I WENT to the World Cup. I may have mentioned it. I had a wonderful time with lots of wonderful people, both people I went with and people we met on the way. But during the fun, laughs, drinks and hangovers I couldn’t help but feel there was one part of the experience I was missing out on.
I saw the national pride being shown by all the other nations there – in particular the Columbians, Costa Ricans and, of course, the Brazilians – and couldn’t help but feel it would be nice if we could all get behind our national team in that way. They all seemed to have so much fun doing it.
We were asked about England a lot by fans of other countries, and it always led to confusion when we said we weren’t that bothered. It was a tricky one to explain. How much do you want to get into the impact of Thatcher’s economic policies on Liverpool with a drunken Swedish fella who is just being polite? So normally we would just say we were there for the beer and we’d all laugh and get another drink.
But maybe the reason I found it hard to explain was, out there, the reasons didn’t seem to matter as much. I understand completely the ‘We’re not English, we are Scouse’ sentiments of the Kop after decades of the city being let down by successive governments and southern England obsessed politicians but it is interesting that this anger only manifests itself towards our national football team and not, for example, our cricketers or athletes.
Why are we unable to separate the two?
At the Olympic Stadium in 2012, athletics fans were able to cheer on the competitors before booing George Osborne presenting medals. A man or woman wearing national colours surely shouldn’t automatically take on that country’s faults and mistakes.
Of course with football there is the added element that Liverpool fans are also, quite rightly, angry with the English FA for their often understated role in the Hillsborough Disaster. But it feels like any protest towards the Football Association could be better directed than at a group of mainly working-class footballers, some of whom weren’t even born at the time.
Anyway, it is not just Liverpool fans that seem completely disengaged with the national team. As a country we seem more and more willing to bash our ‘overpaid, underachieving’ footballers. This seems to transcend to the players themselves, who make noises about the pride of wearing the England shirt, but often don’t seem to display this in their actions.
Harry Redknapp said that players at Tottenham wanted to avoid England call-ups, whilst Stuart Pearce has talked in the past about having issues with players showing apathy towards England Under 21s. Contrast that with the determination and pride shown by players of other countries at the World Cup (imagine Pirlo or Mascherano pulling out of an international friendly, for example) and it’s not hard to see where other teams get their extra 10 per cent from.
Players – especially at this elite level – have their professional pride and inbuilt desire to win, of course, but is that enough to get you through when you are cramping up in the heat in Manaus?
Even before the World Cup there were lots of people ready to offer solutions of how to save the national team. Committees were set up and every sports journalist in the country had their own solutions. But something I rarely saw mentioned was that maybe not enough of the country are actually that bothered. It seems to me that until we solve that we are destined to fall behind even limited sides with a stronger team ethic. So here is how I would save the national team. We can worry about small things like ‘more qualified coaches’ later.
1. Swerve the manager
OK, let’s get this one out of the way early. People have already argued far more eloquently than I could about the England manager’s tactical failings – in fact it’s been done in previous editions of the TAW magazine but I’m not too concerned with all that for now.
My new national team needs a charismatic leader to inspire players and fans alike. To make everyone believe that the ‘Three Lions’ are worth fighting for and to have pride in the shirt and the nation. It’s not Roy flaming Hodgson is it? Gareth Southgate once famously said of Sven-Goran Eriksson: “We were expecting Winston Churchill and instead we got Iain Duncan Smith.” Roy Hodgson is more Captain Mainwaring.
My new inspirational leader doesn’t have to be English, but he certainly needs to be an Anglophile. I don’t care where he is from as long as he’s bang into real ale and walks in The Lakes. Brendan Rodgers would be perfect but England can’t have him unless you think the job doesn’t need to be full time, but that’s an argument for another day. Maybe Mourinho can do it when Abramovich gets bored again. You can slag him off all you want, but if he laid on the charm offensive you’d wither like a flower in the Portuguese heat. And if the new fella could go a week without slaughtering one of his players, then even better.
2. Swerve the national anthem
Let’s face it, the new national manager can be as inspirational as he likes, but once the players have taken to the field and been forced to stand through the dirge that is God Save the Queen they’ll be ready to pack up and go home no matter what he’s said.
After years of standing there looking uncomfortable, players are now asked to sing – as if making a bunch of lads who probably aren’t arsed about the monarchy or religion sing about both is going to turn them into Terry Butcher.
