So here it is, my obligatory World Cup post. It had to happen, what with the whole country once again united as one, exchanging knowing glances and daring to seek an answer to that eternal question: what is it with the Scots, and why won’t they get behind England? Yes, I know Gordon Brown reckons 2/3rds of his countrymen will be cheering on the English, but not for the first time I think the Chancellor’s prediction will turn out to be wildly optimistic.
Perhaps it is useful to do a bit of empirical research. My wedding was the day after England beat Argentina in the last World Cup. The evening before the big day (my wedding, not the match) I was chatting to a clutch of my Scottish relatives in a hotel bar, and there was a less than celebratory atmosphere once the conversation turned to the football. To be honest, considering the hyperbolic overreaction that followed this (as every other) England victory, I would be hard pressed to argue with their attitude.
But before some England fans complain about how outrageous it is that their fellow Brits don’t follow the “local” side, we should make the obvious comparison. How many Mancuncian City fans supported their local side, United, in the 1999 European Cup Final against Bayern Munich? I would say precisely none. At the time I had to put up with quite a bit of stick from United fans casually tossing the “bitter blue” accusation at me, but my response was simple; why should I support United simply because I am from Manchester? The fact is that I hate United, all the time, whoever they are playing; I didn’t then see any reason to start supporting them just because they were “flying the flag” for the UK (which they weren’t really, were they?) against a team with whom I had no grievance. I suppose I could have supported United out of hatred for Germans, but that would have made me a racist twat, which I’m not. It is also noticeable how few United fans extended this theory that you should support you local side to cheering Liverpool’s European Cup victory last year, or who sided with Arsenal against Barcelona a month back.
And while it is true that many England fans do support Scotland, it is also a fact that you will find many United fans who don’t mind City doing well. That is a luxury the dominant team in a relationship can indulge in, but which is rarely reciprocated. Even if I had wanted United to win the European Cup I would surely have regretted it during the triumphalism that followed their success, once I found that work colleagues who had never shown any interest in football before were suddenly boasting and preening because of “their” team’s victory. Even those Scots who would like England to do well may change their mind if England actually enjoy a modicum of success, and an unbearable crowing is unleashed that they will feel little part of.
Ultimately the Scots are not English, so why should they support the England team? If some Scots want to wave the George Cross then fine, but I can see no reason why they should.
And how will England do? Well, I don’t know if you have heard this, but apparently we have the best chance of winning the World Cup since 1966; so that’s nice. The only problem is that the people who are predicting glory tend to be the ones who say the same thing every World Cup and European Championships, and it hasn’t happened yet. This year, however, the optimism seems to have gone into overdrive, with talk that this is the best set of players England has ever had.
Now I would love to think we can win the thing, but I doubt we will, certainly not on merit. It is a possibility but no more. That said I am a serial cynic, doubting until the last minute that our cricket team would win the Ashes last year, and scoffing at the thought of London succeeding in the race to win the Olympics, so what do I know? However, on the matter of whether or not we can win the World Cup I make the same prediction every four years, and currently I have a 100% record.
I don’t quite get this “best England side ever” thing; sure we have some world class players like Gerrard and Rooney, but that doesn’t make a team, and I can think of many players from the recent past – Lineker, Shearer, Gascoigne, Seaman, Pearce – who I think would walk into the current side. If nothing else we would certainly kill for an Ince or a Batty. People seem to forget in the pre-tournament euphoria that this isn’t that different a side from the one that in Euro 2004 could batter a team like Croatia but whose talent-stuffed midfield was completely sliced through when up against a side of the quality of France or Portugal. It is also largely the same team who were deservedly beaten by Northern Ireland not that long ago.
Of course anything is possible; if we had fluked a win against Brazil in 2002 then we would have stood a great chance of winning that World Cup. Greece’s success in Euro 2004 shows what can be achieved, although they were a balanced and well organised team, which I don’t think England are.
When I was younger of course I dreamed that England could be likely winners of the World Cup, but then I also fancied City’s chances in the league. Time passes and perhaps I have put away some childish things while picking up some adult pessimism along the way. But while some say that the only difference between optimists and pessimists is that the optimist has a better time, I tend more to the view that pessimists have the better of it, constantly being surprised and amazed by their good fortune. I’m just going to enjoy a great summer, what will be will be, and any fleeting World Cup success will be a bonus.
No post on the World Cup would be complete without having a dig at Embrace, purveyors of the latest anodyne official England song; but not just because it is dreary rubbish. The young whippersnappers clearly have no sense of football song history, or they wouldn’t have picked a title horribly similar to the appallingly poor 1986 effort “We’ve Got the Whole World At Our Feet”. If you can’t remember the track then lucky you; but for the record it sounded not unlike the 1982 shocker “This Time”, which in turn sounded like a watered-down and petered-out version of “Back Home” stripped of any of the nostalgic “well-it-was-of-its-time” charm that that latter song could claim. For harking back to an earlier monstrosity Embrace should be strung up.
It has been said that these days England songs are better than they used to be since the FA co-opted some decent bands in to write the tunes; but there remains only one good England song, and it isn’t “Three Lions”, despite that songs popularity and success as a football chant (that line “Jules Rimet still gleaming” for Christ’s sake, which is exactly the sort of thing Baddiel and Skinner would take the piss out of if they hadn’t been involved in its production). Getting a great band like, for example, Echo and the Bunnymen to create an England song is irrelevant when the result is a tedious washout.
No, New Order wrote the only England song ever to cut the mustard (with perhaps an honourable mention going to Black Grape for their unofficial track “England’s Irie”). Perhaps if they must then they should re-release “World In Motion” every four years; or better still, just not bother with a World Cup song at all.