The first tournament I remember was World Cup 86 in Mexico. I had the sticker book.
I’ve followed football properly since EURO 96. The first tournament I covered professionally was the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. I remember I had an exam on the day of the first game and got home just in time to see South Africa take the lead against Mexico. Everyone wanted to see Bafana Bafana do well in their home tournament, despite FIFA’s shameless corruption parading itself up and down the tournament like a catwalk model on Pay Per View.
They failed to make it out of the group along with France, whose traditional tournament firework display resulting in bans for players that totalled twenty seven games. The French, as we know, do not muck about when it comes to beef. I photoshopped Patrice Evra into a ring master costume, which contributed hugely to the debate.
England were rubbish, as usual. Obviously we could have won the whole tournament and every one since if Frank Lampard’s effort against Germany hadn’t been cruelly disallowed, but we wouldn’t have deserved it. There was no joy in watching England’s Golden Generation(TM), who performed consistently for their club teams but couldn’t really be arsed in an England shirt. And why should they? Expectation heaped on expectation by an entitled tabloid press whose only reference point was colonialism and xenophobic banter.
EURO 2012 was defined by racism. Host countries Poland and Ukraine were the subject of numerous investigations into racist behaviour from fans; a conceit many of us gave the side eye to given the actions of our own heroic supporters. Spain won it and received a lot of coverage on Kickette.
2014? England didn’t get out of the group, which coincided neatly with Raheem Sterling earning his second cap and the attention of a tabloid press desperate to blame someone. Looking back now, this is where the tabloid press’s insidious but undeniable racism began to gather pace. What he spent his money on, his behaviour and his sleep patterns; everything he did was dissected in a manner that stank of imperialist condescension. I wrote an article for my employer at the time, The Football Ramble, entitled ‘England Expects: That Entitlement Complex In Full’. The premise was that it’s impossible to do your job effectively with thirty million people screaming at you, even if you’re paid a hundred grand a week.
“Footballers are paid too much. There’s no denying it. No one deserves to earn thousands a week when there are people living in poverty, And when we see them frittering it away on gold plated buffoon-mobiles and fish tanks with more luxurious facilities than we could hope to afford for our own homes, it’s perfectly normal to resent them. Especially if you’re worried about how you’re going to buy enough food to feed your family this week.
But the question we the fans have to ask ourselves is whether we’re going to let ourselves be manipulated by a media with an agenda to sell product or support our national football team. For me, the two are mutually exclusive.”
In 2016 we lost 2-1 to Iceland in the last sixteen. Apparently Iceland has a population of 300,000 (who knew?!) and if you were watching the game, the weight of the words about to be written about them were writ large on their slumped shoulders.
“…if there is to be any hope for the future at all, we need to expand our horizons when it comes to distributing blame and moving forward. Throwing cash at a shiny, previously successful, manager who oversees an exceptional qualifying campaign only to falter at the first competitive hurdle is a sticking plaster we’ve applied tournament after tournament and I think it’s safe to say it’s not working.
If we want success in the future, we need to strip bare the open wound that is the current England football setup and decide how we can best fix it. The time for politely averting our gaze is over.”
After this ignominious defeat, we appointed Sam Allardyce as England manager. This was our sliding doors moment. The FA’s intention was clearly to fill a gap with a ‘no nonsense’ man who wouldn’t tolerate any inflated egos. I can say with some confidence that I wouldn’t be writing this article now if the Biggest of Sams hadn’t been covertly filmed allegedly taking bribes while drinking a pint of white wine by a Panorama/Daily Telegraph investigation.
Gwyneth Paltrow has nothing on this guy.
We’ve come so far under Gareth Southgate. His focus on the mental health and emotional needs of his players has given them the confidence to perform on the pitch, but for the first time ever we’ve seen them collectively stand up to the masses of fans intoxicated by the febrile atmosphere of failure and blame. England lost the semi-final in 2018 to Croatia and last night we saw them play, mostly in the first half, as a team. Playing with a degree of confidence and verve unprecedented in my long career as a cross, frustrated hack.
More importantly, they have intelligence and courage to stand up to an English fan base who have been indoctrinated by media intent on creating division. When I went to sleep last night, it occurred to me that Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho might be in the receiving end of some racial abuse after missing their penalties, but nothing like the monstering they’ve received.
I wasn’t planning to write about this. I have a different job now and quite honestly, I’ve written so many words about this England team, I didn’t think there would be anything to add to the noise.
I want to say this though. Be under no illusion. Ask an English person whether their country is tolerant and welcoming to everyone and most people will say yes. This is conceit we’ve collectively carried for far too long and pretending it’s just a few bad actors spoiling things for the rest of us feels like a wilful refusal to look at the facts.
The fact that three English men who have given their all to ‘bring it home’ to us are now being bombarded with offensive imagery and insults. One of those men campaigned to ensure that kids had access to free school meals during the pandemic, and Tory MP Natalie Elphicke tweeted the following message after the defeat:
“They lost – would it be ungenerous to say Rashford should have spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics.”
Ungenerous? Or psychopathic? Depends on which paper you read, I suppose.
Home should be a warm safe place where you’re surrounded by supportive people who love and want to celebrate your victories as one, but are ready to embrace you and nurture and encourage you through your low moments. Our home, England, is currently an abusive, gaslighting, coercively controlling, self-harming partner that requires isolation and extensive therapy before being anywhere near the kids again.
Let’s hope they forgive us before the end of next year.