England: “We’re sh!t and we know we are…”

The  average England soccer fan has a strange love hate relationship with the serial failure of their international football team to win anything much since Wembly 1966. “It will really teach us a lesson” quipped one caller on Nicky Campbell phone in on BBC Radio Five Live this morning. Er, no actually.

If there was any chance of that, you’d have learned something since you started serially beating up your managers, starting with Don Revie back in 1974. Even the sainted Alf Ramsey was by many accounts hated by the press for almost all the time up until he won the World Cup in 1966.

Some of it originates in the brutish attitude (and goldfish memory) of British sports writers. And some comes back to the peculiarly soccer trait in which every fan believes they could pick a better team than whoever the current manager is.

That can only plausibly happen if you have a surfeit of talent. Something that surely runs against most of the urban myths currently being manufactured within the British sports press corps ‘complex’.

Of these, one of the most popular is that propagated by Alan Green and other diviners of the public mind of English football: ie, that money is dulling the players’ appetite.  The mildly xenophobic notion that there are too many foreign players in the Premiership has also gained currency.

As excuses go, they are both attractive and relatively plausible. Until you think back a little further than this current campaign, when it becomes obvious that this was not the failure of the 2010 campaign (or even, according to ‘the Littlejohn’, “Labour’s war on Englishness”), it is a systemic/cultural flaw of forty odd years standing.

For me, it comes down to this simple, admittedly non-scientific reality. For most of the last twenty/thirty years, it is true to say that  Irish players (and yes, we have two teams just to make things harder for ourselves) who pull on a green shirt play way above their normal (largely mediocre) abilities. Whereas men who pull on an England shirt drop to something way below their usually superlative club form.

Maybe that’s to do with having many fewer options on the table than our English counterparts. ‘Keep it simples’ has been the maxim of all successful Ireland managers, north or south. But if it was a purely managerial problem I am pretty sure one of the eleven managers since Revie would have worked that out by now.

When you (the English) can figure that one out, and in the process deal with the alternating ‘lionisation’ of your national team followed by the abject and ritualised self loathing currently running riot in the sports pages of almost all British newspapers, you’ll have it made.

I know you know you should have stuffed a mediocre German team yesterday. But they saw you and your long tail of bellicose (and manic depressive) media heads coming a mile away. And in the end they turned you over far more cheaply than you deserved.

Perhaps you’re simply getting the team your support (and their melodramic media cheerleaders) is asking for? In which case, maybe it’s time to start asking different set of questions?

The Telegraph have a thread started on same...

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Slugger’s turning into a sports’ blog! Stoooooooop!

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s nearly over Alan, believe me. The pain will subside, eventually!! 😉

  • Brian Walker

    Thinking European we have to ask why France and Italy failed so abysmally too. The French people are more upfront with their racism.but in their own way,so are the Germans and it seems ot have done them no harm on the pitch..

  • Is it time for me to rerun my antisport blog?

  • Mick Fealty

    We can discount France, since they by rights should not have made it past the Republic on the day. Italy are gone but, as regular winners, they’ll find a way to live with the disappointment. But so far three out of the four usual winners are still in. You have to put it down to self belief on one level or another.