But as the recent Commonwealth Games has proved anyway, IT’S NOT EVEN THE ENGLISH NATIONAL ANTHEM. They used to play Land of Hope and Glory at the Commonwealth games. Now it’s Jerusalem. I’m fine with either to be honest. Or we could do what the Swiss did and have a competition to write a new one. We could even have a public vote, turn it into a TV show with Ant and Dec presenting if you have to. Just come up with something that doesn’t sound like the bagpipes warming up. No wonder England always start games badly.
3. Swerve Wembley Stadium
Aside from the new Wembley Stadium being rubbish, it’s completely unnecessary and counterproductive to have all England’s games in one place. While many other large national teams play in different grounds across their country we stay in the capital. As if they haven’t got enough.
It shouldn’t be that hard to find a buyer for the ground, I’ve heard rich Russians are buying up the whole of London. Do a deal so the FA Cup final, League Cup final and play-offs stay at Wembley, and then take England on the road. This has happened before of course, when Wembley was being done up at the turn of the century.
England lost their first qualifying game of the 2002 World Cup, and last game at the old Wembley Stadium, against Germany and were booed off. Once away from Wembley the fans and players seemed much more relaxed and ended up topping their group. It was a time when it all seemed to matter more. When metatarsals were on the front page of newspapers and pubs were full at 7am to watch games on the other side of the world.
I think having a national team playing at places like Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle and not just staying in the south had a huge impact on that. Plus the new England training centre is in the Midlands anyway.
4. Open training sessions
Not that England always need to train at the new fancy St George’s Park National Football Centre. I am aware that by moving England games away from Wembley to smaller stadiums I am reducing the number of people who can actually watch England play, when I am supposed to be increasing the public’s connection with the national team. So as part of the agreement of hosting an England game, a stadium would have to host an open training session the day before. It wouldn’t have to be the whole session, just an hour or so where kids in cities up and down the country could watch the best players train. Throw some old balls and training tops into the crowd after. The day after they’d be screaming at the telly for England to win. Promise.
5. Be sounder
I am largely of the opinion that footballers are alright. Considering the pressure and scrutiny they are under from a young age, and all the attention the top ones get wherever they go, I would say that they are surprisingly well adjusted. But they could certainly do more to connect with the people they are playing for.
For example, I understand why a player might want to keep his first England shirt but not his15th one. I understand why he might want to swap his shirt when he’s playing Brazil, but not Bosnia. Give it to a kid on the front row or a disabled fan and the people will appreciate it. Often players will say they have promised their shirt to people, but Luis Suarez made the Uruguay kit man make him five for their game against Holland as he knew his Ajax team-mates would want them even though he was suspended for the game. It’s easily sorted if you want it to be.
That said, it was interesting that the Greek national team was so widely praised for turning down bonuses at the World Cup when England players have been giving away all of their match fees to charity since 2007 – raising more than £3.5m in the process. See I told you they were alright. Maybe they just need better PR.
Some of the above is of course slightly tongue in cheek, but it’s also mostly achievable if the desire was there. But why, you may ask, should you care? If you support Liverpool, or any of the other big clubs, you might not give a toss how England get on, and are quite happy to keep it that way.
That is your right, but I would argue that a successful England team is good for the entire nation. Inspiring people, especially young people, to play sport is vitally important for the health and wellbeing of the country. And it makes everyone happy too, which isn’t to be sniffed at either. Of course club football can do this but not in the same way. Ultimately, It would be nice if the whole country could have their own Istanbul, wouldn’t it? Although I still hope it’s a lad from Liverpool who scores.
But it’s also a shame that ‘nationalism’ is seen as a dirty word in this country, and can’t be reclaimed from the far right it is now associated with. England is a wonderful country, with much to be proud of. Sometimes it takes an outsider to make you realise how lucky you are to live somewhere. The American author Bill Bryson once wrote:
“The fact is that this is still the best place in the world for most things – to post a letter, go for a walk, watch television, buy a book, venture out for a drink, go to a museum, use the bank, get lost, seek help, or stand on a hillside and take in a view.”
And he is largely right. But it also sometimes takes you travelling somewhere else to realise what you don’t have. We aren’t shy about draping ourselves in flags and shouting about how great where we come from in Liverpool is, so why can’t it be widened to celebrate everything Bryson talks about and more. Why can’t we have a football team that is ours, not theirs – one that reminds you of everything great about England.
