I stopped sulking just in time to watch both England games this past week after a self imposed exile that stretches back to when the F.A, Capello, or whoever, reinstated John Terry as captain after he’d not actually apologised for all the bad stuff he’d done back in March of this year. I hadn’t missed much in those few halcyon months. Players and managers come and go, England remain the same.
I have always supported England since watching Bryan Robson tear around the pitch (and himself apart) with all the other considered best players from English football, Peter Beardsley, Gary Crisps and Glenn Hoddle during the World Cup in ’86 – one of my first real memories of watching a huge football event on telly. However, during a few seconds of weakness, whilst watching the John Terry press conference I viewed the national team, via the F.A, without the aid of my usual footy filter … The countless missed opportunities by the F.A to make examples of players and staff who bring the game in to disrepute. The governing bodies general inability to govern effectively. Why aren’t THEY capping wages? Why aren’t THEY policing the investment in clubs? Why aren’t THEY limiting the impact on smaller clubs? Why do THEY allow the likes of The Daily Mail and The Sun to stamp their brand of fascism all over the game, ban them from the press conference and grounds. Ban them from covering matches. What are THEY doing! Careerists THE LOT OF EM! The corporate sponsorship adorning the walls – Mars, McDonald’s, Budweiser, the gambling adverts, Aaarrrggghh! And that was that. I’d had enough.
For one year I was a ‘Big’ England fan. Here I am then with an old friend, Matt. I’m the one on the right complete with ginger hair dye(!!!!)and curtains (I don’t know why). This was taken in a photo booth just after the England vs Scotland qualifier for Euro 2000 (exactly 12 years ago to this day, November 17th). What a tool. Previous to this delightful pictoral contraceptive, I was a fat Northerner on a fine-art course in a little southern city drowning in a small pond of peers who all had pretentions of making it in London. I’d needed an identity and after losing about three stone one summer, I came back to University a new man (well, just the same really but painfully thin and with ginger hair dye). My new housemate Matt was a big footy fan, although he hid that behind his support of Southend United (Get on board, the jokes don’t get any better than this). He was the first proper footy fan I’d met in Bristol, a kindred spirit of sorts. Admittedly, Matt’s love of England trumped mine, he wasn’t a thug, but I excused a lot of people for presuming he was. I cringe to think of us drunkenly slurring chants in packed quiet bars and rampaging down leafy suburban streets waving an England flag from the pound shop. At the time though it provided me with something valuable, something comforting.
I moved out of the house with Matt the next year and into a shared house with some of those pretentious peers. I definitely didn’t become one of them, but the nights of re-editing the England team before all night PlayStation, with a couple of boxes of Carlsberg, were replaced by Connect 4, some film with no proper ending, and Hummus. Wait a minute … am I just retelling the James McAvoy film Starter For Ten? Of course I continued to watch England games with Matt, but not in the same way.
The difference between me and Matt is a simple one, Matt is proud to be English. I am in some respects proud of individual achievements by various fellow country folk and I am very proud of many aspects of our culture. I am definitely English. But proud in the true sense, no. I am embarrassed by the way in which our country has behaved historically, not to say I carry that burden with me throughout my daily life, there’s more important things to worry about like why my cat Casey has started doing really wet mess in her litter tray, or what’s on the telly later. That’s also not to say I think our country is any worse than any others. Saying I’m proud just isn’t something I would say. As is always the case someone has summed up my feelings better than I ever could, this time Neil Hannon off of the Divine Comedy in the song Sunshine…
I feel very strongly that the ills of football are very detached from my own relationship with it. I like football for the reasons I have always liked it. My heroes beating the villains. Triumph in the face of adversity. Happy Endings. Goals. Fun. The comfort of it’s different language. My friendships that have formed through it and more importantly sharing it over and over again with those friends. The magic. It’s just footy isn’t it?
So, I sat there watching England on Tuesday with my best friend Rob just enjoying watching an England game with my best friend Rob. Enjoying making stupid comments on the scarcity of the arm tattoo and repeating the in-jokes we share during most matches we watch together. Supporting England like I’ve always done, occasionally looking the other way and whistling.