who have raised expectations in the past and yet they greet every game with a barely disguised sneer (the Guardian Football writers are especially excellent at this).

  • Most newspapers love a tubthumping run up to an international football tournament.
  • Most newspapers also love to eviscerate the England players and coaching staff.
  • All newspapers love selling newspapers.

To get around any potential conflicts, most media embrace the hype in the run up to a tournament, and then leap off the England bandwagon just as it’s about to plunge off the cliff…

Here’s a pretty basic timeline:

  • We guzzle articles featuring the England captain shrouded in the Cross of St George underneath a Shakespeare quote (usually Henry V).
  • We squint in awe at the golden glow of the mile-wide, and semi-naked, poster of DBeck, stretched out like a lazy Sunday morning underneath a Shakespeare quote (usually Henry V).
  • We join a patriotic conga featuring Messrs Keith Allen, Russell Brand, and Danny Dyer.
  • We draw some games we should be winning.
  • We get to the QF’s.
  • We woke up, hungover and out of the tournament.

This is the chief way the press mess with our heads, but there are other ways too. The gnashing of teeth after the South Africa World Cup was particularly hilarious with more than one broadsheet implying that the well had run dry and there were no English talents on the horizon. The 2014 World Cup was dismissed as a write-off. Two years on from South Africa and we are bursting at the seams with talent (at least that’s what the same journos who wrote us off would have us think):

Are these really the very same players that are going to be attacked by press and fans alike for being terrible post World Cup 2014?!

Tactical megamind Michael Cox of Zonal Marking is a little bit guilty of playng to the crowd when it comes to England. On the Guardian podcast his reaction to the game was tepid, not particularly severe. In his ESPN article he lets fly, ripping into England:

…But then, being positive for the sake of it is pointless. Caretaker manager Pearce handled himself well in front of the media but admits he isn’t a long-term option. The FA says it is no closer to appointing anyone on a permanent basis and has not yet approached Tottenham Hotspur about Redknapp, the obvious candidate.

All told, it is a farcical situation just three months before a major international tournament. If England was to even vaguely succeed in the summer, it would send a terrible message — don’t have a long-term plan, don’t have a permanent manager, don’t have a settled group of players. Instead, turn up unprepared and try to fluke your way through.

At this rate, England could do with a real shock in the summer to put into perspective how utterly ridiculous this position is, with the vague hope that it might learn lessons. But then, it is England — the Three Lions didn’t learn in 2000, they didn’t learn in 2007, they didn’t learn in 2010 and they won’t learn in 2012. I suppose we may as well get behind them.

Because of the incessant toying, we’ve turned our backs on England…

The Postmodern England Fan

As a reaction to the predictable and painful timeline above, the postmodern English football fan will express utter disgust with England, deny even a glowing ember of hope for our chances, and burrow into a deep midden of England hatred. It’s a defence mechanism. Or put less kindly, it’s glory hunting. Most fans recognise that switching club teams is unacceptable, but they have a chink of hope with England. Seeing as a vast amount of Englishmen now claim that they don’t support England anymore, it’s easy to join the stampede.

No matter how it’s wrapped up or what excuses* are used, the Postmodern England Fan that prays for England to get slaughtered is a glory hunter. They stopped supporting because we stopped (did we ever start?) winning. I’d gently suggest that they f*ck off and support Spain. But not Scotland.

*Excuses may include – but are by no means limited to – sleaze, sex scandals, over paid whining, abject failure, a foreign manager, an english manager, too many of that team’s players in the squad. not enough of our team in the squad.

 

Written by Ed Bottomley

Everton fan exiled in Michigan. Duncan Ferguson obsessive, history buff, optimist. Follow me on Twitter @DixiesSixty

1 Comment

I would have to disagree with your point about delusions of grandeur.

Firstly, while all the players you mention have won a number of trophies, they have done so in situations where the culture of the club they’ve been playing for has been conducive to winning. Such a culture takes time to put in place and often is primarily due to the efforts of extraordinary men like Ferguson, Busby, Nicholson, Dalglish and Shankly (this list is not definitive) and it is fortunate (if not coincidental) that such a culture exists at the clubs players like Rooney and Lampard are lucky enough to play at.

That does not mean they are poor players (on the contrary) but being able to hold down a place in the Chelsea team should not be automatically equated with an ability to translate that winning mentality into the pressure-cooker situation of the England set up, where the culture has emphatically had nothing to do with winning for longer than I’ve been alive.

It is also the case that while, say, John Terry knows and can control the environment at Chelsea to his own liking, he cannot do the same when playing for England. To use an analogy, let’s say you’re Michael Buble. Buble plays in a different city every few days. He is backed by a big-band style set-up. But does he roll into town, contact the local big band and then sing his songs to their tune? No. He has his own band, because regardless of the fact the songs he sings are well-known and can be performed by any competent professional musician in any city, it just works better if the people involved are used to working with each other and have an established system of play.

Likewise with England. England usually play like strangers, because they are. The last manager to truly be able to alter that culture was Terry Venables – and he was able to experiment with formations and create a true ‘club’ atmosphere over a two year period because he had no competitive games to negotiate. And didn’t we all moan like spolit little bitches while he did it?

Other nations – e.g. Spain, Italy, Germany, help their young players to stick together and grow older together with a reasonably coherent and consistent system or style of play which can be followed and coached into young professionals. That’s why, when England were brutally dismissed from World Cup 2010, it was to a Germany team that continated two or three players such as Ozul and Khedira who’d played in an U-21 tournament (and won it convincingly) less than a year previously). The English however, continue to believe that it is important that England do well for four weeks every two years as if the 1 year and 48 weeks that sit between tournaments have no bearing on the team’s performance.

It is also naive to assume that the contents of players’ heads do not influence their behaviour and demeanour on-field. Do England have exclusively bad players? No. However, every England side taking the field has to wrestle with the following fact: on not one occasion since 1966 have England taken on first-class opposition – by which I mean a team genuinely capable of winning the tournament they are competing in – and beaten them in knockout football. You doubt me? Name one occasion. You can’t.

I should also point out that England’s record in the European Championship is particularly poor – on only two occasions in the last 30 years have England made it out of the group stage and frankly, the state of the team right now and the quality of opposition they face in the summer make a compelling case for them failing to do so again this time around, although I would love to be proved wrong.

In short, England may have some players of quality, but they do not have anything approaching the international pedigree, set-up or mental fortitute to do anything other than make up the numbers at Euro 2012. It is possible to change this state of affairs, however doing so would mean giving Trevor Brooking and Stuart Pearce a licence to put the sort of infrastructure in place which our all-powerful Premier League would object to instictively. In other words, we are fighting a losing battle from each angle regardless of which way we look at it.

This then, is the crux of why people are losing faith with England. Regardless of where we turn, English failure to even compete to a convincing degree at major tournaments eventually leads to people drifting away, and the very structure of the game in this country will mitigate against a coherent challenge being raised in their foreseeable future. I am reminded of a comment made by the American writer PJ O’Rourke on being asked why he refused to wear a seatbelt. “If the car wants to have a wreck”, he said, “that’s it’s business. I will not be compelled to stay with the vehicle”. It seems a number of my fellow countrymen are unfastening their seatbelts.

by Alex on Mar 3, 2012 at 2:41 am


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