England At The World Cup:Here We Go Again


A Young England Fan 2009/10 England V Mexico 24/05/09 International Friendly Photo Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

 

The wait is finally over. Is it really only a month since the Premier League season ended? As the build up to this World Cup feels a lot longer than previous tournaments. Either way all the talking, waiting and predicting is nearly over as the action is about to begin...

 

I'll start with thoughts on my team, England. Once again the nation has gone into a state of crazed euphoria as we gear up for what is usually a great big let down.

I actually detect a shift in the country's backing for the players this year, which I think stems back to our defeat to Portugal in 2006. To explain my point I feel I should go back still further to 1996, the year England hosted the European Championships.

Our spectacular run to the semi-finals that year (which even included a penalty shoot-out win) caught the hearts of the nation and suddenly those who previously had no real interest in football, began to watch the game. Before then it was unfashionable to say the least as it struggled to shrug off it's negative image, brutally aquired the previous decade.

 

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 06:  The Derby Pub which has been decked out to look like a giant St George Flag as its regulars are gripped by world cup mania in support of the England football team on 6 June, 2006, Manchester, England. As World Cup fever begins to grip Britain sales of Saint George flags and England paraphernalia have rocketed as the national team prepare for their first game on saturday against Paraguay.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The 1980s had been a time of great depression for English football as the 'English disease,' hooliganism, threatened to permanently tarnish the games reputation.

The nadir was two sets of disasters: the tragedy at Heysel which saw English clubs banned from Europe, and the Hillsborough disaster, which eventually led to wholesale modernisation of football stadiums to make them safer.

Thankfully England began to learn the harsh lessons of those two tragic events and the the benefits of this really began to hit home that balmy summer of '96 as 'football came home' and became fashionable again.

Even older supporters couldn't help but be caught in the  'Eng-gur-land' fever. And so this biannual dose of patriotic madness became common place as we tumbled out of each tournament, usually on penalties.

But is was never the brave players fault (unless your David Beckham in 1998 of course) it was the opposition (usually those pesky Germans) or the referee. Blinkered by passion we couldn't understand why we were always so 'unlucky'.

Roll on 2006 and the 'golden generation' who were supposedly going to finally bring the trophy home after so many years of heartbreak. All those dramatic disappointments would be rendered meaningless as we looked set to finally grasp our opportunity.

What we got was a series of stoic, defensive, half baked performances and then another penalty shoot-out defeat.

 GELSENKIRCHEN, GERMANY - JULY 01: An English football fan cries after England lose to Portugal in the quarter finals of the FIFA World Cup.on July 1, 2006 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany.  Thousands of football fans witched the match on large outdoor screens. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Ten years of failiure had worn everyone down (longer if you are a pre-96er like me), after all that emotional investment in the team they felt short changed and there was no-one else to blame anymore but the players. The failure to even reach the 2008 European Championships on that soggy November night against Croatia at Wembley signalled the end of a dream that began so promisingly 11 years earlier.Those 'new' fans began to look elsewhere, while the rest looked to their club side for inspiration.

The fact that all the players are millionaires and generally behave like scumbags in the private lives only alienated them still further from the public. And the success of the Premier League has only strengthened the will of those on the domestic side of the club v country debate.

So what we have now, going into this year's tournament, is an almost willing acceptance of inevitable failure. Should England go out early I get the impression many fans will say: "Well I hate John Terry and Ashley Cole, I wouldn't want them to win the World Cup anyway" or "now that is out of the way the proper football can start again."

All of which is very sad but should be serve as a motivation to the players. They can no longer count on the public's support for granted, it needs to be earned. And if they can't do it by behaving off the pitch then they have to do it on it.

Can England win the World Cup? Yes I think they can. But as ever it will involve a professional approach and, particulary in the knock-out stages, huge slices of luck.

Do we expect them to win the World Cup? No, of course we don't. But after all the negative headlines and dismal defeats the fans have had to experience in recent times now is the time for the players to pay them back by giving it a damn good go.

The waiting is over. England, it's over to you.

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