Falling Out Of Love With England

By on Feb 11, 2012 in International Football, Latest | 12 comments

The last week or so has said a lot about England, the state of the country, its sporting culture and the team that is supposed to represent it on the stage of international football. Apathy levels with the national team, however, are growing to the point at which it may become pertinent to ask the question of what the England national football team is actually for. Here’s Mike Bayly, on how he felt out of love with the England team.

Logan Mountstuart, the chief protagonist in William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, offered the view that human beings are a series of ever evolving characters occupying an ever evolving body. When you reach a certain age – or perhaps, more accurately, a certain jadedness – you realise that time nourishes reflection. I sometimes look back at the child I was, with all my youthful follies, and wonder how I got where I am today: weatherworn, cynical, yet embracing of a deeper wisdom; a wisdom that only emerges when you step back from the abyss and understand the mechanisms that first led you there. I am a stranger to my past life now. And that includes my love for something I thought was unbreakable: the England football team.

My first genuine recollections of watching England were Mexico 86, albeit in bewildered awe at Diego Maradona singularly dismantling the entire team. The first time I recall a more fanatical interest came in more incongruous circumstances. In 1988, England were playing Scotland in the Rous Cup, a tournament that by modern day standards would be the equivalent of screening live terrestrial action from the Combined Counties League. For reasons best known to the sport’s governing bodies, I was at Ludlow swimming baths collecting bricks off the bottom of the pool as part of my ‘silver award’ (at least that’s what history would recall; it is altogether possible I simply had an inventive and sadistic instructor). Around ten minutes into the match, Peter Beardsley scored. One of the dads sat in the gallery armed with a pocket radio and an otherwise bored expression leapt out of his seat, punching the air, with a grimace that suggested a particularly sharp drawing pin lodged in his foot. A crowd of excitable dripping children gathered round: “get in, 1-0. Is Robson playing? Who crossed the ball? I bet it was Barnes”.  It was a shared moment of euphoria, albeit at a tender age where euphoria could be found in the simplest of pleasures.

Maybe it was the scarcity of televised football or the kind of innocent idolisation only a child can enjoy, but this was the England team of my childhood elevated to the pantheon of immortality: Barnes, Waddle, Hoddle, Lineker, Gascoigne – not only a side flushed with individual brilliance, but one that seemed genuinely likeable. More importantly, they seemed to like each other. Two years later, Italia 90 came along. World In Motion – the best football song ever written – sent a nation into a shell suited frenzy. Players lolled round Mediterranean pools in porn star shorts behaving like they were on a club 18-30; the whole nation shared Gazza’s 23rd birthday courtesy of Chris Waddle smashing an oversized chocolate cake into his face. It evoked the sort of pub league camaraderie that every fan could empathise with. These weren’t just footballers; these were English lads pissing about on holiday. And we loved them for it.

Somewhere along the line this all changed horribly. A well read friend of mine opined that the last truly likeable England side was the school of Euro 96, which – the 5-1 win in Germany aside – was the last time England seemed to represent the country at a personal rather than superficial level. Since then, there appears to have been a ghastly transmogrification into a bland soulless commercial interpretation of what a national side should represent, beset by a sanitised public relations doctrine aimed at creating a team that satisfies corporate rather than supporter interest. In short, “club England” had become a microcosm of football’s unhealthy obsession with money and celebrity.

There is of course, a wider context to all this. Simply using the “football has become too corporate” platitude is overly simplistic. It is always worth noting one’s own reasons for embracing a certain culture and ultimately rejecting it, even if those reason’s offer painful insight. For many years I have suspected that supporting the England team has become unhealthily intertwined with jingoism, to the point where the two entities have become almost inseparable. English support – more than most countries – defines itself largely by how much it dislikes other nations, particularly Germany. Ask someone to define English culture and it will often reduce to military imagery or nationalistic bravado. In a past life, I have been guilty of the most loutish of behaviour; stood in an English bar on foreign soil, swigging out of a bottle of Carlsberg with a face like a smacked arse singing “ten German bombers”. I’m not proud of it, but it happened.

