Thursday, March 29, 2007

David Nugent for England (vs Andorra), 28th March 2007

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.


LB said...

It's an interesting view. I don't subscribe to it as with the exception of the odd poinless friendly match I always make an effort to watch England.

The games are invariably dull, but then if you watch a lot of football of various levels (which I do) most games are dull. If England played week in week out, some of the games would be belters. I bet there is only roughly the same proportion of great England games as there are "great games" overall.

I also don't agree about the "golden generation" as player for player I think we have a starting eleven right up there with the best. Something is clearly rotten in our game and we could argue this all night. I think the lack of tactical awareness and continental experience our players have (any coincidence that Englands current best player is the one with experience of playing abroad?) is a big issue. It wasn't the 3-5-2 formation that caused the loss in Croatia, it was either the players tactical ineptitude in adapting to that system or the management's inability to get the idea across. In Italy, you have to be able to play in different formations and systems - it's the way it works over there.

I think the pressure on the manager is the absolute key. I'm not sure McLaren is any good. However, if he drops Frank Lampard and we win, he's an lucky idiot. If he drops Frank Lampard and we lose, he's a donut. With respect to the fella, it's a thankless job. Until the press and the public leave the manager to get on and make decisions as he sees fit, we have no chance.

I don't think you can tar footballers with the same brush either. It's the same as a lot of other professions in which the actions of a very small minority define everyone's perception of the whole. For every Kieron Dyer there are ten Paul Scholes or Jamie Carragher or Andy Johnsons.

We'll qualify, scrape through the group and go out on penalties in the one game we actually do OK in. Like always.

adem said...

I always want to see us do well, but the the whole England set-up is rubbish. I didn't even watch the game last night and instead stayed indoors and watched the Italy vs Scotland game.

Players should be picked on form and what position best suits them, not on who they are or how they used to play.

Why was Phil Neville picked at right-back? He is now a midfielder and even before that only used to play at left-back. Rooney has been poor too but still gets picked when there are other strkers doing very well nad not getting a sniff.

Players need a fight, they need spirit, and they need to know that they should fight for their places instead of being an automatic shoe-in.

Half the players shouldn't be there.

weenie said...

Certain players, because of their 'status' in the Premier League appear to be untouchable, despite their crappy current form. It was the same with Sven, ie never dropping Beckham etc.

The press should take a lot of the blame for the endless hype and obsession. Not saying that they shouldn't criticise players and manager alike, but the way they do it, eg cartoons of McLaren shooting himself etc, just isn't really going to help get team and morale improvement.

swisslet said...

to be fair, I did say I was generalising about footballers, although I love the irony of you using Carragher as a shining example of a decent chap - not because he isn't, but because I know you hate his guts.

It was a rant, and I know I make a lot of sweeping statements in there. I stand by that "golden generation" stuff though - they might have the talent, but they've done piss all with it.


swisslet said...

Just whilst we're on the subject of comparing English players with continental players (sort of), I read a great anecdote in the Guardian the other day. Ray Wilkins was talking about the training at AC Milan and how they would all stand in a circle playing one touch football to each other. This could apparently go on for hours - or until the ball came to Butch or to Mark Hateley, who would promptly shank it into the stands!

It's a sad indictment of the game, incidentally, that you can admit that most games are largely dull.


LB said...

I hate Carragher as a player, but I don't think I have ever seen him on the front pages of the papers (which was my point).

Yes, most football games might be dull, but that doesn't make them not brilliant. Rubbish games can still be evenly balanced, tense, decided by a moment of magic. I still cheer when England score irrespective of whether the game is toss or otherwise.

Still by far and away the best game in the world. I'd far rather watch a rubbish Conference match than Six Nations rugby...

swisslet said...

and, at the risk of making myself unpopular around here, this is the nub of the issue for me. I do like watching football as a game, but I watch far more tedious football matches than I ever do of Rugby Union or Cricket. I know that's largely my own personal preference, but that's the way I see it.

I'm not holding rugby or cricket up as being better games than football by any means.... although it's true that you do seem to get far fewer primadonnas, far less whining at the referee, and quite a lot less of the stupid press. Football's a victim of it's own success in that regard. I'm sure many cricketers and rugby players would be no different if they had the same earning power and profile....