by Ben Delaney
The image of a Scotland fan furiously supporting any and all opposition that England face is a well-worn troupe. A cliché. Like all clichés however, it is one that is centred around a kernel of truth. Personally I often find myself, every two years or so, embroiled in the desperate desire to see England fail. Not though for the reasons you may assume.
In the not so distant past one of the key contributing factors as to why I, and many others, found the England team so deplorable was the players themselves. Gone though, are the days of the “Golden Generation”, a Sven Goran Erikson led era largely remembered for underwhelming tournament football, a bafflingly underachieving duopoly of Lampard and Gerrard and inexcusable player behaviour. Chaps like Terry, Rooney and Cole ensured that the public’s perception footballers were not of admiration but of repulsion. The continuous reports linking key members of the squad to escorts, affairs, deceit, treachery and all-round slimy behaviour made wishing the “Three Lions” all the best, an arduous task. That is not really an accusation that can be levelled at the current squad. Aside from Jamie Vardy and his racist outburst, Raheem Sterling and his seemingly incessant need for a Sultan’s treasure-trove and the continued presence of Wayne Rooney, the group is actually fairly likable. The young players especially come across as pleasant, hardworking, self-aware individuals, prepared to put in the required effort that accompanies representing your nation. The worst aspect of the current unit is that Joe Hart regularly demonstrates an undeserved level of arrogance, but compared to past squads, this is little more than a minor irritant.
Well if it is not the players then what is it? Years ago it would almost certainly have been the attitudes of the fans. The typical England fan when I first became heavily interested in football, was the shirtless yob, emblazoned with poorly coloured tattoos, who probably had a bulldog. A Stella devouring menace who utilised football only as a means for sporadic violence. Until this tournament that was a perception confined to the best forgotten annals of history. The majority of England fans, as well as football fans in general, are articulate, well-informed, coherent individuals that acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of their team in a far greater depth than the counterparts of previous generations. The internet and the hive mentality that, that has provided has helped, as well as the almost never ending exposure we have to the beautiful game. Much to the chagrin of my better half, there are times in the year in which not a day passes in which we cannot watch a game of football. The way a minority of fans have conducted themselves has been an unwelcome throwback to the days of Charleroi, the nadir of English fandom.
No my reason for wishing the neighbours of the south bad luck is down to manner in which the majority of mainstream media outlets conduct themselves. I loathe the way that the media builds and overhypes players who barely raise their heads above the parapets of decent to virtual deities, only to knock them crashing to the floor as soon as two mediocre performances are strung together. We all know the main culprits; the Liptons, Custis’ and Ashtons of this world. Exhibit A would be the case of Everton’s John Stones. Less than twelve months ago he was being valued around the £40million pound mark, with one member of the self-aggrandising Sunday Supplement going on to state that he believes the Toffee’s stopper to be a better prospect than Real Madrid’s Rafael Varane. Fast-forward to present day and the same journalists were debating the merits of Stone’s inclusion. Maddening.
Radio 5Live follow a similar path, broadcasting a one hour long special highlighting the career of Harry Kane, the newest addition to the “talisman who must be destroyed” conveyor belt. Whilst anyone who has followed the Premier League can see his worth, the statement that he is “the most feared striker in the world” is hyperbolic in the extreme.
The most annoying thing however is the media’s endless delusions of grandeur. Every two years, regardless of the men on the pitch, in the technical area or in the FA, there are, if not the demands, then certainly the expectations to return with a trophy held aloft. Now I understand that stargazing is as much a natural human reaction as the need to breathe but the degrees to which the media see their national side has extended beyond the confines of amusing. England’s fifty-year deterioration should, by now, have tempered optimism. Gone are the days where England were the epicentre of the footballing world, nowadays Roy Hodgson’s men are more akin to a Colombia, Croatia or a Mexico than one of so the sport’s true elite. Most bizarre is the new trend of assuming that a reduced amount of expectation, and thus pressure, will liberate the players and allow them to thrive in an attractive, winning manner.
Optimism, faith, loyalty all admirable traits but when infused with the level of hubris that the media appears so willing to apply, then it all coagulates to leave a sour taste in the mouth.
So there are my reasons for cheering on Wales and Slovakia and Russia and any nation that opposes England. Not because I am afflicted with a case of “small nation syndrome” or because of some archaic feud that thought to be imprinted on children from birth but because I am unwilling to swallow the mountains of faecal matter the media shovels in our direction.