So, McClaren has gone – rumour has it that he didn’t fall on his sword last night and chose to wait to be sacked the next morning for contractual reasons. Since the majority of the money going into the FA (who are likely to have to pay him severance of £2.5m, according to reports) will, somehow or other, be coming from English football supporters, let me pass on this message: Thanks, Steve. Thanks for choosing to do us all out of a seven figure sum, having bequeathed us with the most clueless national team that we’ve had in getting on for half a century. Everything that you need to know about what motivates those at the top end of English football can be encapsulated in this paragraph.
While I am looking forward to the finals of the European Championships (I wouldn’t be much of a football obsessive if I didn’t now, would I?), and even taking into consideration everything that I said on here (which I will, in the long-term, stand by), I have been in a strangely despondent mood today. This despondency hasn’t been caused by England’s failure to qualify for the finals (I thoroughly enjoyed Euro 84 and USA 94, thank you very much for asking) – it is something altogether more prosaic. This isn’t merely a blip on the way to an eventual World Cup or European Championship win. It feels like the start of a very long downward trajectory. I understand that other countries have had this before, but as a 35 year old Englishman, it’s the first time that I’ve come across it. It’ll pass in a day or so, but it is a wider feeling that just us weird obsessives. I shall refer you to a post that I put on a message board earlier this evening, and leave you all to draw your own conclusions.
I was listening to one of those old Baker & Kelly radio things the other day, and they were talking about the Spurs-Blackburn League Cup final in 2002. Danny Kelly described the feeling after that match thus:
“I think that when a club has been big and is on its way to the level of mediocrity, everyone knows the steps that you take in the process, and everyone knew that it was absolutely, critically important for Spurs to win that match, and for the players to show up and not realise that, and just turn up with the attitude of ‘Well, we’re Spurs and we know we are’, kissing the badge – it was like a bereavement.”
It felt a bit like that last night. I don’t think that Spurs are the best analogy, in club terms, for England (I happen to think it’s Newcastle, or perhaps Manchester City – for one thing, Spurs have at least won something in my lifetime), but that feeling of England being at the start of a long, slow decline is inescapable. That’s certainly how it has appeared in the press, where they’ve managed to suspend disbelief for such a long time. The slow dawn of realisation that this is now England’s place, and will be for a considerable amount of time, is starting to hit home. The manner of the defeat and the disbelief (I mean, did you hear Motson and Lawrenson in the last thirty seconds or so of last night’s match? I’ve never heard anything quite like it – Motson was saying, “I can’t think of anything to say”, and he seriously sounded on the point of tears) was the sound of the majority of a nation, who have been blinded with smoke and mirrors for years and years, realising that it was all an illusion.
I’m not trying to argue the point of whether England really are or were a “big” footballing nation here. That’s not the point of this post, and it’s being done to death elsewhere. For me, the stinging sensation last night came, not so much from the not qualifying, as from the ultimate conclusion that it’s more likely than not (because of the myriad of problems being discussed elsewhere) going to be like this forever, or at least that, in the long term, this is the likely trajectory that it will take. To have that feeling rubbed in by so much schadenfreude and bad-minding has merely amplified it (and, again, that’s not something that I want to go into in too much detail about on here – suffice to say that I just find such pleasure in someone else’s misfortune a bit, well, weird), but that’s not really what has bothered me the most, but that sense, at least regarding England, has been there for a while. What has stuck me about the last few weeks the most of all is that it’s starting to hit everyone that cares in the slightest bit about the England team.