The politics of following the English national team appears to get stranger and stranger as each tournament approaches. Not since 1966 has England managed to win a major international trophy and despite coming close on one or two occasions, most notably in 1990 and 1996, the dream of winning anything seems rather remote.
Yet, the English, who invented the game and this being rather noteworthy, appear to have a morbid fascination in seeing their football collapse and capitulate. For every tournament they enter, the whole country expects them to go and win it; this is despite the severe technical deficiencies and sheer exhaustion of playing a Premier League season. It is not just the fans who crank up the pressure; the media plays its role. For example, before most knock out games, be certain to see a headline play reference to Lord Admiral Nelson’s famous adage that ‘England expects everyman to do his duty’. In fact, ITV’s recent build up has parodied England going into the tournament on the back of their twelfth straight World Cup victory.
It is worth reminding that the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ that infamously went onto win nothing, was actually a name given to the team by none other than the Football Association. Talk about hyperbole.
For many years England did expect, purely because they did invent the game and that was that. England famously did not enter into early World Cup tournaments because they believed that they were not properly devised nor was the FA willing to acknowledge them.
Even the mentality was wrong, British players were often renowned for the idea that running with your head down can get you out of trouble. The so-called ‘kick and rush’ football may have worked in the British leagues and in the early half of the 20th century, but footballing tactics had moved on. England did not. One Dutch commentator said that his country admired the way the English played but they thought it was completely suicidal.
And here we are today. Less than two weeks before Euro 2012 kicks off in Poland and Ukraine and everyone is trying to down play it all. The preparation was not good. The departure of Italian Fabio Capello was not an ideal scenario. Despite Capello’s unpopularity with the press and a number of players, he was a winner and he knew what he wanted. The FA’s bizarre attempt to find an interim manager and hire him less than a month before the tournament speaks volume of the organisation.
I do not expect England to win, nor do I expect most people. Yet, I don’t understand this idea of trying to subvert any optimism. We don’t need to label ourselves as dark horses or chance outsiders. Why would you enter a tournament without thinking you were going to win it? You don’t go to a strip club to enjoy the furnishings.
Tournament success is about preparation and a spot of luck, for too long the conversation was ‘we invented the game so we’ll win it’ and later it became ‘we’ve got the best league in the world so we’ll win it’. Two remarkable truisms that have no real logic.
If England ever do win a tournament it will require hard work and good players, but it will mainly require ideas and knowledge. The FA’s previous solutions of throwing money at the problem will add nothing further disappointment. Let’s hope, but not get ahead of ourselves.