Is it bad that I’ve stopped caring about my national football team? There used to be a time when I would avidly park myself in front of the TV to watch any game they played in – friendlies just the same as qualifiers or finals games. It was an event, something to look forward to, something that would bring friends together over a few cans of beer and some salty snacks. We could all sit around before and after the game picking imaginary squads and trying to work out how to solve the perennial “problem” on the left flank, to wonder how successive England managers could pick players like Philip Neville but ignore players like Matthew Le Tissier and to generally chew the cud about football in general.
As I’ve got older though, I’ve become increasingly jaundiced about the whole circus. I don’t know when the rot set in, but it’s now got to the point where I can genuinely take or leave an England international. There are several reasons for this:
1) The games are – almost without exception – astonishingly turgid. How many really good England games can you remember? Poland in 1986? West Germany in 1990? Holland in 1996? The 5-1 against Germany? That’s about it (and let’s not forget that we lost the most important one of those games). Long and bitter experience has taught me that this is 90 minutes of my life that would be better spend doing something else.
2) The relentless hype. Somehow the success of the Premiership and the high profile of our players leads us into the delusion that we are a great side; that we have a ‘golden generation’. On recent evidence, neither of those statements is remotely true. Yes, we have a squad packed full of very high profile and very highly paid players, but they are always less than the sum of their parts when other teams (like Northern Ireland at the moment) seem to be able to punch well above their weight. It’s largely the media that pumps this up and whips up a storm out of the smallest little thing relating to the national side. I’m bored of the fact that the TV and the papers are full of tiresome speculation and uninsightful comment pieces about the players and about the manager. Yes, England have been poor recently, but how much of the crowd reaction has been prompted by the press vultures hovering around Steve McClaren? How many of the journalists who question his competence would have picked a radically different team last night? How many of them really think that changing manager now would help England? How many of them have a constructive suggestion to make? The English Football press delights in pumping up our expectations in the national side by making them out to be world-beaters, and when they inevitably fail to live up to the stratospheric hype, they are pilloried. I’m bored of it.
3) The players. Footballers in general and English footballers in particular make me sick. They represent for me everything that is wrong with our society and what we aspire to. These are kids without much education who suddenly find themselves praised to the skies and earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a week. In a way, I suppose it’s not that surprising to see how they choose to spend that money: on stupid fast cars, on massive houses, on tasteless jewellery. That’s bad enough, but what really revolts me is the way that some of these people think that their money and status enables them to behave. Of course, footballers aren't alone in this, but how many times do we have to read about fights in nightclubs, or marathon drinking sessions, or roasting sessions in hotel rooms? Kieron Dyer, Frank Lampard, Joey Barton, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Wayne Rooney.... how many of the current England squad do I need to name? Worse: this is the lifestyle that people aspire to. I saw an advert on the back of the bus the other day which offered people the opportunity to hire a Ferrari or a Lotus for the day. The strapline? "Have a Footballer’s Lifestyle!" No thanks. These grasping idiots and their vacuous, greedy girlfriends are all over the covers of magazines and the television (WAG's Boutique anyone?). They are sated and they are self-satisfied. The world would surely be a better place if they dropped off the face of the planet. They're obscene.
I flew back into the country on Sunday. I had no idea that England had been playing, but when I read the review of the game against Israel in the Observer, I was not in the least bit surprised. In fact, I was amused. How many times have I read a report like that? Enough to know not to bother watching England again.
Yesterday I went out to a gig and missed the game entirely. At about 21:45, word of the score began to circulate amongst the crowd. One bloke heard the news and immediately pumped his fist vigorously. “Get in!”. I had to shake my head. I wish I could generate that much passion for a feeble win against Andorra, but I just can’t do it.
I know I'm ranting and I know I'm generalising. I like watching football, but this has just become too painful.