Is it any wonder England have failed to inspire us?
At the risk of being carted off to the Tower or, worse still, being branded as parochial, dare I ask how much the typical football fan cares about the fortunes of the England team?
I am sure the vast majority of Norwich City supporters have derived far more pleasure from witnessing their team’s dramatic revival over the past 2� years, and all the mass celebrations that have accompanied it, than they could ever experience from anything the national side might achieve in a major competition.
Likewise, I believe fans of the country’s biggest clubs place a higher priority on Champions League or Premier League success for their own teams than on the progress of the international side some of their top players represent. I suspect quite a few of the players take the same view – Jamie Carragher cannot be the only one.
This has not always been the case, surely.
The 1966 World Cup is just about the first football I can remember watching as a young child and for years afterwards an England game was always an event. Any fan worth his salt could reel off the names of Alf Ramsey’s winning team at Wembley and there was a huge sense of pride at being the reigning world champions.
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I can remember the trauma of England’s 3-2 extra-time defeat by West Germany in the 1970 World Cup quarter-final in Mexico – what a birthday present that was – and the failure to beat Poland in the final qualifying match for the 1974 tournament prompted a grave inquest that ultimately cost Sir Alf his job.
Now, unless it’s a “do or die” match in the knockout stages of a major tournament, I can’t even be bothered to watch England and I suspect I’m not alone.
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Since the 1990 World Cup, how many times has the national team captured the imagination of the country as a whole? Twice, I would say – in the Euro ’96 tournament when England were genuinely unlucky not to reach the final and might well have gone on to win it, and again in 2001 when the 5-1 World Cup qualifying victory in Germany set them up for a decent performance at the 2002 finals before they lost to Brazil in the last eight.
The rest has been a catalogue of under-achievement and, at times, humiliation on the world stage.
While I believe that cricket and rugby fans have retained a stronger attachment to their national team, despite their ups and downs, there is an indifference to the England football team that is lifted only briefly during major tournaments when the St George’s flags appear on cars and the barbecue season is upon us.
Part of the problem is the sense that while players such as Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Gordon Banks and, in later years, Kevin Keegan, Trevor Brooking and to an extent Gary Lineker, commanded respect not merely for their achievements in the game but for the way they conducted themselves on and off the field, who does the current generation fans look up to?
Three of England’s most recent skippers have, in no particular order, been banned from football for eight months for missing a drugs test, been stripped of the captaincy after an alleged affair with a former team-mate’s girlfriend, and appeared in court after admitting punching a disc jockey in a bar brawl, though in this case the player in question was cleared of affray. One of that same trio now awaits trial, accused of making racist remarks to a fellow professional, a charge which he denies.
It is hardly surprising if the fan in the street is disillusioned with the example set by these �150,000-per-week “professionals”.
And what of the man brought in to restore England’s standing after their dismal failure to qualify for Euro 2008? What have the FA had in return for their investment in Fabio Capello, not to mention the money spent on his vast support team?
They have paid �6m per year to a man who is supposed to give team talks but can barely string two words of English together, who was, ludicrously, given a new contract a matter of weeks before he presided over the most humiliating World Cup campaign in living memory, and who has now resigned out of pique because his employers all too belatedly reversed his ill-judged decision to re-appoint a discredited captain.
Is it any wonder we can’t really be bothered with them all?