I’ve been away at a stag do this weekend. Up in the Lake District (Prague is just so last decade darhling!)
Anyway as you can imagine if you get a load of lads, beer and a World Cup together one topic of discussion is inevitable… The beautiful game (or in England’s case the hideous one). Not one of the 15 of us thought we had a cat in Hell’s chance against Germany. I detect that a lot of people despite (or because) of the mass hysteria drummed-up by the media had developed a sort of ennui before the first ball was even kicked. I have quite passionately cheered England on every time until this one. I was just sick to the back teeth of everything in the shops and all the adverts on TV having my nation’s flag upon it. The most egregious by far was the “If Carlsberg did team talks…” Yeah, I thought, “… they’d be in Danish”.
Anyway, yesterday, we sat in vague disinterest in the pub watching the inevitable calamity. It was quite weird. Lads on a stag do, beer flowing freely and England vs. Germany in the World Cup: you’d expect some level of rambuctiousness. Admittedly we’d chosen a quiet pub rather than the first one we came to which had some twat in a tommy hat “playing” the vuvuzela (just one of those makes an unconscionable racket - I can’t imagine 60,000 going - I hope those stadia are sturdy so we don’t have a “Walls of Jericho incident”) and another that was blaring out the “Dambusters March” with the amp turned to 11 (it’s one louder). When Germany scored their first one of the lads turned to me and said, “Right off home now!” with a wry grin. I guess what I’m saying is that for a lot of us the staggering mediocrity of England for so long coupled with the ludicrous hype of the, “This time for sure” variety has propelled the whole dismal spectacle past tragedy and into the realm of farce. I think it’s significant that I haven’t heard the song, “Three Lions” anywhere. Perhaps, “44 years of hurt doesn’t scan” or perhaps too many of us are just sick of it all.
Of course there is another reason as well that I’m losing the will to support England at football. I can sum it up with the headline of today’s Daily Fail. It quoted their resident gobshite, Richard Littlecock along the lines of, “If the Few had fought so badly in 1940 we’d all be speaking German now”. Please put a cork in it Dickie me old china for that has by now grown a long grey beard. I find the inevitability of the comparison of England v Germany games to WWII ridiculous, embarrassing, childish and offensive. The idea that we can gain some sort of revenge for the bombing of Coventry by winning a football match against a team many of who’s grandparents weren’t born at the time is farcical and self-defeating. Sport is not war and it is wrong to treat it as such. There is a George Orwell essay that argues that case so I’m good company. Pinning our entire national self-image upon “sad far-off things and battles long ago” is stupid, dangerous and I’m sure in some sense is part of the reason for England’s chronically “woeful”, to quote Alan Hansen, football.
I guess I might as well say something about the game… I’ll leave that to two people who were there commentating except to chip in that this is the worst England team I have seen since the dark days of Graham “Do I not like that” Taylor. Remember when he took Lineker of in his last match for England to replace him with that oaf Carlton Palmer. Recall the epic midfield triumvirate of Batty, Platty and Fatty?
England need a miracle now
That is not in itself amusing but that was uttered just before Emile Heskey was thrown into the rout… Now Emile Heskey may be many things but he is certainly not “a miracle”. Emile Heskey is not so much a footballer as a pratfaller - he’s good at that - should have been a vaudevillian. Anyway, by that point we could have fielded ten cloned Peles and a Gordon Banks between the sticks and half the German team could have had an impromptu BBQ in the centre circle and we would still have lost.
Normally I find Alan Hansen’s dour Scottish Private Fraserishness, “Woeful defending, no one was tracking back… And look how they were leaving the striker literally* acres of space…” grating** but his tone suited this one and his final comment is a peach…
“England were abysmal against Algeria but today they were four levels worse”.
“Four levels below abysmal” - I’m having that Mr Hansen! That is almost Shakespearean in a kind of “full fathom five” way. Hansen’s final comment really sums up this England team. They just look slow (especially Rooney who appeared to have developed too much a taste for biltong whilst in South Africa), lack any attacking flair and the least said about the fair impression of Fred Karno’s circus that constitutes the defence the soonest mended. David James looked like he wanted to lamp those two end of the pier comedians Upson & Terry and he had a fair point. When James wasn’t picking the ball out of the onion bag he was shrieking at that pair of clowns. Has John Terry also shagged Matthew Upson’s missus? That might explain why they had a complete lack of co-ordination. The whole team was a shambles and they played with a devastating lack of spirit or commitment all through the tournament.
The one game we won (against the mighty footballing powerhouse that is Slovenia) was a grim one-nil. On paper that’s a good result… for Slovenia. I just found out that one of the Slovenians was only in South Africa because he took unpaid leave from his day job as a bank clerk… If our multi-millionaire “stars” can only get one-nil against a team that includes amateurs then bugger them quite Lampard(ly), Frank(ly)! Anyway, good on the Slovenian lad! That’s the sort of spirit we need! I hope he had a really good time and I bet he did. You can’t imagine the likes of Rooney, Defoe or the Coles doing that can you?
Anyway, just after the game I was on the train back to Manchester and there was a group of Scottish lads and none of them cared that England had been humiliated. Now that speaks volumes. I guess they too regarded it as inevitable. Even back in Manchester (where I changed trains for a local service to get my weary bones home) where there were loads of guys in England shirts milling around Piccadilly station who looked sort of, “Yeah, right, whatever…” It’s as though so many people can no longer summon any passion over a team that clearly lacks any passion whatsoever. Would it be cynical of me to suggest that going out now is a feature and not a bug for many of the players who shall now have longer to lounge on the beach some where astronically expensive with their concubines?
The fact I’m evven thinking that is reflective of the enormous national Gallic shrug our exit has provoked in (I suspect) a majority of the populace. Gallic shrug - yeah, the French didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory either. Quite the mot juste n’cest-ce pas?
*Football pundits have a completely different understanding of that word from the one the OED presents. Example from the ‘98 World Cup (spoken of a USA midfielder - “He has literally no left foot, well obviously not literally but he has no left foot…”. That’s my runner up to the truly surreal image conjured by this utter gem from the same tournament, “Jaap Stam looks like Steve Bould… On skates!”.
**Can you imagine the pillow talk after Mr and Mrs Hansen have had sex? He’d be drawing diagrams on a video replay and pointing out where Mrs Hansen had gone wrong, “Woeful foreplay, you just weren’t tracking back…”. Or him directing MacBeth, “Woeful swordplay, where was your defence”?
PS, “Award for best Newspaper Headline” goes to the Mirror for the magnificent “Rout of Africa”. The Sun only managed the dismal “Fritz All Over”
PPS. Because I was away I didn’t see the Dr Who season finale. Any discussion here of it in any form whatsoever (it’s repeated on Friday) will get you cast into The Howling. I mean it. This is very important to me. More important than the “Eleven Disinterested Jerks – South Africa 2010 tour (later dates cancelled)”. This is the TV highlight of my year. Not that it’s up against much competition mind…