England, World Cups and Me

In 1998, England were knocked out of the World Cup in France by Argentina. On penalties. It was an intense game, one I can never forget. We went behind, got back into it, then lost Beckham but fought as hard as I’ve seen England fight. We went head-to-head with a brilliant Argentina side, had a goal disallowed and then lost on penalties.

My reaction to that result was to physically attack the settee. I punched the cushions repeatedly, yelling my frustration.

In 2002 we went out in the quarterfinals. To Brazil, this time, who went on to win the Cup itself. I took that one well because we barely made it to the tournament in the first place, were underprepared and the conditions did not suit us at all. We only just lost to them – a free kick that was either genius or an accident finding its way to the back of the net.

Still, I was pretty down about it.

Then we hit the dark times.

I have been an England fan since the 80s, but only have scant memories of the early tournaments and in 1994 we failed to even make it. By 1998 I was old enough to understand the big picture of the World Cup and fanatical enough to take it all far too seriously. The manager had to get everything right. Players were heroes or villains. Referees were all against us. I hated any player who did anything against us, from scoring to fouling to diving to doing his damn job. We needed to win a World Cup. We needed to do well. English football needed to take charge.

By 2006 we had great squad of world class players, or so it was proclaimed. I doubted that but I bought into the hype and felt we could really do something at this one. Germany was close enough for us to have strong support out there, the weather shouldn’t be too bad (it was pretty hot though) and our players should be chomping at the bit.

We stunk the place up. We even cheated, one of our players pulling on another man’s hair to win a ball in the air and go on to score. How pathetic is that?

I was angry but sullen. More disappointed than anything. England had been frustrating to support. 1998 had been uplifting and the end was a rollercoaster game. This time, we were knocked out by a Portugal side that just played less awfully.

Then came 2010. South Africa. I had had high hopes for this tournament for some time. Players who had come in years back were going to hit their peak. Things had been changed. We had experienced players, were well organised, but had some exciting younger players to get involved.

We stunk again. Honestly, I was glad to see the back of us. I was fed up.

By now, I was becoming more angry at the hype that goes on with England than anything else. Yes, I had bought into it again, but it was just ridiculous. It has been for so long now. We think we can beat anyone, despite the obvious indicators to the contrary, and when we lose we either find someone to blame or just act as if the side we played are actually the best in the world. With each World Cup, the question gets passed around with more and more insistent obtuseness – will England win this one? Anyone who says No gets treated as if they are a traitor to the land. Unless they’re foreign, in which case who cases what they think anyway? What does a World Cup winner or a highly rated manager know about us anyway? We’re going to win anyway! Ergh.

I can’t enjoy England any more. I want to. I just want to support them. Enjoy watching them play, give it a go, try their best and come home with heads held high. But no. We have to proclaim England as potential winners, despite the fact we are clearly average. We have to talk about all the luck that can go our way. We have to constantly ask anyone and everyone about us.

I remember back in 1998 that Ronaldo had tipped England to win the World Cup. At least that was what we were told. Then it cut to Ronaldo being asked about possible winners and him rattling off a list. He was then prompted about England and he seemed to shrug and nod and say, “Yeah, they could.”

Even tonight, with Costa Rica beating Italy – which is a huge result in itself and was a thoroughly deserved victory – the instant reaction was all about us.

So what happened this year? We got knocked out. While not playing. We lost two games, Costa Rica won twice, leaving either Italy or Uruguay to go through depending on who beats who. We’re out. We’re done.

In 1998 I attached furniture. Today I can barely shake a fist in mock anger. I am angry, yes. But in a tired way. Frustrated by what we did wrong. Annoyed with the usual nonsense having been talked. Wondering how we could have done better.

But here’s the odd thing. I’m not disappointed. This was a better World Cup than the last two. We got out of the group stages in them but we never deserved to and were shown up by better sides. In South Africa, a vibrant German side tore us to shreds. That was supposed to be an average German side. If it was, that showed us at our level. It tore the invisible emperor’s clothes from us and then slapped our arse with a hearty laugh. We were a poor side and it was proven. Today we’re an average side. But we have promise and this was always going to be a tournament too soon for a good portion of our side. I have more hope for England’s future than in the past.

Not to win it though. That’s where I get fed up again. I can’t do this any more. Supporting England has become such a toil. Not because of the bad results. Because of the hype, the bollocks and the bullshit. I want to talk realistically about England and rate their progress, not scream and cry over each defeat and demand instant success. I also don’t want a bunch of non-football people who latch onto England at each World Cup whine about ‘we’re no good at nuffin’. English football is badly run. Everyone knows it. But we can get better and do well. The usual problem remains that we only get worked up about it when we’re knocked out of an international tournament. So I see no need to get worked up about it myself.

It’s a bit like watching Game of Thrones. I’m starting to wonder if I should care about anything that goes on or get worked up about betrayals or twisted acts, because often so far the emotional clashes end up peetering out and/or get left behind for something new.

There’s only so many times you can get so worked up about something that it makes you punch inanimate objects. After a while, even someone like me has to just find it a futile waste of energy.

That is me and England right now. I’m not going to waste time getting upset over it. You’re not worth it. Frankly, you did about as well as I suspected you would.

Now leave me alone and let me enjoy this very entertaining World Cup in peace. I just wish all the adverts and promotions linked to England and the World Cup could go out just as easily.