When this is stripped away, there is only so much of the carcass left to feed on. Simply supporting England because I am English no longer cuts in. A few years ago, all it would take is a shot of sambuca and a union jack daubed with a provincial town to get the pulse racing, but now I need more than that. A tubthumping hyperbolic press with their ridiculous predilection for trivia and malevolence turns me cold. The players – a vastly wealthy, insular, diamond studded collective – don’t represent me or anything I hold dear about the game. It is unfair to say I don’t like the current England squad because I don’t know them. It is fair to say I couldn’t care less about them.

Some might argue that these are fickle observations born from a lack of success. But England has never been successful in my lifetime. Suggesting my stance might change if the Three Lions win Euro 2012 is like saying a Lesbian can be won round by a good six pack. I grew up supporting a lower league club so football was never about success. It was about the intangible emotion of being part of something that represented the values you held, the place you lived or the people around you. I liked the idea that the bloke you sung about on the terraces could be laying your patio the next day.  The joy was in the little victories; the moments of pleasure that punctuate an otherwise monotonous existence. Personally, I couldn’t imagine supporting a side whose trophy cabinet buckled under the weight of its success. To follow a side that wins everything is to compromise life’s karma. How you can experience euphoria if you have never tasted the bitter pill of failure?

The recent histrionics surrounding the England team followed by Shaun Custis’ latest muck racking article about Stuart Pearce in today’s Sun only further serves to crystallise my stance. Seeing Fabio Capello – one of the world’s most successful and dignified managers – hounded out of his job to the backdrop of Barry Fry banging on the SKY Sports news desk like a daffodil selling Enoch Powell left me utterly disillusioned. Frankly I don’t care who the next England manager is. Whoever takes charge of England it won’t have a happy ending. As Tim from The Office said: “I don’t know what a happy ending is. Life is not about endings. It’s a series of moments.” Sadly these moments for England are cyclic and predictable. Stories surrounding the manager, captain, player spats or whatever else consumes the sports pages rather than the football itself are nothing more than a fait accompli.

I’ll still watch Euro 2012. I’ll probably cheer if England score. But my heart won’t be in it. When it’s all over I’ll go home and like a wistful lover, get maudlin over old footage of an affair that has run its course. It’s a sad indictment of the modern game that I get more pleasure watching England bow out of Italia 90 than I ever could seeing the modern generation celebrate victory. Where’s a hyperactive Geordie with a pair of plastic tits when you need him?

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    12 Comments

  1. Isn’t it great when a blog post or article just about sums up everything in your head on a certain topic without you needing the effort or writing skill to say it yourself? It’s a few months before a major international tournament and I’d normally be getting moist with anticipation by now. But so far? Nothing. Nada. Zero excitation. Thanks for the post Mike, a career in therapy awaits you.

    Connor Kinsella

    February 11, 2012

  2. I have to confess that I really don’t care two hoots about the England team, manager or set-up in general. I suspect I am not the only person for whom the fortunes of my club come before anything else in terms of football – as it happens, that club is a semi-professional outfit (although I live about 15 minutes walk from a League football ground I wouldn’t darken its doors) but I feel exactly the same about the England semi-pro team (aka England C). The international scene is to me an irrelevance.

    mike

    February 11, 2012

  3. That’s a really great article – I think it captures my own growing lack oif interest in certain aspects of football, although in a different way; the players at Swansea City are not the wealthy insular diamond-studded collective that Mike refers to, but there is definitely a feeling that although it’s great to be in the Premier League, and everybody in the world appears to love those warriors in white, for some reason I just don’t feel part of it. The reason remains unexplained though – it just is.

    Kev, Swansea

    February 11, 2012

  4. One of the most insighful and relevant articles that I’ve read in a long time. It explains my feelings on the subject too – I too feel more for the teams that lost so valiantly on Italia 90 & Euro 96 that the overpaid, overhyped, sefl indulgent, cossetted prima donnas that play for England now – Team England? – Utter tripe. I will probably feel more for the GB Olympic Team this year than the Euro 2012 England team. They (GB team) wil be full of young enthusiastic players keen to make an impresion with a manager that wears his heart on his sleeve like a true Englishman – not some crooked tax dodger who just thinks everything is Either “a joke” or “triffic”And, whilst I have some concerns over his reasons for wanting to play and despite his many failings as a player, at least Beckham will try to do his best for the team and hopefully encourage some kind of patriotism, not jingoism, nationalism or even racism.