    There was a chance for England to break the mould here, not least since everyone is out of their comfort zone in South Africa in Winter. Sadly, I think they need to deal with some of that negativist emotional baggage (their politics is cluttered with it too) first before they can expect to live up to their fans high expectations.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Football has become so big that it is covered as much on the News Pages as the Sports Pages.
    Looking at say the BBC, it is hard to justify sending say Jon Sopel AND Ben Brown plus a lot of lesser known hacks from the “News” Dept rather than the “Sports” Dept.
    A few weeks ago he was interviewing politicians on College Green. This week its footy fans outside the Stadium in Blomfontein (sp).
    Football would lose its hyperbolic status if it was left to the Sports journos.
    Necessarily the NEWS journos are looking for a different story to the SPORTS journos.
    And this makes the footballers…and the FA blazers extremely defensive. In attempting to control access , the FA actually set themselves up for leaks.
    Just like the lobby hacks live off the scraps fed to them by PR people and the tweets from party hacks……so too the sports journos feed off the set piece Press Conference and the leak tweeted to them by a disgruntled masseur or fringe player.
    And naturally the Lobby and Sports Press pack collude in how the story pans out.
    Breaking ranks……the Daily Telegraph expenses scandal stories or the Independents ill starred campaign to identify MPs commercial interests in Parliamentary reports …is not tolerated in the wider freemasonry of lobby and football reporting.
    I think in football terms we can trace it back to Gazza in the dentists chair in Hong Kong. (Or arguably Bobby Moore in Bogota) but what goes on in a post season “friendly tour” of Asia should (footballers and football journalists agree) stayed in a post season tour.
    After all Eamonn Dunphys book on Matt Busby “A Strange Kind of Glory” suggests that Norn Iron players used to hide in wardrobes watching while George Best did what he did best. Another source said that Best charged the Man United apprentices to watch.
    Luckily in those days Football was not big enough for the News journos to report it. Or the journos feared the “big managers”.
    The “line” that the tabloids and 606 and Talksport would take became evident as yesterdays match proceeeded.
    “Awful England” was briefly replaced by “England robbed” and replaced again by “England players……worst human beings ever”.
    Typically as Journos……they prepare two headlines and go with the one which sells most papers.
    “England win World Cup” will sell newspapers.
    “England pathetic” will sell newspapers.
    “England kinda mediocre” does not sell newspapers.

    Same with the Talk Shows like 606. “Do you agree with this Bloke who says we wuz robbed or this other Bloke who says Foreigners are genetically superior to us……text us YOUR opinion for £10 for 2 seconds and listen to this blokey advert talking about car insurance for white vans….innit”
    Just when you thought there was too much democracy……every half assed football message board has an instant answer.
    Sometimes there arent any answers there is just that word “Schadenfreude” (sp) where we all get to enjoy Englands melt down. I dont know what the German word is for “scadenfreude” but I hope there is one.
    Meanwhile we can all re-cycle those jokes. “England get off plane and get a heroes welcome……in Berlin”
    How the English laughed when that joke first appeared as Scotland and Costa Rica.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Football isn’t just a matter of life and death -It’s more important than that ‘

    Bill Shankly – Liverpool’s famous successful manager .

  • Dewi

    What’s with all this angst Mick? Go with your true feelings – they lost – great – come on Brazil!

  • KPB

    And also from a European perspective if Carlsberg did possibly the best motivational speeches in the world, how come Denmark can’t even reach the last sixteen?

  • Mick Fealty

    Anyone but Brazil, Germany, or Argentina you mean?

  • Yes!

  • Dewi

    Need to be careful with this “anyone but” business Mick – Scottish Cops might do you for racism…


  • DC

    As I posted on my facebook to a mate when the game finished yesterday:

    Difference is england approach it with patriotism in part and nationalism in the other. Germany approach it as a tournament team with tactics, playing in pockets – triangles going forward – like Man U – and win. I thought age might have helped England in applying Fabio’s tactics etc.

    Perhaps if they put football first and all that ‘baggage’ last re big emotional battles then England can succeed.

  • DC

    I’d rather see Germany beat Argentina, they were lucky enough in 2006 but will be almost impossible this time round for them.

  • Mr Crowley

    The England football team, their fans and the media are not unlike the GAA situation in Dublin; which is rather appropriate all things considered.

  • lover not a fighter

    John Terry without a fit Rio to hold his hand has been shown as a better skirt chaser than an international defender.

  • Bild headline over a photo of Capello: The Emperor’s Got No Klose.

    Love it.

  • Mr Crowley

    I hope they appoint Eamonn Dunphy as their next manager.

  • Ardmhacha

    every year is ‘dublins year!’…..

  • Tom

    Its worth having a look at the book “Why England Lose” to explode some of these myths. You’ve fallen for “our” own overweening self importance – in fact England about punch their weight when it comes to football – unfortuantely its below what most English people think it should be.