I’d love to follow that team in Russia.
A refreshing article that nicely demonstrates the possibility of reconciling support for both club and country.
I don’t think it’s entirely coincidental that whenever you see the big St George banners at England matches, they contain the names of ‘smaller’ and non-Premier League clubs. The real distance has become apparent as the global ‘brand’ of the top flight has grown while its clubs’ fans become increasingly indifferent to the fortunes of the national team.
This I’m sure this not a popular view, but I’ve always thought Rafa Benitez would be the perfect England manager. He has family here and of course he knows the English game with both its vices and virtues. He has a proven record in cup competitions and knows how to get the most out of limited resources with the capacity to get everyone on board in a limited space of time (See his stint at Chelsea). The big counter to his critics would be that he would n’t be able to buy anyone!
It’s a good shout. He’s a good tournament manager and he’d probably take it if he could move back to The Wirral!
Fair enough John, but how do you swerve the majority of the right wing xenophobic fans that follow the team, especially abroad? And don’t start me on the fucking band!
PS Russia – are you serious?
I was pleasantly surprised by the England fans I encountered when I was out there. But yeah point 6 should have been throw the band in the sea
As a northerner, I have nothing in common with Southerners, geographically, politically or socially. I have more in common with Evertonians than those outside this city (though I’m not a Scouser, having lived here for 32 years I’ve embraced the ‘us against the world’ view that only the Thatcher years could engender) and I really have no affinity with England’s national football team, its supporters or the media that praises and damns it in equal measure (they all deserve each other in my opinion)
Every other week at Anfield, we’re treated to the same old tired ‘sign on, sign on’ ‘we pay your benefits’ and ‘always the victims’ shit from away fans, so why would I want to sit amongst them at England matches as supposed brothers in arms..
It’s wider than a North v South thing though. I’ve heard Geordies singing “sign on” without the slightest hint of irony. Even heard Wolves fans singing “this place is a shithole, I wanna go home” for fucks sake. No, it’s us against the rest as far as I’m concerned. A good Scouse team would beat England anyway. How about
Coughlin, Flanno, Baines, Dann, Hill, Nolan, Barton, Gerarrd, Barkley, Rooney, Lambert.
Correct! Couldn’t believe Boro fans singing ‘sign on’ the other night, despite the fact that they are filming another series of Benefit Street in Middlesbrough early next year. Liverpool is a vibrant, cultural and socially attractive city, but why let that get in the way of a good stereotype.
The other thing that irks me, while we’re on the subject of opposition fans, is the number of sets of supporters who booed Steven Gerrard throughout the time when he was England captain. Not just fans of teams you’d expect to boo him (Chelsea, Man U etc) but lots of them! Weird! And all the fans recently jumping on the bandwagon singing and gloating about him slipping against Chelsea last season. That’s the England captain, over 100 appearances for his country yet fans who no doubt follow England boo and try to ridicule him.
I’m happy to let the rest of the country have the England team…not sure it would add anything to my life.
Singing the Gerrard song in games Gerrard isn’t even playing was a recent amusement,,, serious lack of imagination, which brings me to the library atmosphere at National games.. Where are the singing working classes gone… If it wasn’t for the immensely irrataing band, Wembly would be silent.
Visiting fans will get a better impression of the area once all the nearby slums have been demolished.
It would also help if parents discouraged their kids from begging with “watch yer car gov?”
You must have had your cars minded by some cockney beggars if they called you ‘gov’
And as for begging, the lads who collect the money at the pits, (bottom of the Valley), have all got villas in Spain and drive Range Rovers, they make a fortune every other week.
Sorry John, can’t get on board here. Any scouser who has lived abroad and has had dealings with the “expat” English will tell you the stereotypes are ingrained and will take a long time, if ever, to disappear. Let them have their national team, it is the least we can do. I find it amusing when talking to folk of all nationalities who have visited Liverpool in the last five years or so, how impressed they are with the city and the people. Sod the patriots, it is an antiquated and billious term. Personally, I consider myself a proud member of the working class and can therefore get behind any team that includes players from the barrio’s and downtrodden neighborhoods of the world. Oh, dear, here I go again.