    Browner

    February 12, 2012

  5. terrific bit of writing, although I’m now somewhere between wistful and suicidally melancholic

    Jack

    February 12, 2012

  6. I had a similar falling out of love with our national cricket team (and subsequently the game) approx 20 years ago where all the hype and promise and rhetoric lead to yet another series of disappointing results on the field. There comes a point, I realised, that our country (New Zealand) is only ever going to be a toiler and not amongst the top tier of teams, however much we tried to fool ourselves otherwise. I haven’t watched or been interested in the game since.

    The England national team is now very much becoming the same to me. In the past the cyclic issues that are reoccurring again, were glossed over somewhat by the fact that Ze Germans, French and Spanish were in similar states of turmoil and self destruction, but not now. Where those countries have sorted themselves out England has not and one could argue that the longer the FA leave it, the bigger the gap widens.

    NB: France might be the exception presently but they did have a good period for a while winning World & Euro Cups.

    Noshow NZ

    February 12, 2012

  7. The plastic tits comment gave me an idea to help the public reconnect with the England team. Give Gazza the manager’s job, and televise the team’s Euro 2012 trip in “Krackow uncovered” style. It’d make for unmissable TV.

    Dave

    February 13, 2012

  8. A good article but I take offence at the ” a tournament that by modern day standards would be the equivalent of screening live terrestrial action from the Combined Counties League” comparison.

    As someone whose nearest team is a CCL side, and has seen his own side play 2 seasons in the CCL before their rise to the Foorball League I find it objectionable that a mickey mouse England game is the equivalent of a CCL game.

    I would choose Raynes Park Vale vs Colliers Wood United every time over England v Scotland in a Rous Cup game, and have indeed have watched RPV when England have played, and certainly when there has been live coverage of the Champions League.

    Apart from that, sums up my feeligns very well….and here’s to the CCL, live and exclusive on ITV1…..!!

    Jertzee

    February 13, 2012

  9. Great article that really sums up a lot of my feelings towards the England team.

    For me though, there’s an additional aspect to my ambivalence towards the current England squad, and that’s the players themselves. It’s just not possible to really support a team made up of individuals you detest.
    I can’t wish success on the likes of John Terry, Ashley Cole, Wayne Rooney, or Steven Gerrard.

    I’m not suggesting that the past players were angels, but while many of them were nasty bastards on the pitch, they at least seemed to be reasonably normal off it. Or perhaps we just didn’t know so much about them in those days.

    Jam

    February 14, 2012

  10. It’s funny, but I don’t have the same apathy towards the Wales national side, even though we now have more premiership players than ever before.

    I would ask Browner to think very carefully before supporting any TeamGB side … but that’s another argument!!

    blogdroed

    February 14, 2012

  11. I think much of this is human nature.

    Like the author I follow a rubbish lower league team, though I’m younger, so I remember getting attached to the national side around the turn of the millennium. I fondly remember how much the 2000, 2002 and 2004 tournaments meant to me, but in recent years I’m not even aware what day England are playing. Some younger fellow-club-supporting friends are incredibly excited about this summer’s tournament and have their flights booked, and I’m sure one day they’ll lose interest too.

    I think much of my apathy stems from our media, though. I never had a problem with Eriksson, and many fans I spoke to felt the same. The newspapers dont’ reflect public opinion, though – they tell the public what their opinion should be. It was the journos that were against him from the start, they did it again with McClaren and then Capello.

    I find myself sincerely hoping that the press get their wish, Redknapp takes over and then fails spectacularly* just to see how they’ll react. My wish that they’ll accept responsibility is pie in the sky, though.

    * Not out of any malice towards Redknapp, though I do have an intense dislike for all tax avoiding scum as they mean I have to pay more.

    Sean

    February 15, 2012

  12. @Jertzee – My apologies if the Combined Counties analogy caused offence. As one of the chief promoters of Non-League Day, the last thing I would wish to do is sully the name of the non-league game. Indeed, I watched a match in the CCL earlier in the season (Colliers Wood United v Guildford City) and had a great time. My point – perhaps not as articulately communicated as should have been –was that to the general public, pointless international matches have very little draw. An event like the Rous Coup would, by modern day standards, generate considerable apathy. The non-league game suffers from a similar problem, despite the fact it has so many endearing qualities. It is the whole reason we seek to promote grass roots football every year via the Non-League Day campaign.

    Cheers, Mike.

    Mike Bayly

    February 18, 2012

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