In this throwback from 2016, I attended an international match at Wembley, the England v…
England supporters and the World Cup: Inside the wacky minds of football supporters
Being in England during a World Cup is like being at a family reunion where the favorite son is the life of the party one day and an alcoholic the next.
As an outsider, I find it somewhat comical, but also a window into the mind and soul of football supporters everywhere. So, as one does, I have observed, tried to stay mostly out of the fray, and drawn some broad-stroke conclusions which I thought I would share here.
A Football Fan’s View of the World
First and foremost, whatever is currently the state of things will always be the state of things, and – despite occasional delusions to the contrary – has always been the state of things.
Two days ago, the nation of England was convinced their men’s football team is either overpaid, underachieving wankers who don’t really care, or a Golden Generation being held back by a fearful twat of a manager – this in the wake of a 0-0 draw with the United States that essentially changed nothing in their status at the World Cup. The day before that game, these same players, off the back of scoring 6 against Iran, were a Golden Generation finally unshackled by, or succeeding despite, their fearful twat of a manager.
Today, having beaten a terrible Wales team 3-0, they again have an “embarrassment of riches” with the handbrake finally off.
The solution to our problem is more and better attacking players.
I cannot recall, in nearly 200 games across the UK and Europe, hearing a single supporter say a single thing like “I wish we could defend better.” Everyone always wants their team to attack more, with more flair, to put on a better “performance.” I am no tactical wizard, but I tend to assume that if a team isn’t attacking more, it’s either because (A) they aren’t good enough to do so, (B) this particular game just isn’t their day to do so, and/or (C) they know that if they commit too much going forward they will be vulnerable at the back.
Untrue things which are obviously true.
This is sort of a grab-bag category:
• When our guys do it, it’s game management and professional. When their guys do it, it’s time wasting and a disgrace.
• If our guy is hurt, theirs should be sent off. If their guy is hurt, he’s a faker and a cheat.
• If one of our guys goes to another club, he is probably a shit, unless he was too good for us, in which case we can’t begrudge him going to a bigger club. But if we think he isn’t that good, and he goes to a bigger club, he is definitely a greedy shit. And if he goes to a rival, then he is a disgrace forever.
• Even in the very rare case that a referee does a good job, this will never be acknowledged. In almost all other cases, they are either biased against us or their incompetence cost us points.
• Television has ruined the game, even if their money did allow us to purchase better players and we now get to watch all the games.
• Money has ruined the game. Also, we need our owner to either spend more money or sell to someone who will.
What everyone is saying is true, because everyone is saying it.
The English pundit-supporter class is utterly and completely obsessed with Phil Foden. He played very little in the first two games of the World Cup, but against the USA in particular, he is universally acclaimed as the could-have-been solution, had the fearful twat of a manager not left him on the bench for some mysterious reason.
For example: This week, a member of England’s women’s team won a reality TV show and was quoted afterwards as saying she would definitely start Foden.
Foden then started and scored in the win over Wales, so now everyone is convinced they were right all along and the manager doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Also, according to the Great Echo Chamber that is supporter banter and professional “punditry,” Harry Maguire is shit because he makes mistakes and doesn’t play for his club. When England were in the World Cup semis, of course, Maguire was awesome. When Phil Foden makes mistakes, this doesn’t matter, because he isn’t shit, and he does play for his club, which is better than Maguire’s anyway. Maguire, meanwhile, has played very well in all three World Cup games, in which England are unbeaten, and after which they are top of their group. The universal response to this is a combination of shrug and harrumph, and once he makes another big mistake, he will again be shit and will have always been shit – which he clearly is for his club, Manchester United.
We should be playing the Golden Child.
As above with Phil Foden, England is also obsessed with Jack Grealish, for whom Manchester City paid Aston Villa about £100 million. There is no telling, from the outside, why City paid £100 million for him, nor which other club on the planet might have done so. Last season he appeared in 39 games and scored six goals; this season he’s been in 16 and scored one. Imagine if they had paid £100 million for a non-English winger who put up those stats; what would supporters think?
