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England fan survival guide
The life of an England fan has never been easy
Supporting the England national team has never been easy. As a nation we live in constant fear of abject failure. In fact we seem to continually invent new ways of losing when all indications are that it would be easier to win.
There are the years when we boast a decent enough team on paper but singularly fail to qualify for World Cups or European Championship finals. Then there are the years when we breeze through qualification, so raising the hopes of a nation, only to stumble through the group stages before being knocked out on penalties.
Living with failure
It all begins so well. As a child you are impressed with the passion of your fellow countrymen in the heady days of summer as some blokes in white shirts run around a pitch in blazing sunshine in some far off land. The picture wobbles, as is its want being early satellite technology, and you hear the clipped tones of home counties English explaining the events you can see with your own eyes.
The adults around you jump up off the sofa and berate the inanimate TV confused as to why the men in white cannot hear them in that far off land. You watch as the ball is pinged majestically between players in a manner you've never seen before and appreciate that the opposition sure do know how to play football.
It therefore makes you scratch your head as you witness a maximum of two pass completions before the men in white manage to give the ball back to the opposition. You wonder, in your innocent way, if it is because the men in white are so enjoying the spectacle of their opponents mastery of the ball that they just want to feed it back to them at every opportunity.
As you grow up you realise this is clap trap and that English men, well paid professional footballers at that, were born with a genetic inability to maintain control of round leather and plastic balls. Instead we like to see how far we can kick them and especially enjoy the contest 'lump it to the big man'. If points were awarded for hang time and/or the ball coming down from the clouds with snow on it we'd probably be World champions. Unfortunately the rest of the World plays the version that likes the ball to go in the big net, an aversion said professionals seem to have when donning the England shirt.
So how does the masochistic English fan get through this life of perpetual failure? How does one repeatedly find so much care in ones heart to support ones team when one knows it can only end in failure? And when did this writer turn into Prince Charles and start describing oneself as one (see I've done it again)? Let's find out.
Tip 1 - Never believe the hype. The national papers will talk up the hopes of your team at the World Cup or European Championships. They will trot out a litany of well respected managers to predict England will carry all before them. They will explain that after so many years of near misses this is genuinely the best team (since the last one) for a generation.
The bookmakers will narrow the odds on England prevailing. The ad men will put together such fervently nationalistic ad campaigns as to convince you it is England’s God given right to win this tournament and, yes you really should treat yourself to this lovely big new TV to soak up all that winning goodness... And at the end of the tournament you'll wonder how you ever got sucked in by such a load of hogs wash as ever.
Tip 2 - Expect the worse. England will go out of the championship before the final - FACT! Prepare yourself for the first round exit at the group stages (1958, 1988 and at the time of writing quite possibly 2010). If they progress to the knock out rounds get ready for the inevitable penalty shoot out. You'll know it's going to penalties when:
a) England play like they've never played before and look amazingly composed on the ball (1990, 1996, 1998)
b) The domineering England shoot themselves in the foot by having one of their marquee players sent off (1998. 2006)
c) The ref is overly officious and disallows perfectly good goals, sends players off (see above) and generally nitpicks about, well, just about everything imaginable (most years)
England will then lose said penalty shoot out because of second genetic flaw of my countrymen, complete and utter panic and fear of kicking ball from 12 yards into massive barn door goal.
You see its a little known fact that the professional English player actually visualises the penalty spot as being 120 yards from the goal and that from that distance the posts are only the width of a small park bench protected by a giant man eating foreigner. More research needs to be done to help counteract this indelible flaw in the English psyche for the good of the planet.
Tip 3 - Don't see the tournament as a massive excuse to invite all your friends over for a BBQ/party. Sure everyone will turn up full of merriment and joy. They will even bring some sausages and beers to add to the already bulging fridge. The banter will flow about penalties and your BBQ'ing skills being up there with an English player’s ball control. So on the surface everything will be fine but there will be one massive white elephant in the room - the knowledge England are about to ruin your party.
