A few days ago I got into a brief twitter conversation about the England football team, and specifically whether I’m bothered what they do. The fact is, I’m not very bothered at all. It’s not really anything to do with which clubs’ players are in the England team – I don’t really care if there are Spurs players there if they’re good enough. Nor is it to do with the fact England don’t usually get that far. Most countries don’t, though the manner of England’s failure can get a bit tedious: struggle past various no-hopers then fall flat on their faces as soon as they come up against anyone vaguely talented. I don’t need to bother investing the slightest emotion in that, I can get that in the Champions League with Arsenal every season if I’m interested.
So what is it to do with? In the modern manner, here are my top 8 reasons why I don’t really care about England at football:
- A lot of England matches are friendlies. Friendlies are boring, because they’re meaningless. It doesn’t matter who wins, so immediately there is very little interest, because sport is about someone being better at something than someone else. If it doesn’t even matter who’s better on the day then they certainly shouldn’t be charging people to watch it!
- Most non-friendly England matches are qualifying group games. Sometimes these are meaningful, but mostly they seem to be against someone like Moldova or Azerbaijan, and no disrespect to the people of those nations but neither is renowned for exciting football. Mostly teams England play in qualifying games don’t have the football history of England, so they’re happy with a draw. That doesn’t make for much more excitement than a friendly.
- England play football in a very dull way. The Arsenal of 2016 are very dull compared to the Arsenal of 2004, but the current Arsenal are still usually much more exciting to watch than England, even leaving aside any emotional attachment. I don’t know all the reasons why it’s so dull to watch, but I suspect the following are factors:
- the players mostly aren’t technically top level these days
- the manager is unimaginative
- the players tend to lack the football intelligence to open defences up
- the overall style and formation is inevitably a compromise to allow for players who aren’t used to playing with each other, may not be in their best positions and may not be used to either the playing style or the formation the manager wants
- some players may be nervous and would rather play safe than make a fool of themselves in front of the world
- England fans. I’m sure there are lots of great England fans who are friendly, not racist, don’t urinate in the street and wouldn’t dream of smashing up a café, fighting other fans or throwing chairs and bottles at police or anyone else. However, there are plenty who are racist and can’t control their drinking or their behaviour. They think foreigners exist only to be belittled, be referred to as ‘Pedro’, pour beer for them and clear up the mess they childishly and selfishly leave behind. Has there been an England match abroad in the last 50 years when somewhere did not get smashed up? Maybe England fans are not as bad as they used to be, maybe there are sections of fans from other countries who are as bad or worse. So what? I don’t want to be associated with the levels of immaturity, ignorance and downright racism that some England fans display. Yes, I’m sure many fans just go to have a good time and support their country, and enjoy mingling with fans from other clubs to do so, and I’m not saying it’s the majority who cause trouble, but it’s still too many for me. Events in Marseille this week have done nothing to change my mind on this. Most English fans didn’t want trouble and it appears most of the trouble was caused by Russians, with the French not innocent either. However, there are plenty of examples of England fans behaving shamefully as well.
- The managers. Mentioned in number 3 as a cause of dull play, but England managers have other effects on my psyche beyond dullness. For the last couple of decades they’ve either been English no-hopers like McLaren or Hoddle (the latter being a great player but not great at much else; the former being awful at everything), okay but as exciting as a cup of Horlicks and never going to set the world alight (Roy), or grossly overpaid foreigners like Capello and Eriksen, who would have been stupid to turn down the cheque from the FA but either had no idea how to make England successful or just didn’t care. I can’t get behind any of these people. The last worthwhile England manager was Terry Venables, who had to leave the job due to very dodgy business dealings. A shame, because Venables understood football at all levels, both at home and abroad, and knew how to get the best out of England players. The current crop of English managers have a very long way to go to catch up.
- The FA. The FA has always been run by short-sighted, ignorant and inward-looking bureaucrats. They started by not wanting to join the fledgling FIFA, resigned from it twice, tried to stifle almost every innovation Herbert Chapman came up with, advised English clubs not to take part in European competition, and more recently have made laughably incompetent bids for World Cups, paid managers completely unnecessary fortunes to repeatedly underperform, and persistent backed the wrong horse in any FIFA election or scandal. Not to mention vastly overspending on Wembley and the need to tug their forelocks to corporate sponsors basically forever as a result. All those things have effects on me ranging from mild irritation to copious swearing, but then there’s the effect they’ve had on the game itself in my lifetime. Good effects: the steadying influence of the IFAB in the face of some of FIFA’s more outlandish ideas; bad effects: everything else. When the Premier League was founded the FA gave all the control to the TV companies. All of it. All fans in England now pay the price of that. The TV companies, initially ITV mainly but soon Sky, could not believe their luck, and still can’t as the cash cow grows ever fatter. A smarter FA would have made sure there were benefits for the game from grassroots up, not benefits for TV companies and an army of parasitic agents. As for coaching, the number of qualified coaches in England is an embarrassment and a joke compared to every other ‘advanced’ football nation. And the FA’s philosophy on coaching got so far behind the rest of the world that their attempts to catch up are just about keeping them a generation behind the leaders. England winning the World Cup was possibly the worst thing that could happen to the English game in the long run. It cemented the belief that the FA and English football in general knew best and could ignore the rest of the world. It rubbed out the stain of being thrashed by the Hungarians in 1953 and allowed them to wallow in blinkered ignorance of the revolution that Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels were starting at exactly the same time. The persistent refusal – led by the FA – to acknowledge that anyone else might know better has been holding English football back for close to a century. I know supporting ‘England’ is not the same as supporting the FA, but it does feel like a tacit approval of them.
- The players. With a few exceptions, the players are mostly spoiled brats, cheats and crybabies who barely know how to wipe their own backsides. I don’t find many of them very likeable.
- I’m just not hugely patriotic these days. I was born in England and I feel English, though my family is a mix of English, Welsh, Scots and a bit of French. But I’m not particularly proud to be English or British – it’s not as though I chose it or did anything to cause it. Britain has given the world quite a lot over the centuries, but not all of it has been good. There are things in our history we can and should be proud of, and other things that the benefit of hindsight shows were hugely misguided at best. I don’t see any reason to apologise for things that happened long before I was born, but nationalism is not the way forward for the world. The planet is too small and too crowded for that now, and we’re all going to need to get along. So when it comes to football, I’m no longer too bothered about nation v nation, all trying to prove they’re better than some other nation. Let the ones with the best football win. For the foreseeable future, that’s not likely to be England.
Having said all that, there are lots of countries that I really don’t want to win anything. Imagine if Scotland won the World Cup – we in England would never hear the end of that one. It would be as bad as Spurs winning the League, but is even less likely. Then again, imagine if England won the World Cup (again), or the Euros – the FA would take that as vindication that the way they run football works, even if England won because half the countries were on a political boycott and the other half were struck down by lasagne poisoning. No, it’s not our role to win at football now, let’s just accept our place as an also-ran. Good luck to the winners: France. Or Germany, Or possibly Spain.