It’s taken me the best part of a week, but I’ve finally worked out how I feel about England’s abrupt and let’s face it, humiliating, exit from the World Cup.
Those who watched the game with me on Sunday will have been treated to the mildly comical yet largely disturbing spectacle of me furiously striking the TV with my flip-flop whilst turning the air blue with my rather choice opinions on the horror show that was unfolding before our eyes. For these poor souls (and indeed their neighbours) it may be a surprise to learn that my over riding emotion isn’t anger.
Regular readers of this blog and those who I sit with at Watford will be aware that I’m not always the most optimistic of souls. I’m still nervy when we’re 3-0 up with 30 seconds to go for heavens sake. Therefore, if asked to bet, I’m sure my fellow Hornets would wager that I predicted an England defeat, allowing me a well deserved and self congratulatory pat on the back. But no, I don’t feel vindicated or smug either.
I’ll tell you how I feel.
I had an inkling that something wasn’t right in my relationship with the England team long before the tournament began.
When the team captain Rio Ferdinand returned home injured in early June, my initial thought wasn’t of the negative impact it would have on the team. It was a sense of relief. Relief that if England did win the World Cup, that plank wouldn’t be the man to receive the trophy on our nation’s behalf. My mind then started to wander. I pictured the players going up one by one to receive their medals and take their turn with the trophy. I imagined John Terry holding aloft the biggest prize in world football. It left me cold. Then, and I couldn’t help it, my minds eye treated me to the sight of Ashley Cole, grinning like a maniac, part of only the second ever England team to win a trophy. I was almost sick. Twice.
I felt slightly less inclined to self harm as I imagined the rest of the team enjoying their moment of glory, but the damage was done. It was now clear to me. There can now be no mistaking it -I just don’t like the England team.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some honest, decent chaps among them. David James is an ex-Watford player so by default he’s a top man. James Milner seems like an alright bloke and Peter Crouch comes across as genuine and very funny. I like him. As a squad though, they stink. Unapproachable, cocky, ill educated, brash and worst of all – pretty bloody average at football.
This generation of footballers is, through no real fault of their own, the furthest removed from both fans and reality. Their astronomic salaries and superstar status mean that through necessity they are to some degree forced to retreat into a world where nothing is too expensive and everything is done for you. I understand this and don’t have a problem with it. If I earned 150k a week I’d buy a big house and would hire someone to operate the Sky remote for me too. Similarly, if I was famous, I’d try and keep myself to myself – signing autographs is fine, but not 24 hours a day.
Having been afforded this status you occasionally have to back it up with action. Prove that you’re worth it. Or at least try.
Off the field this has already proved too much for a number of our ‘heroes’. Rio Ferdinand felt he didn’t have to do a drugs test because “He had a lot on”. John Terry felt it was appropriate to hire out his private Wembley box – a privilege bestowed on each England captain – for personal gain. Rooney badmouthing England fans who have saved for four years only to be treated to one of the worst performances in living memory. Ashley Cole, well Ashley Cole clearly won’t stop until everyone in the whole world can’t stand the site of him. The list goes on. No matter though. We’re football fans. We’ll excuse most things. As long as you give us something to shout about on the pitch.
In all fairness, most weeks, our club players rarely let us down. The England players play well for their star-studded clubs, whilst we lower league fans usually go home safe in the knowledge that our team may be crap, but at least they try. Why then do none of us get any satisfaction from watching England?
It’s simple. The England football team is average. Our players are supported at club level by far superior team mates, allowing them to believe their own hype and inflated worth. Some of them are good, the majority are average. No better no worse. We usually qualify for the Quarter Finals and rarely look likely to go any further. So it has been, and so it shall ever be. And that’s fine. We turn up, we do our bit, we work hard, we bluster and we battle until we are inevitably undone by better players or a penalty shootout. We go out, as expected way before the Final but with heads held high. As English football fans we’re fine with that.
Or at least we were. You see, I can handle supporting an average team. Crikey, as a Watford fan I can handle supporting a less than average team. What is harder, much harder, is supporting an average team for which you have no affinity. I just have no relationship with this England team. As players they don’t mean anything to me. Some of the reasons for this aren’t the players fault. Many of them are.
So it’s come to this. During this World Cup I watched England. I didn’t support them. Of course I wanted them to win. I cheered when they scored, I groaned when they conceded – as a sports fan it’s in my DNA, it’s hardwired into me. I didn’t invest any emotional energy in them though. And you know what? I don’t think any of them did either.
So, what happens now? By way of an apology, I’d love all those England fans that travelled to South Africa to get free tickets to the next England game – a home friendly with Hungary. The perfect opportunity for those who invested not only emotionally but financially to have their say. The sound of 80,000 heartfelt boos and catcalls may be a wake up call for some, an insight as to what real people actually think of them and their antics.
I doubt it though. After all, what do we matter? As Gary Neville so tellingly once said; “The fans are important, but they aren’t the be all and end all”.
Well. We will see Gary. We will see.