The England Obituary, Part Two: What The Papers Said (And Didn’t Say)
As some of you may have noticed, England were knocked out of the weekend in just about the most emphatic way possible last weekend. Over the next couple of days, each of the five regular Twohundredpercent writers will be offering their own take on this failure. In the second of this brief series, Ian King looks at the media’s reaction to the defeat and the search for someone to blame, and reaches the conclusion that whilst the fourth estate may have reached a degree of consensus about who’s to blame, they seem unlikely to get anywhere near the truth.
There is a line in the film “This Is Spinal Tap” in which the band visits the grave of Elvis Presley, and when they ponder that The King’s death puts everything into perspective, singer David St Hubbins concludes that it is “too much fucking perspective”. It didn’t take very long after England’s thrashing by Germany last weekend for the inquest to begin, and it took even less time for the inquest to begin to assume many of the characteristics of a pogrom. Within about forty-eight hours, the voices of reason and moderation were being shouted down by those of extremism but, then again, what else could we expect from a press that has seemed to be virtually incapable of reasoned debate for as long as anyone can remember? In the eyes of the so much of the printed press, there is no such thing as shades of grey – merely black and white, scapegoats and the innocent.
The hysteria took a while to fester. The BBC’s immediate post-match reaction to the performance was one of shock. The issue of Frank Lampard’s shot that wasn’t awarded as a goal was touched upon, but overshadowed by lengthy discussion of England’s defensive shortcomings. There was no piety to be had in the immediate aftermath of such a crushing defeat, and the pundits seemed agreed that, although a miscarriage of justice had occurred, it most likely would not have made much difference to the final result, and that for England to have got anywhere close to half-time with the scores level would have been an even greater travesty of justice than that particular non-decision was. Germany had won fair and square. Not even Alan Shearer could deny that.
The debate about video technology continued into this week, although it had a somewhat half-hearted air about it. The Australian ethicist Peter Singer tried to argue in The Guardian on Monday that the behaviour of Manuel Neuer on Saturday afternoon was something akin to cheating (which demonstrated merely how removed he is from the culture and ethos of football) and was shot down in flames by those that commented upon his thoughts on the subject. On the whole, however, the timbre on this particular subject that had been picked up by the BBC on Sunday afternoon was carried on in the press. The bottom line remained the same – England would have lost anyway.
The tabloid press, meanwhile, seemed undecided about who should be the focus of their ire, with the inevitable result that much of their criticism came across as even more scattergun than usual. On the one hand, the inevitable argument that England will somehow benefit from having an English manager came up (and, indeed, has come up on this very site earlier this evening), but it again felt half-hearted. John Cross came fairly close to the line in the Daily Mirror in claiming that “there is an almighty clamour for an English manager to take over because another big-name foreigner has come up short” and that “the biggest argument you hear from fans against Capello is he is Italian and therefore cannot manage England”, without coming up with much in the way of evidence to back up such bold claims.
In the meantime, Martin Samuels of the Daily Mail seemed reasonably certain that tiredness didn’t play a role in it all today, and his words seemed to chime with the general mood:
There is no upgrade, no quick fix. This will be a long process. We must take a radical look at what happens to our game – from what occurs on over-sized school football pitches, to the dearth of qualified coaches – or sign up for another decade of staggering blindly through the wilderness.
For The Independent’s James Lawton, however, the blame rests squarely upon the shoulders of the players. In his comment piece yesterday, he concluded that “Rooney and, if it is not too late, Gerrard must weep for themselves and their own failures”. Still, he makes more sense than the same newspaper’s Lee Dixon, who managed to blame everybody and nobody in his column, before arriving at the conclusion that, “If Capello goes, and the indications are that he will, then the best candidate to succeed him is Roy Hodgson”, which might have been solid thinking, were it not for the fact that Hodgson seems almost certain to be unveiled as the new Liverpool manager in the next few hours or so.
This morning’s tabloid front pages were telling, and it seems to be the players that will largely be held responsible for this particular debacle. The Sun and The Mirror both led this morning with the story that England players had been caught drinking beer and champagne, smoking cigars and, in what we are presumably supposed to take as an affront to our very nationhood, laughing. Neither newspaper makes how long the players should observe a vow of solemn repentence for. Meanwhile, the award for the most bone-headed analogy of the last four days goes (and to his regular readers, this will come as little surprise) to Henry Winter of the Daily Telegraph, who chose to end his tour of their recently-vacated hotel by saying, with almost no relevance to the words that had preceded them:
As one member of the Armed Forces, watching the Germany game in Afghanistan, shouted at the screen: ‘The players should try coming out here for six months’.
Ah, the moral compass of our brave troops. We should all stop complaining about anything and everything, really, following that logic. Winter was run close by the Daily Star, who pulled the familiar trick of running a story with a headline that is only a vague relative of the words that follow it. “David Beckham: I’ll Boss England”, screamed the headline breathlessly, but the truth was somewhat more mundane – Beckham, it turns out, “does not want to end his playing career yet and has told pals he still backs Capello”, which is not quite the same thing as him throwing his hat into the ring for the job, especially when, as the article pointed out, “has no coaching qualifications”. Still, at least they had the brass neck to admit that there waas nothing in this story, which is more than The Sun could manage. Their article on the subject bore absolutely no relevance to the non-story whatsoever, which is the sort of logic that could destroy the fabric of time and space if we focus upon it for too long.
The Sun also came tantalisingly close to one of the truths about the state of English football, with a peculiar little article comparing the Premier League unfavourably with the Bundesliga, and the fact of the matter is that England’s current problems require a massive sea-change in the opinions of everybody if they are going to change. But everybody means everybody. The only people exempt from criticism in the press this week have been the supporters (no newspaper in its right mind is going to criticise supporters for indulging all concerned for so long) and the press themselves, even though they could not unreasonably stand accused of similar indulgence and continuing to chase false virtues, while the rest of the world gets quietly on with the job of developing better footballers.
Whether the FA can do anything to arrest this state of affairs is open to question. If they can, and with a billion pound domestic league that is all but hostile to the continued success of the national team, how this can be done remains a question that is all but impossible to answer. England supporters may simply have to accept that this is the way that things are going to be from now on, that the start of the long, slow decline has started and that it will continue to manifest itself in this way. Maybe it’s time to start enjoying these tournaments a little bit more and stop expecting to be successful. In other words, perhaps it’s time for everyone to show a little perspective. Because too much fucking perspective is, well, too fucking much.