If you were to x-ray the skulls of England’s finest during any major tournament (ignoring the fake turds and paper cuttings of themselves), I imagine all you’d find would be the black and white clips of Bobby Charlton crashing one in from 20 yards, or Bobby Moore perfectly timing a tackle, or Gary Linekar reeling away, or David Platt pulling off the most incredible of last minute volleys, or Nobby dancing, or Gordon Banks denying Pele – all on loop. The same tackles, saves and shots, over and over again, not lots of different tackles or shots, the same tackles and shots. The rest of the time (in the footage not endlessly repeated), the players they idolise are generally doing the simple things really well, cus that’s what the best players do and did. They’re not infinitely searching for their hero moment, theirs came about because of their ability to do all the other stuff really well a lot of the time … and sometimes, they just got extremely lucky.
The jingoism (and xenophobia) the tabloid press and (although I’m loathed to say it) “general media” impresses on the nation, and our players, in the build up to international matches reinforces those largely superficial, yet highly seductive notions of us needing heroes. Our players are, by no stretch, above falling for these romantic advances, if anything the nature of their existence within a wider cultural context sees them courting it.
The latter part of John Terry’s career has been one endless slow motion montage of him chucking himself in front of stuff. Shame there are no moving trains scheduled through Stamford Bridge on match days *Gasp – that means he’d be deaded* Maybe he could consider something more meaningful, like holding position and defending? Fellow defender Ashley Cole, has foregone man-marking detail in favour of his last-man-back-death-defying-clearing-off-the-line routine. Glen Johnson – poor thing – thinks the general duties of the right back are spelled s-h-o-o-t-o-n-s-i-t-e-f-r-o-m-w-h-e-r-e-v-e-r–t-h-e-f-u-c-k-y-o-u-l-i-k-e. Martin Kelly looks a tiny bit like Clark Kent – if you squint – you’re not telling me that’s not intentional?
Up the pitch: Steven Gerrard – does he have something against the football? Why does he have to kick it so damned hard? “Oh, and it’s fallen into the path of Steven Gerrard, 20 yards out” *ALMIGHTY THWACK* “Oh, and it’s dropped to Steven Gerrard 12 yards out” *ABSOLUTE SMASH* “Oh, and it’s Steven Gerrard two yards out” *EARTH SHATTERING BLAST* Scott Parker navigates the pitch with an air of someone who wants the audience to believe he’d detach his limbs and disperse them evenly throughout the pitch, in order to be everywhere at once, if only science would allow it. Stewart Downing prefers to put all his efforts into that “one shot”, every other game, as opposed to anything as degrading as a consistent performance throughout those 180 minutes. Wayne Rooney couldn’t relinquish his super powers even if he wanted to (and he’s been trying his hardest for United this season), we simply wont allow it, and Ashley Young can fly.
In recent years, a reference point on the pin-board of sporting achievement for England’s perpetual under-achievers, that without doubt helped fortify their valiant pretensions, would have been David Beckham’s display against Greece to qualify for the World Cup 2002. He was everywhere wasn’t he?! Tackling back in the opposite full-back position, in his own six-yard box, and eventually scoring a fairytale free-kick with virtually the last kick of the game. The imagined stuff of footballing folklore, playing out in front of our eyes, really happening. What they wouldn’t have noted was that Beckham’s performance that day was, at best, disruptive and at its worst, emphatically immature and detrimental to the overall output of the team. As I said in my post on penalties, what Beckham actually presented as captain was a wholly misguided idea of what taking responsibility is all about. Making the right decisions for the team and not decorating yourself in glory is a good starting point (as with the penalty post I’d like to add, again, that I love you David)
The only recent result of note in a major tournament, against a proper team, was the 1-0 win versus Argentina in the 2002 World Cup. The footnote to that victory was the happenstance inclusion of Nicky Butt in midfield. He wasn’t the preferred option, far from it. Injury after injury had nudged him, albeit reluctantly, up the pecking order. What Nicky Butt did that night was truly inspirational. He denied any instincts to play headline grabbing passes, or indulge any propensity for misadventure (he was a bit naughty on occasion) and instead he did exactly what was required tactically of him by his team. In putting the team first, the ultimate sacrifice in any players case, he received universal acclaim. He won England the game that night. Interestingly, in getting the basics right, he created a platform for himself, a position within the game to dictate from. Nicky Butt controlled the midfield, against Argentina, for more than his fair share of the contest and began to create openings. What the papers concentrated their reporting on, however, was Beckham’s (god-awful) penalty, which apparently was “what won us the game”.
With the opposition we invariably face during tournaments being both tactically and technically superior to ourselves, England needs more Nicky Butts versus Argentinas, and less David Beckhams versus Greeces. What we all want, and wish for more than anything, is the opposite.
It’s possible that, with all these elements, we have created a warped incarnation of “hero syndrome”. The desires, fears and intentions of our collective ego (that of the F.A, players, fans and media) have conspired to create our own ever more desperate set of circumstances. We wallow in the fact that our problems run that much deeper than those of our “enemies”, so that if we were to emerge triumphant from them, we would appear that much more gallant, and the victory would be that much sweeter. Perversely, it’s those desperate circumstances, that we ourselves create, that actually conspire to ensure that we will consistently fall short of our heroic aspirations.