To some, it’s as Scottish as tartan, shortbread and a tendency to be shy to part with money. The desire to see the English football team lose, especially at a major tournament, grows in a Scot’s footballing psyche concurrent to the expectation of our own international team’s inevitable, “glorious” failure. Having so often subscribed to the ‘Anyone But England’ philosophy, it was a surprise this year, in Warsaw, that I began to root for the “auld enemy”… well, to a point, that is.
It is, of course, not the English people, nor historically the English players that the Scots have a problem with (though admittedly, with such colossal fuckwits as Ashley Cole, John Terry and Wayne Rooney holding up the side, they’ve not been an easy bunch to admire of late), it is the English media and in particular its television and tabloid strands, staffed by the inflated egos of a few ex-players, that irritate us so.
Certainly for every major international tournament I’ve experienced so far, and despite the recurring, predictable mediocrity of their national side, the English media perform that same tired dance, embarrassing the populous in much the same way Uncle Kenny brings on a cringe as he does “the Slosh” at your cousin’s wedding. “This is England’s tournament” they cry. “England will win!” they exclaim. “Football’s coming home!” They sing. Tragic. If that wasn’t enough, and you could imagine it would be, the Scots have developed our own drinking game. Take a drink each time an English commentator refers to any of the Three Lions’ past glories. If he refers to World Cup 1966, drink everything. Everything in the world, ever. Still, I digress…
Fabio Capello’s decision to leave the England Coach’s post just months before the tournament began sparked the ‘People’s choice’ phenomenon whereby no-one on the planet, other than the English media, seemed to think “Honest” ‘Arry Redknapp was the right choice for the job, yet the unsuspecting public were time-and-again spoon-fed the line that this was the man we wanted. In the end, ol’ Candleface was overlooked, ostensibly because his only real skill is in buying and selling, in wheeling and dealing – the need of which is distinctly missing in international football, though is a benefit to a used cars salesman (something to think about, eh Harry?). Instead, the FA opted for a man with significantly more international experience, personal appeal and tactical nous. England welcomed Roy Hodgson.
The media backlash and tabloid reaction was immediate and depressingly predictable. That bastion of serious, intellectual journalism, the Sun, ran a headline the following day mocking Hodgson’s speech impediment. “Bwing on the Euwos”, it cried. In a telling moment’s lack of self-awareness, a tabloid journalist interviewed on BBC Radio stated, “I can’t believe they haven’t given us the man the media wanted”. Indeed.
Going in to the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, the expectation on the England side was as low as I can remember it. There was little fanfare and very few, other than the most deluded of chest beating, flag waving souls, believed England would progress further than a quarter final appearance. A resolute draw with France, three hard won points over Sweden and a less than emphatic victory over Ukraine saw England top their group and qualify to play Italy in the Quarter Finals. An admittedly awful England performance led to a 0 – 0 draw after extra time saw a penalty shoot-out which, after several misses and a delicious Andrea Pirlo ‘Panenka’, ended in the almost foregone conclusion of England’s exit from the tournament.
Journalists, commentators, analysts and football fans collectively agreed that despite his questionable choice of tactics in the Italy match, Hodgson had performed well with what he had and that given time, this was a man that could build a successful future for England’s international game. That very evening, however, on radio stations across the country, Bellend-a-thon 2012 began in earnest. “Hodgson should be sacked!” Already? “He played too defensively.” England finished top of the group. “We are better than that!” No, no you’re not. “We should be more exciting!” And get comfortably beaten by France?
Most rational fans considering England’s national tournament future seemed to enjoy the prospect of this hands-on coach overseeing the country’s international hopes. Given the opportunity, Hodgson can be exactly the coach they need. He is a coach with the tactical know-how to have a plan b and occasionally c – something England haven’t experienced in a particularly long time. Different systems for different games? Bloody hell, it’s almost unthinkable. From his time coaching national sides in Switzerland, UAE and Finland, he has shown an interest in every part of the set-up from the International side to the development of the youth teams and this is something England sorely need. And finally, let’s not forget, of course, that this is the man who, at the height of his time managing the side, took Switzerland to the 3rd place in the FIFA World Rankings.
Standing in Warsaw’s Fanzone, as I was, with a group of English ex-pats and wearing my replica World Cup 1978 Scotland shirt, it seemed particularly odd to feel that I wanted this team to do well but then again, old habits die hard. As Ashley Young smashed the crossbar with his penalty, I did let that pragmatism slip somewhat as I was heard to shout rather loudly and with a definite Glaswegian twang, “Yaaa beauty!! Get it right roon’ ye!”
Maybe next time, England, eh?