    Most football success in world cups an be accounted for by population size and wealth, Argentina (population c. 35 million) is the smallest country to win the world cup in the last 60 years, Brazil with a population of nearly 200 million has won it most.

    Spain and England “underachive” in part because they have a population between c. 10 to 25 million less than Germany, Italy, and France (who only won it like England beacuse they were at home). Sport allows us to ascribe moral virtue and national charcteristics to what are pretty random events.

    You are correct though in that the Republic and Northern Ireland do better on the “value added” tables (ie taking into account wealth and income) than England – RoI are I think ranked 5th in the book and NI in the top 15 in Europe.

    Anyway if you want to support a “wee” country you should go for Uruguay – 3.5 million people (and no diaspora)!

  • Mark McGregor

    And back in the world of sport….confirmed Antrim double-header for Casement on Saturday.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Looking forward to seeing you there MMG. I will be wearing an Argentina shirt.

  • Mark McGregor

    In recognition on a new tradition in Antrim GAA I will be drunk, wearing a Celtic top and giving abusive chants ;-(

    Feel free to say hello.

  • GackaWacka

    Looking forward to China lifting the cup in a fortnite then….

  • Tom

    The other variable was of course a history of involvement infootball. Neverthless the book concludes that (contra Pele) the first non South American or European side to win the world cup will not be African, but USA, China (if either start to take the game seriously) or Japan.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    That wasnt you in the Celtic top handing out leaflets protesting about foreign games being played at Croke Park.a few years back?

  • Ho, ho, ho, three threads on sluggers ‘front page’ about – you guessed it, the England football team…

    Why oh why do we care as much as they do?

  • Greenflag

    “Don’t mention the score ‘

    is apparently the new updated Cleeseian

    ‘Don’t mention the war ‘

    And the new updated definition of soccer in the Oxford Cambridge

    ‘A game played by 22 men with a ball in which the Germans win’

  • Greenflag

    You are one vicious cruel b****cks to wish that on any team apart from maybe North Korea or Saudi Arabia 😉

  • Greenflag

    I’m now rooting for Germany on the basis of EU solidarity with the Netherlands second choice . And if any South American team win it I hope it’s Uruguay .

    And for those who like to take a dig at the Argies an Argentinian according to the Brazilians is really a Uruguayan with ‘illusions ‘ of grandeur 😉

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I was neutral last night.
    The case for Mexico was los San Patricios and John Reilly.
    The case for Argentina was William Brown, a football club called Valez Sarsfields and of course Che Guevara LYNCH.

    So now Im committed to Argentina.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Oh and of course Chile has Bernardo O’Higgins connexion.

  • Alias

    There is too much pandering to English ‘Rule Britannia’ nationalism. You’re only the best in the world if you prove it against the rest of the world. The subtext is that the English team is the best in the world but simply haven’t been able to prove it for a plethora of fanciful reasons but if these fanciful reasons could resolved then their rightful place as the best in the world would be established.

    They were the best in the world 46 years ago (ironically, thanks to a disallowed goal by an opposing team) but they’ve been way down the rankings ever since, and their is no reason to believe that will change anytime soon.

  • Henry94

    Roy speaks on the England debacle

  • Laiola

    Roy says it as it is and echoes the feelings of a lot of people. C’mon home England

  • DC

    Cold neutrality sums it up – that’s what you need at times. Cold neutrality. Well said Roy!

  • ScottishJ

    Echoes the sentiments of a lot of people. Next England boss???

  • abucs

    I wonder how many top line English footballers England can call on compared to the same for Germany.

    I’m guessing the Germans have a lot more depth, more competition betweern places and are better able to mold sides and pick players on form.

  • Scamallach

    It’s only once every two years – grin and bear it!

  • lover not a fighter

    Roy speaks a lot of sense in that interview and is looking awfully handsome. Sometime I wish I would be gay. Ooh Roy ! ! !