Anthony McIntyre waxes dismissive of claims that anti-English bigotry is behind the sound of one hand clapping for the relative success of the England national team in the 2018 World Cup finals.England are out of the World Cup, as anticipated by anyone with a modicum of common sense. A mundane team that only played two quality sides during the tournament and lost to both. Out of seven matches played, three ended in defeat. Sort of tells you something.
Yet there are those “who lazily conflate truth with negativity or some claim of anti-English sentiment.” We aficionados of the sport who appreciate good soccer but rarely find it in the English national side are nevertheless accused of being narrow minded bigots, mocking English efforts for any reason other than the obvious of England being "the most overblown football nation there is." And the illusionists who rage when the rest of us are not taken in by apparitions, manage to reach their state of disconnect without the aid of mind altering substances. At least I have to get drunk before attaining that accomplishment.
I don’t hate the English. Theirs is a country where I have visited more than any other - getting tanked up in many of its cities - on occasion to indulge my passion for soccer. I have stood in mournful silence at the Anfield shrine, and sport a tattoo in memory of the English Liverpool fans who died in the unlawful killings at Hillsborough stadium 29 years ago. When Jordan Henderson stepped forward to take his spot kick during the last 16 shootout with Colombia, I held my breath in a Catalonian bar in the hope that he of all players, the Liverpool captain, would not miss. He did but it had no bearing on the outcome. I also like to see minnows do well when they don't have grossly inflated expectations of themselves. You can put your donkey in the Aintree Grand National if you choose but don't demand that the rest of us back it against the tried and tested steeple chasers.
What was never in doubt for soccer realists was that England would go home as they have consistently in the post-1966 era, empty handed. In terms of international football, England is a trophy free zone. This was a second tier team. The second youngest squad in the competition, it was much improved on the hopeless shower that went out in humiliating style at the Euros two years ago. It could hardly have been worse. It might yet put in a decent performance in the Euros in 2020.
The weakness of the current squad was exposed again this afternoon against a much classier Belgium in the non-event that is played out for third place. A loser’s final, eminently suitable for England, with the real McCoy due tomorrow afternoon being fought out by two worthy squads. Semi-finalists for sure but there is simply no way that England are among the top four teams in the world. They managed to get the easier route through. Even this has to be tempered by:
Italy and the Netherlands failed to qualify, before Germany shocked the world by crashing out at the group stage, and Spain, Argentina and Portugal bowed out in the last 16. That's the last four World Cup finalists, and the last four European Championship finalists, out before the tournament kicked into second gear.
On the matter of anti-English sentiment, not related to soccer per se, somewhere in the midst of the derangement lurks English nationalism, a spectre that haunted the world leaving so much misery in its trail. There is much feeling around in opposition to that but it exists in abundance in England as well. So it is hardly anti-English to resile from English nationalism. Where English nationalism asserts itself, there is always a response to it from those who have been burned in the empire where the sun never sets. Much as I recoil from Brexit when I see those who are its most vociferous champions, I do likewise from the little Englander delusional nationalism that seeks to become a global power, this time on the soccer field.
I don’t care who supports England. Just don’t expect, out of some sense of chauvinistic entitlement, that I too should cheer them on. The superiority complex that distorts mediocrity into magnificent, that has perennially underwhelmed and underachieved should be mocked, much as the supernatural claims of religion. So when we are told to doff the cap, tip the forelock, fall behind the butcher’s apron and chant in unison with the dullards, Come On England, don’t be surprised if we respond with a curt dismissive Sling Your Hook England.
It's coming home alright, the team not the cup.
Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill.