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