But in every corner of Supporter World, there is a player like Grealish. Such players remind fans of players from the “old school,” with socks rolled down and no shin guards, running around with great energy. I also think he reminds them of themselves and their internal image of the type of player they would aspire to be, one who at least seems to try hard. Whatever it is, in Supporter World, he should definitely be playing. And if he (or Foden, or whoever) does play, and the team doesn’t win, it will not be their fault. It will be the manager’s fault.
We shall adjust our expectations and demands up the current moment.
Across England, Gareth Southgate – the fearful twat of a manager – is universally blamed for England losing the World Cup semifinal and the Euros final. He is literally given no credit whatsoever for getting England to either of those games. Every person in England understands that England had a lucky draw in the World Cup, and the Euros, which was also at home; more on that in a moment. But, as is always the case, once England made those games, it’s universally agreed they should have won them. So, as an outsider, the rules seem to be: 1, Whatever you’ve done to this point will be taken for granted, and 2, You either win a trophy or you are a failure. There is no sense at all that the high-water mark for England might be third in the World Cup and second in Europe.
I have also often wondered – but never asked – what it says about the players that they “only made the semifinal because of the lucky draw.” I mean, which is it? If they only made it that far because of the draw, then aren’t you saying they aren’t really that good? And if so, why do you need to blame the manager when they don’t go further?
But let’s pause for a moment and talk about England specifically.
England is not as good at this as the English think.
Go through all the history of the World Cup and the European Championships. We’re talking 16 European Championships and 21 World Cups – though to be fair, England didn’t bother to show up at one until 1950. In that time, England – which firmly believes they invented football and therefore “own” it somehow – has made the semifinals four times. Three of those tournaments were in England. They have lifted one trophy in 30+ attempts.
As an (increasingly unpopular) outsider, I might point out that this puts England behind Germany, Spain, Italy, and France, tied with Portugal, Denmark and Greece, among others. In which universe, outside of English Supporter World, is England even a European power?
Specific to the current squad, it is universally agreed that this is a Golden Generation of players who should be doing better – which I can only take to mean should be current European Champions, despite never being that, and should have at least made the World Cup Final, despite doing it only once before, at home, 56 years ago. Or, if “they should be champions” is too much for English people to say, they should at least be “playing better,” which of course in Supporter World, means attacking more.
All of this is based on an evaluation of English players which is, I would suggest, not entirely logical. Virtually all of England’s international players are employed by clubs in England – this despite the open market for talent among European clubs. If one takes a look at the usual final 16 of the Champions League, how many English players are involved but not with an English club? Why aren’t these English players being signed by big European clubs if they are so great?
Based on what I might call a rational analysis of English players and footballing history, England could be said to be ranked 5th or 6th in Europe, with at least two South American countries also ranked higher in the world. You might think a country like that would look at a World Cup semifinal and European Final within a few years and think things are going great, even acknowledging the frustration of not quite getting over the line. Leading the European Final at home and not winning it much have really hurt, in particular.
One might also think the manager for all that time might be something of a hero. But to begin your analysis during that game, assume everything that went before was either luck or how things should be (and it can’t be both!) and then hold the manager who got you there responsible for your (quite possibly) overrated players not winning is … interesting.
But no, as of a few days ago, when they didn’t score against the US, they were underachieving, and it was the manager’s fault, and both of those things have always been true, even if they weren’t the week before. They should attack more, play whichever attacking player is currently sitting on the bench, put on the bench whoever we all say should be on the bench, and finally bring football home where it belongs, otherwise he is (or they are) a failure, and we need a real manager and/or players who really care like the Golden Child does.
Ah, but then the Wales game, so now everything is good, apparently. They should win it, and if not, they know who to blame.
Also, support the lads!