“It is the story of a vast superiority, sacrificed through stupidity, shortsightedness, and wanton insularity. It is a story of shamefully wasted talent, extraordinary complacency, and infinite self-deception.”
Perhaps we can credit the football writer Brian Glanville for minting the template for England inquests. This stall was set out in 1953, after the 6-3 home defeat by Hungary. Hopefully, he lodged some kind of patent protection.
They get cross about these setbacks. And only get crosser.
As the years of hurt tick by, they remain as furious and baffled and humiliated as ever that the continentals somehow stole a march.
And they will never tire of the root-and-branch review.
They have reviewed their way full circle. The clamour for academies and facilities and coaches replaced by a conviction that academies and facilities and coaches have sanitised the bulldog spirit out of them.
“They get ferried to football schools, they work on immaculate pitches, play in pristine training gear every day, and everything is done to ensure all they have to do is focus on football. We think we are making them men but actually we are creating babies,” tutted Jamie Carragher, fearful of the ordered dystopia they have created.
Carra is ready, if needed, to pave their fields with concrete and supervise barefoot three-and-in sessions using a stolen tennis ball. Or at least stop the isotonic drinks arriving on time. Whatever it takes.
For years, they fretted about the weight of expectation, then finally dealt with that by appointing Roy Hodgson, who once assured Liverpool fans he’d return them to the top half of the table. But even Roy’s powers of deflation couldn’t quite keep a lid on the dangerous resurfacing of England optimism, though he departed this week having finally settled on a motto to define his reign: “These things happen.”
They twist but nothing sticks. On one hand, they fear their players are imprisoned by the mistakes of history, yet fume when they won’t visit the Somme.
They have tried getting in the continentals and may now opt for what they regard to be the opposite of a continental, Sam Allardyce.
After Brazil, Glenn Hoddle felt they needed to learn how to cheat, that it “wasn’t in their DNA” — as was confirmed when the FA presented their England DNA document. They have since made some advances in that area but even the masterful collapsing of Dele Alli and Jamie Vardy hasn’t been enough.
Maybe Nice brought the cruellest blow of all. Just as they have given up asking “can we not knock it?”, they were undone by a long throw into the mixer. The one thing they gave the world other than the game itself.
So where do they turn now? What is left to review? What twisted root must be pulled?
It may no longer be entirely a story of a vast superiority wasted, but for many years, there has been another key ingredient in the cocktail of recrimination and regret that follows every tournament exit.
It has long been clear that footballers are among the most hated group of people in England. Certainly after foreigners.
Perhaps the Daily Mail’s Jeff Powell best encapsulated both the contempt for their players and the suspicion of John Foreigner’s wicked ways with his take on their Allianz Riviera catastrophe.
“England froze like baby seals in the searchlights of Iceland’s axe-men.”
For Jeff, this was a straightforward story of men who haven’t earned their corn.
“So over-enriched, excessively pampered, and laughably fond of himself has the modern footballer become that this wretched crew gave up virtually without a fight.”
Jeff might have done his own bit for wanton insularity over the years, but it is a view so widely shared it is now more or less the official view of England’s footballers.
It is hard to trace precisely when the “modern footballer” was born. But we know England have won only one World Cup since Jimmy Hill and company broke the maximum wage.
When David Beckham dared to venture his opinion that Brexit wasn’t the best idea they’ve ever come up with, Tory MP Nadine Dorries took her own short break from wanton insularity to swiftly apply the standard slap-down: “So, multimillionaire, multi-home-owning man who can kick a ball supports Remain.”
Long before England’s exit, one newspaper was getting behind Raheem Sterling by running an online calculator so readers could monitor his wages clock up in real time.
There’s something not right about it, this persistent interest in the payslips of England’s footballers. You don’t hear it thrown at the likes of Cumberbatch or Hiddleston when they star in a turkey. Fiennes after Land of the Blind.
In a place where they seem to be obsessed with class, maybe it is a story of snobbery.
A great agitation that there may be men out there skipping rungs of the ladder. Even if these are men who have climbed their way to the top of the only genuine global meritocracy, who have genuinely earned their corn, rather than relied on influence.
The agitation melts easily into hatred. When they don’t sing the anthem convincingly enough, they are slaughtered for lack of patriotism. When Joe Hart roared it like three lions and screamed at his colleagues ahead of the Wales game, it underlined his lack of focus.
Maybe when you cannot win with your own people, you eventually accept you just cannot win.
“I leave you to your stories…” said Hodgson sadly, as he departed his last presser.
It is definitely not a love story.
Heroes & villains
A revelation on TV3 co-commentary. A Big Ron-without-the-baggage in the making His “Moutinho looked like he got caught on the Travelator in Gladiators” was pure Ronglish.
Wouldn’t be overshadowed. His “Four days that have shaken a kingdom” was apt, while his extraordinary impersonation of Bjørge Lillelien’s iconic ‘your boys’ commentary was perfect.
Beat George at his own game with an extravagant display of chicken-counting to coincide with Iceland’s second goal, providing the TV moment of the tournament.
Is it time to finally consider having the penalties before the extra half hour?
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