Finding surprise and cheer in friendly boredom

Our man inside the game struggles to watch international friendles, but this week he tried

Finding surprise and cheer in friendly boredom

It’s still OK to be bored. That is to say it’s OK to visit any number of places all over the world and find yourself at the mercy of whatever is on offer there. Or not on offer, as the case may be. And I realised a long time ago that it is impossible to be happy all of the time. It is impossible to be stimulated all of the time. It is impossible to have a great time all of the time. It’s OK to be bored.

The trick to being bored is not to let it get too far. Boredom can lead to you becoming an uninteresting person. And it is true to say too much of the good life can leave one feeling nonplussed about places and moments in history when one is expected to be dazzled. So it’s OK to be bored.

And boredom can lead to some wonderful ideas. It can help to unlock an imagination suffering from the very worst writer’s block. Some of my best ideas have come from being bored.

Letter to The Times, May 2018: “Sometimes when I’m bored I like to put a sugar cube out on the floor and wait for the first ant to come along. He takes a bit of the cube back to the nest and tells his co-workers. Then I take the sugar cube away when I see them all coming back. I want his mates to think he’s a fucking liar!”

What’s important is to keep the mind active and not let it dwindle into something akin to a brussels sprout.

Even if there is no great reward financially, activating and stimulating the brain during this period is vital for when the boredom subsides and the mind is once again ready to emerge from the darkness.

Football remains a huge part of my life but post-retirement the game is more and more about the 90 minutes. As a player, the game consumes you and if you want to be successful then you need to allow it to do so.

But as somebody looking on with no reason to stay fit and nobody left to please, it is possible to strip everything away and just watch a game of football for 90 minutes.

And then the international friendlies come around and the boredom hits you between the eyes. I’ve never enjoyed watching international friendlies. As somebody brought up to win at every thing I ever did, the concept of a football match with no points or no trophy to play for feels a bit of waste of time when I watch as a fan. But that’s probably more to do with jealousy that I’m not out there.

So I’m watching the England game against Holland in a comatose kind of way. I’m bored. But it allows me to see things I wouldn’t normally give a second thought to.

I studied the team selection and the strategy and the formation harder than I ever had before. Gareth Southgate went with a loose 3-5-2 formation with Kyle Walker on the right side of a three. I liked that. I also liked the fact that Kieran Trippier’s crossing ability was recognised, with the Tottenham defender starting on the right of midfield.

The game unfolded with all the thrust and energy of an under-21 game, complete with the turnovers of possession and lack of final ball. But it was positive and bright. Almost interesting. But it couldn’t hold my attention as a game of football in its own right for too long. It had the air of desperation about it but not the same kind of desperation you might see in a decisive World Cup group game. It’s impossible to replicate that in a friendly.

At one point my mind drifted and I noticed that all of the England players in the picture were black or mixed race and I reflected for a moment just how far England has come as a nation in that respect. I’ve never noticed that before. It is something that we can be very proud of as a nation. Seven of the starting 11 were black or mixed race and I wondered if that was a record and how long it would be until the whole team was black or mixed race.

I’m unsure if that swing is down to a concerted effort by professional clubs over the last 30 years or simply an organic phenomenon that occurred naturally. I wondered why more senior sports journalists haven’t picked up on it and delved into the reasons. Either way, football and England are better for it.


ithout Harry Kane, Southgate was forced into an experiment that he might not have had the need, or possibly the balls, to try otherwise. He pitted Rashford, Lingard, and Sterling against a defence marshalled by Virgil Van Dijk and there was enough about the interplay and directness of the three to be optimistic about their chances of causing teams trouble.

It was never going to be a classic. Notwithstanding the fact that Holland, The Netherlands, the Dutch, are a pale shadow of their glorious past, England’s players are fighting for Champions League places while guarding against injury ahead of the World Cup finals in Russia.

I’m not going to go out of my way to let England bore me but I reckon that it’s OK to let boredom consume me occasionally. It does afford me the opportunity to see the world in a slightly different way and notice things that I would never normally know were there.

And sometimes those things can come as a wonderful surprise and in the place where you’d least expect to find stimulation and reasons for optimism.

Even England, as it turns out.

Our man inside the game struggles to watch international friendles, but this week he tried

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Saturday, November 27, 2021

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