The state of the England football supporter is an unusual one, and not a pleasant one. Disliked by more or less everyone, and with ludicrously over-optimistic hopes fuelled by a media that thrives on peaks and troughs (and nothing in-between), it can be a fairly unhappy existence. No genuine England supporter was surprised by Wayne Rooney’s ropey metatarsal bone. If anything, it was a blessed relief that it happened soon enough for him to have anything like a cat in hell’s chance of making the finals. Four years ago it was Beckham. In 1986 and 1990 it was was Bryan Robson. It happens. And with England, it usually happens to the wrong person at the wrong time. What England do supremely well is drama. You don’t need me to recite the litany of travesties that they have somehow got themselves involved in, but I will say this much: when have England ever meekly surrendered in a competition, with no fight, or no drama? Even in 2002, Ronaldinho contrived to get himself sent off. You’d be surprised how many people forget that. But it happened.
The upshot of this constant disappointment is unstinting pessimism. There’s an advert on the television (for Mars, I think) which shows just how little advertising men know about football. The advert consists of a tubby man in the standard garb (St George’s t-shirt, possibly face paint) walking around giving some patriotic bollocks relating to the words “I believe”, whilst a crowd of similarly-attired morons congregate around him. Rubbish. England fans don’t believe. They fear. They watch each match through the gaps between the fingers over their eyes. They know that if a team can concede two goals in the last minute of a match against one of their biggest rivals (France – Euro 2004), or have a perfectly good last minute goal disallowed and then lose on penalties (Portugal – Euro 2004 again), or beat their traditional rivals but lose to two middle-ranking teams and get knocked out before the quarter-finals (Euro 2000 this time), it’s theirs. We’ve had forty years of conditioning for it. Waiting for the ball to squirm under Peter Shilton’s body (Poland – 1973), Keegan to fluff his lines from six yards out (Spain – 1982) or some tubby short-arse to punch the ball into the goal (you know who). Why do you think “Three Lions” was so much more successful than other football songs? It wasn’t David Baddiel’s singing voice. It was because Skinner & Baddiel understand that the fundamental mindset of the England football fan is somewhere between ennui and extreme disappointment. But keep doing it, keep watching it and keep putting ourselves through the mill, because one day it might happen. That feeling may be many things, but it’s not belief. And it’s quite a long way from hope.
There are, of course, many people who will tell you that England supporters are “arrogant”. They’re often Scottish or Welsh, though other nations do get involved as well. They’re wrong. What may appear to be arrogance is really us just covering ourselves. Wrapping ourselves in the flag to cover our shame. Arrogance is a state of mind, and states of mind don’t always correspond with the way one behaves. Would I rather be a supporter of the Scotland or Wales football teams? Hell, no. Wales, with their one World Cup finals appearance ever? Scotland? SCOTLAND? Who have done even better (or worse, depending on how you quantify these things) than England in finding ways of getting dumped out of World Cups without even reaching the knock-out stage. Impressive work, but I’ll pass, thank you very much.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a post about the England football team without being massively contradictory, so coming up will be ten reasons why England can win the World Cup.