Why I can’t love England

I find it very hard to love England these days. I know I should really, and I do try honestly. The truth is though, I know the day will never come when I get in the same state about the national side, that I got into about City during the last two weeks of last season.

I suppose I am an England fan generally. Whatever sport England happen to be competing in, I want them to win. I want Lewis Hamilton to win the Formula One drivers championship, I recently watched the rugby world cup, I love cricket and was absolutely delighted when we won the Ashes. I can even remember staying up till silly o’clock to watch the UK win a gold medal in curling at the 2002 Winter Olympics. I had never watched that sport before and never have since.

But when it comes to football I feel less of an affinity for it, than I do for that very strange sport played out on ice. It’s all to do with the personalities involved. I’m afraid, it’s so much easier to love the Graham Swanns and Stuart Broads of the world than it is the Wayne Rooneys and John Terrys. Nice modest blokes with wonderful personalities v – well that’s best left to your imagination.

I have been fortunate enough over the past ten years to do voluntary work for Norfolk CC behind the pavilion bar at Manor Park. This has enabled me to meet lots of cricketers from all levels of the game. One day Martin Saggers came up to the bar. For those of you not familiar with cricket, Martin was a former Norfolk player who had shone at Minor Counties level and moved on to join Durham in the first class game. He had also recently been selected for England and had the rare distinction of being one of the few players ever to take a wicket with his first ever international ball. Understandably he had received lots of accolades in the press. Well barely seven days after this feat, he came up to the bar and said to me ‘Excuse me, is it all right if my mum and dad come into the pavilion? Now can you imagine someone like Rooney, Terry or Ashley Cole behaving like this? Never in a million years.

I do realise that not all football players are like these three, and that there are are lots of really decent blokes out there playing at all levels. After all, Paul Lambert has made a career out of unearthing them and getting them to sign for Norwich City. But that’s not what we are dealing with here. The top players I am talking about represent our country globally, but unfortunately appear as frequently on the front pages of newspapers as they do on the back. And this week we have seen yet another episode in the long history of embarrassing and petulant stupidity by Wayne Rooney. I won’t go into the incident itself because it has been done to death elsewhere, but this sort of thing would be marginally more palatable if it was accompanied by exciting, effective performances by the player, and impressive Spain like displays from the team. But it isn’t.

I am old enough to remember England winning the world cup in 1966 which was a special day. But since then different managers have come and gone but we have lurched from poor to awful, to reasonable, to average, and back again to poor. So in spite of all the money, the WAGS, the hype and the exposure, we are pretty much where we were 40 years ago.

In 1993 Norwich City qualified for Europe for the first time ever. I was over the moon about this as you can imagine, and at the time firmly believed it was going to be a regular occurrence, the shape of things to come. I considered that I needed to start saving up for trips to the far flung outposts of Europe. City had arrived and were there to stay. History will tell you that sadly, I was wrong. The harsh reality is of course, a one off cup success apart, it is unlikely that I shall ever see such a thing again in my lifetime.

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Football has changed beyond all recognition since the early nineties. The Sky TV money and the overseas investors have created an enormous, practically unfathomable gulf between the Man Citys, Man Utds and Chelseas of the world, and the Norwich Citys.

However, as unpalatable as this may be, surely there is a glimmer of light? Doesn’t this mean that with the huge leaps forward in skill and technique shown by these top teams, that this will be reflected in the national team too. My disappointment at facing the reality that my club side is unlikely ever to compete at the top level, will surely be countered by the fact that my national team, England certainly will. Surely the best league in the world must also have the best national team?

But no. England are at best ordinary. Despite the fact that these players rub shoulders regularly with the top players in the world, and contest European finals in the same teams, if you lump them all together in one side, they play like Norwich City on an off day.

The harsh reality is that I follow a second tier club side these days, and I don’t have a world beating national side to make me feel better about it. That’s why I can’t love England.