Of course no one will speak of it, we're English after all and far too polite. But it will hang there like a rotten carcass, the foul odour of which will pervade into everyone’s nostrils and slowly start to take control of good people’s consciousness.
You'll notice its taking hold when a small fight breaks out over the potato salad (that no one wants to eat by the way but is always made by your girlfriend). People will rush to hold folk back and calm the aggressors. Handshakes will follow and peace will return but the air will remain charged and edgy as the clock slowly winds down to kick off and inevitable abject failure.
Tip 4 - Don't watch the games with people who have never kicked a ball in their life. They will wind you up with their all knowing statements on the team you hold so dear. Sure they've turned up to the pub to watch now it's the finals but where were they back in October of the qualifying campaign as your team conspired to draw in the driving rain of some former Soviet bloc country?
Where were they when you painstakingly checked out the England under 17's, 19's and 21's to see if any prodigy's might one day emerge from this God forsaken nation of ball uncontrollers? Did they read through every page of the Burns report to find out how our woefully inadequate governing FA was going to reform itself and so herald a new age of young Englishman able to finally pass the ball to one of their own teammates? Did they eck!!
No instead they turn up here spouting all manner of twaddle they've just read in that mornings toilet stop completely oblivious to the fact everything they are saying is complete and utter bollocks. They'll scream at the TV 5 minutes into the game about how rubbish everyone is. They'll call for the least able player on the subs bench to be brought on from the 10th minute onwards.
They'll continue to hector the screen until such time as the England manager finally gives in and puts on said player. They'll go very quiet when said player continues to run down cul-de-sacs, give the ball away and, your favourite, steps on said ball in attempt to control it and falls over. The levels to which said player is able to confuse himself let alone the opposition gives you some faint inward smirk which is soon replaced by sheer exasperation as you realise he's conspiring to get England knocked out of yet another championship.
Tip 5 - Watch the games on your own. Yes it's true this is sort of like tip 4 but let me explain. You will probably succumb to throwing the bbq/party (tip 3) for one of the games. You will probably end up watching one of the games in the pub with person who knows nothing (tip 4). You'll probably believe England are World beaters (tip 1) and truly think they have a chance. However, and this is where we come back to tip 2, they won't and they will be knocked out at some stage. Better then to watch said game on your own where you are in control of the remote.
Sure you might care about this team more than you do your own wife and kids. Sure you feel such passion for those men in white that you could just about burst with all that adrenalin pumping around your system (that sounds vaguely sexual but it's not). And yes you are English and so, whether right or wrong, somehow believe it's in your destiny as inventors of the game to one day rule supreme in international football but, and I can't prepare you for this enough as it's just so big and massive that if it was a country it would be Russia, BUT... England will lose!!!
They will bring you massive pain. You will cry like you've not cried since childhood (which come to mention it was when England got knocked out in 86 and 90). You will want to close the curtains and forget the World. Where better, therefore, than in your own front room on your own nice sofa with your own remote control in hand. You can flick over to a documentary on the Discovery channel and lose yourself for hours in the fascinating story of ship building. You can find a repeat of Blackadder and reengage with that good old British humour you so desperately need at this time.
Whatever you watch it will be better than facing the truth; England are out of another tournament. You've got to face the pain of the next qualification for the next championships starting in September. This so called golden generation of players will now move on to pastures new and will be replaced by even poorer controllers of the ball. In two or four years time you will have to do this all again.
And finally, yes, that bloke in the pub will still be talking out of his arse come the next championships so you may as well start intravenously injecting hard drugs into your system because frankly what is ever going to change?!!
NB: Survival guide to being an England fan was written by a fan crying out for a way to deal with his frustrations at yet another abject England performance. It is not meant to be printed onto paper rolled up and smoked. The writer reserves the right to chuckle at all the abusive comments that may be left by irate fans who think he's being unpatriotic and smart.