The Great British summer. Bluebottles swarm around massive dog shits festering on roasting concrete. Warmer air elevates the potency of body odours, petrol fumes, dog piss and the remnants of discarded beverages. Glass shards from bottles line the gutters. Dogs get to lick discarded ice cream cones instead of their own balls. The sound of a hundred Seagulls on the prowl for half-eaten junk food. Drinks just out of the chill cabinet. Windows are down, exposing the true extent of bad tastes in music. Ice cream vans finally appear from hibernation with their cheap twee jingles. Middle aged married men are occasionally freed to do DIY in their sheds. The low pitched hum of air-conditioning systems in a thousand miserable offices. The sight of pristine bowling greens. Overhearing agonising conversations about holidays being planned. The various verbosities of carefree cunt kids on their summer holidays. That satisfyingly sulphurous stench of meat being incinerated on barbeques. Fat bastards showing too much skin and the proud parading of tan lines and sun burnt skin. Rain, and the incessant moaning about it, as if it is somehow unexpected. The drone of a distant lawnmower. Wimbledon. Glastonbury, and the insufferably earnest BBC coverage telling us how great it is. All of this will soon be upon us.
Bi-annually there’s an addition to these tropes that embellishes and for some defines the season as truly memorable – England’s involvement in a major football tournament.
Why is it so enjoyable to watch England fail at football? Even if it’s exceedingly annoying, it isn’t just the highly disingenuous, wearisome, and fickle media hype that becomes suffocating during the tournament. It can’t be that I’m Scottish and a fan of the Scottish football team, people in other countries like seeing England fail too. Am I being overtly parochial because it’s England, a supposed ‘hated’ rival? I can’t say yes, many other things English are quite likable, and I’m simply not that bothered by how England perform in other sports, whether it’s cricket or rugby, or if they beat Scotland in some sporting context.
My specific issue, as I suspect it is for others, is that supporting the English football team now requires necessary adherence to a specific nationalistic dogma. This malaise, a collective primeval lobotomy, whereby a style of snide 1850’s jingoism becomes the vogue, the kind that sees chainmail being worn, “Ten German Bombers” sung and the theme tune from “The Great Escape” played on a loop by some attention seeking cunt with a trumpet, is an extreme strain of how people behave when it’s taps-aff weather (going topless to everyone else unfamiliar with the dialect). Rare occurrences tend to liberate us, offering a release from normalcy of routines, and when it’s part of a collective or consensus this encourages an indulgence in its associated behavioural traits, as these are seen as a more acceptable substitute for latent, often personal, grievances.
But it’s a bittersweet experience for these Little England fans that intertwine their self-worth and the preservation of their cultural identity into supporting the England football team. It should be a release, but it’s not, as their recent performance in the sport fully embodies the terminal decline of several sacrosanct cultural facets. The chart success of the song ‘Football’s Coming Home’ before the 1998 World Cup, for a second fucking time, was telling. Its self-congratulatory prose harkened back to past glories (an analogy for a crumbling empire) with the accompanying vomit-inducing hubris that this could be revived. That it succeeded over and above its comedic and self-deprecating rival ‘Vindaloo’ (which emphasised admirable traits of modern British culture – inclusivity and humour) is a microcosm of the myopic, craven, covert bigotry that perpetually lingers in the average unthinking, indoctrinated psyche and that freely ascends during England’s involvement in a major tournament, and what’s more it’s encouraged under the guise of ‘supporting’.
Though often blamed, expectations of success aren’t driven by the media alone; they’re too cynical for that. However, their cynicism is responsible for imbuing what already lurks beneath. As Euro 2016 is hosted in France, who’s looking forward to their inevitable headlines or television montages that reference Agincourt, Waterloo, or the two World Wars won on French soil against those ‘Gerry bastards’ (when in truth the Americans bailed us out on both occasions)?
All of this shite feeds into a sense of cultural superiority imbued by historical precedent, a specific part of which is believing that football, real football, is English, that it’s unique, and that the game is defective or rigged or just played plain wrong (all of these can be considered as euphemisms for sophisticated) if England fail. With every failure to ‘bring it home’, and re-establish the game’s authenticity, the irritable self-loathing xenophobia that motivates the next opportunity to be a ‘St. George’s flag twat’, parade around in a special (in so many ways) plastic England hat given away by The Sun, or sing songs quoting historical achievements and victories, becomes more sinister. Instead of taking pride in having successfully transposed the game to all four corners of the globe, a lasting legacy where in all but a few countries it is now the sport, England fans seethe resentfully that several of these countries have gotten better at it and have been more successful than they have, ‘at our game’. This is exacerbated by the acknowledgement that, deep down, it was caused by the hedonism of their forefathers, to take a part of home wherever they went. This still happens of course, tens of thousands go to Spain on their summer holidays, only to then spend half their time languishing in British themed pubs.
Supporting England with this aggressive vigour is one of the last conduits where a mass show of nationalist pride can be excused as the euphoric prospect of England winning at something, just one more time. At its worst, most base form, defeat, or the delicious, crushing agony of a penalty shootout loss, confirms that the culture is past its peak. They can’t accept that they’re just another saggy bum in the prison shower, the hubris of Englishness, and its inherent superiority, a given right, won’t allow it.
You’re seeing a vulgar variant of it now being transposed to and wielded during the EU referendum to support an Out vote, and we saw it used during the Scottish referendum on independence too. Some tried to beg the Scots not to leave, a desperate action that managed to humiliate everyone. It was a feint accent of the same traditional expectation; that they owned us, that we belonged to them, because that’s the way things are, and always have been. They used to own quite a few more places, but they’ve gone their own way now, and England used to be decent at football too, they even won the World Cup once.