I enjoyed reading this. It’s an interesting subject and fascinating how prominent these views are. I’ve no idea what led it to be like this. I remember the 1990 World Cup, the first one I could watch in a pub. For every England game, every pub in town (Chester) was packed. It was an event. There were police on every corner because if England lost then there was always the potential for a riot, such was the feeling.
Again, I’m not sure if this is one issue or two at the heart of it. As in, is this an England football team issue or an England, the Country thing. Speaking for myself, when I saw this article it struck a chord and I thought I was gonna get back into watching England and enjoying it. I couldn’t see any reason not to. After all, most of them were Liverpool players. It failed immediately though. My bitterness is too ingrained yet I can’t pinpoint what it is. I just wanted to see them lose for spite (but with the Liverpool players doing well). I couldn’t shake that emotion. I think it’s, largely, a sense of detachment but it’s a number of things. Firstly, the FA are a bunch of cunts. Everything they do irritates me. Obviously their role in Hillsborough prior to and after the tragedy is the catalyst but it’s everything they do down to the little things – the release of the Suarez report on New Years Eve, the report itself, kick off times for finals and the lack of consideration for fans, ticket allocations for finals. Their choice of managers, their eagerness to pursue Liverpool whilst dancing to Fergie’s tune. The list could go on but basically, I see them as grey, boring, weak men. Out of touch.
Then there’s the perception of it all. As you point out, no one can relate to the national anthem. I feel like it’s sung to the queen not our country. I’m in the camp that Jerusalem should be our anthem, I think it sums up England. I despise the Royal Family – not individually but as an entity. They’re equally responsible for us feeling ashamed to wave a flag. The England experience whether the FA, the fans, the stadium and the Queen is a London thing. What’s escalated my feelings recently though is the break to the Premiership. I enjoy the World Cup and Euro’s but when you’ve got no football during the season because England are playing them it grates. Even worse is when a Liverpool player comes back injured or a good run for the club changes to a poor one after the break. It’s this that makes me despise them. Over the years it’s just perpetuated and I’m in a spiral I can’t break out of. I don’t see the point in trying to stop the spiral anyway, the team always disappoint. If France can win it then we can win it except we lack the mentality and the nouse.
If the above were fixed with some of your practical solutions then I still don’t think it would work for me. I’m growing more cynical of this country. I think we’ve always had a guilt that Britain was made Great on the back of the Empire – that our wealth was stolen because we had the best navy but Britain was a brilliant country for so many other things. Those things are eroding now whether the Government is Labour or Tory. Civil liberties, freedom of speech, fairness, the NHS, welfare, work contracts, in fact everything good about this country is going down hill and that includes it’s number one asset – the people. I think it’s down to a wider disillusionment but a lot have uneducated, narrow minded views now. It’s not the majority, far from it, but many English people embarrass me.
I just feel like an economic slaves of the state. What’s worse is when we look to the people in authority whether politicians, the civil service, the police, the judiciary or the media we see corruption and child abuse at every turn. We see a care system that seems to be a front for abuse. Couple that with millions of civilians being killed for our own ends and I can’t bring myself to cheer the team on singing about how good England is because I don’t feel it. I don’t feel it towards the team, the country or the people in it.
“The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.”
I’m sorry, but the England national team is just for supporters from lower division clubs. It’s a big day out for small team fans. That and thugs from London, like the one who threatened to “fackin’ stab me” because he was sat in my seat at Wembley. The older I get, the less I give a shit about England – and the more I realise I love Liverpool FC.
Just a thought here but the F.A. and the Football League have no connection with ordinary football fans. Most of them move on from one high profile job to another.And it could be from farming to the BBC. to regulators for safety in an off-licence or a chip-shop.They couldn’t’ care less!It’s just about making the right noise at the right time and keeping themselves in a high earning high profile job.They never get questioned.It’s just jobs for the boys.
How else would you explain the appointment of Hodgson to manage the National Team?
I saw a piece in one of the “quality” papers today.It was waxing lyrical about Hodgson being the very epitome of calm under pressure.
I watched the game on the telly.I couldn’t’ help noticing that Hodgson had his fists in his mouth for virtually the whole game.Just Google “Hodgson’s fingernails”.The very epitome of calm under pressure? You decide.
You think you have it hard? Try being American! We have finally built up enough irony in our system to chant “U-S-A,” but it’ll still be decades before we’re not looking over our shoulders waiting for Reagan to show up.