Another element that makes supporters of the England football team so loathsome is the irrationality of their obtuse overconfidence. For players it can be excused, as some is necessary to succeed, but in a supporting context its constitution induces winces and cringes. We see this bipolar behaviour among supporters of all football clubs – they spend most of their time obsessively and mercilessly picking apart the flaws of their teams and the players who play for their club, only for it to be willingly forgotten and replaced by unwavering faith once the game is due to commence.
An extreme example of this myopia is reserved for Wayne Rooney. There has been a concerted effort throughout the years by journalists, talking heads and certain fans with a profile that all feed from or benefit from the immense wealth involved with the coverage of English football, to perceive Rooney as better than he’s actually been. He was once introduced at an awards ceremony as ‘special’ (though he was right, as Rooney certainly is in other ways) and often since as ‘World Class’, whatever that means.
In a way the continuation of this complex is understandable. It was once bestowed on Kevin Keegan, Bryan ‘Tampax’ Robson, Paul Gascoigne, Gary Lineker, then the ‘Golden Generation’ – Gerrard, Scholes, Shearer, Lampard, Fowler and yeah, Beckham, while all good players, never quite emulated the greatest players of their era, particularly at international level. It’s easier to blame them for failing England than perhaps embracing the truth that English football is defective, hidebound, shackled to its own idea of identity, and the hype that’s invested in maintaining this is detrimental to a needed philosophical reformation. The consequences of the notion that football mad England has to produce elite talent, and ‘always does’, is being felt now. They have a weak clueless manager, a new, largely untested side, and Rooney has nowhere left to hide. Not that he could; fat and content, with a laughably inflated sense of self (from years of underserved, obsequious praise), and certainly neither fit or on form, he’ll be given central billing by yes man Hodgson, based on his litany of goals in pointless friendlies and his perpetual failure to live-up to his cod reputation at major tournaments.
Who could forget Rooney’s dismal performance against Italy during the first game of the World Cup in Brazil? Most English fans and his media supporters, that’s who. Straight after the game the excuse that he needed to play through the middle ‘to be effective’ was wheeled out. How this affected the rest of the team and its chances of succeeding became an irrelevance, or, even worse, it was presented as a cure all solution for the team’s tactical and intellectual inferiority. Hodgson, being the weakling he is, acquiesced to the pressure or perhaps he just agreed with it? Rooney scored, England were pathetic and lost the second game to Uruguay and went out, but at least Rooney’s status as the crown jewel, the potential saviour at the next tournament, was maintained.
Still, continuing with this delusion is the safe choice for everyone, and good for us who enjoy seeing England fail. Another Rooney shite-fest will absolve those guilty by association for it, as it posits Rooney and Hodgson as scapegoats for this underachievement. The process can then be repeated, reserved for the next saviour – probably Dele Alli, because there must be one. This process is a gift for the FA, a hypocritically pious organisation happy to deflect and obscure its archaic and covert modes of operating from modernity, inclusivity and accountability.
Speaking of mediocrity – Roy Hodgson, the master of it, is still in situ. How marvellous. He’s exacerbating England’s dismal record of failure at major tournaments, in Brazil he couldn’t even get them to the Quarter-Finals to be thrashed or lose on penalties, but at least he’s English. Indeed, Hodgson is likely to revert to safety as England produced their most negative football in living memory at Euro 2012, where they went out on penalties to an average Italy side. A more attacking philosophy was adopted in Brazil two years later where they finished bottom of a piss weak group. There was poetic justice too, as the great Luis Suarez, much reviled by the English media and many fans, because the mercurialness of his brilliance is the antithesis of the modern English inferiority complex, became England’s executioner.
Even better, this time expectations are genuinely heightened, they had a perfect qualifying campaign, winning ten out of ten games against an assortment of second and third rate dross. Anything but reaching the semi-finals, which England have failed to do since Italia ’90, will be viewed as failure this time. It’s as if the last two tournaments didn’t happen. But it’s a ‘new team’, which brings its own narrative – new hope. The Golden Generation has gone, to be replaced by a bunch who are either a combination of brainless (Jordan Henderson, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker), grossly overhyped (Dele Alli and John Stones), past their peak (Wayne Rooney and Gary Cahill) and injury prone (Jack Wilshire and Daniel Sturridge). But really, let’s be thankful they’ve fallen for their delusional trap again, do we want the English tubthumpers to revert to a mode of introspection that encourages self-criticism, truth and reconciliation? To accept that the star above the crest was an aberration? Of course not.
Look, I accept it’s both extremely warped to derive joy from seeing such anguish, and that International football, now the poor relation to club football, is viewed as this important. Perhaps Scottish football fans, who accept our mediocrity and tragicomic failures as inevitable with humour and grace, would be like England fans if we invaded a bunch of countries in the name of and won a World Cup? Maybe, and I always look to be fair and inclusive where possible. So let me be empathic – this specific cycle of delusion surrounding the England national team and how it affects its subjects and observers is an entirely healthy means of projecting and confining historical and future prejudices on to a medium that has diminished consequences. In fact, this phenomenon is the one true thing we can all believe in, some of us just believe in its formulaic process more than others, some of us think it’s richly deserved, and some of us even enjoy it. May it never change. Here’s to another summer of schadenfreude, because I just can’t get enough.