Groundhog Day for England….Again!

Posted on June 25, 2012

It would take the most ignorant and biased fan to deny that England’s obligatory penalty shoot out defeat was justice served to an Italian side that after the first twenty minutes totally dominated the spirited but pretty much hopeless men in white. All over the radio this morning there were accusations of lack of spirit, not playing for the shirt and all that other nonsense that comes with every predictable exit that England suffer at the middle stages of a major tournament. I’m sorry, though England lacked in almost every department, they didn’t lack spirit, and it was a miraculous effort to deny Italy a goal in normal and extra time. However, what did come as a surprise, if only a small one, was that in front of the wall of the back four, there was nothing. We all know England struggle to keep possession of a football, but the way they kept handing it back to the Italian’s before retreating further in to their own territory, was bemusing and more apparent than ever before. It was like watching peasant farmers armed with pitch forks staring in the face of Panzer tanks, stoical, but futile.

The problem with English football stems from people like me and millions of others across the country. As I said in a previous blog, I prefer the crash bang wallop, error ridden, testosterone fuelled chaos that is English football, to watching the meticulous, technical genius served up by the Spanish. I guess it is hard to change your mindset when you have been used to a certain way of watching football for years on end. English football is rammed firmly between a rock and a hard place, it has been for decades. Do we change our whole system and start from scratch by trying to adopt and copy the Spanish way, or do we carry on as we are, limited and spirited, but with no chance of competing beyond the quarter-finals of a competition bar the odd freak of fortune boosted by a once in a generation genius like Paul Gascoigne in Italia 90? I sometimes like to delude myself to the contrary, but England were not a brilliant football team at Italia 90, they were incredibly fortunate against Belgium and Cameroon before they pulled out all the stops to perform brilliantly in an heroic failure against the Germans in the semi-final. It wasn’t a golden era, it was a one off.

England: Spirited, but lacking technical ability

When you visit kids games played on pitches covered in humps, bumps and dog shit, where the most common phrase is “RELEASE……RELEASE….GET RID OF THE FUCKING THING!” you begin to realise that to start all over again will have no benefit to the current generation, it will take decades to change the mindset of players, managers and supporters. Watching the current crop of players trying to play possession football would be like a trip to Billy Smart’s circus, they would be all over the place.  Attempting to play that way would have seen us beaten by France, Sweden and the Ukraine followed by demands in the press to revert to the ‘English way.’  All Hodgson and his players have done is get the best out of what they have, sadly, that is never going to be enough against teams like Italy who treat the ball as a friend rather than a getting rid of it like time bomb scene from Tom and Jerry. I think it was Brian Clough who forced his players to treat the ball like it was their best friend, but he was surrounded by managers at other clubs who’s motto was “If in doubt hoof it out.” The football we are watching now is a legacy of Graham Taylor, John Beck, Dave Bassett and former FA director Charles Hughes, but I suppose even they were only doing the best they could with what they had.

I refuse to believe it is about lack of spirit and endeavour, if it was all about effort, England would be regular finalists in competitions, especially under Hodgson, who has knitted together tremendous team spirit. However it takes more than team spirit at the highest level and rather looking at Spain, England should perhaps follow the German blueprint. I am not qualified to say how they do it, but the German’s have a similar admirable spirit to the English players, but somehow, and here is the clever bit, they have knitted fierce national pride together with high tempo possession football. Like English players, the German’s are big and strong, but they combine this with tactical nous and technical ability, making them a formidable force. I am delighted we are not playing them on Thursday night; it could have been an ugly evening, potentially as bad as the battering they dealt us in South Africa two years ago. It will be interesting to see the direction Hodgson goes in now, does he dare change English football forever, or does he settle for a top ten position in the world, regular quarter-final heartbreak and a career that ends with a photo in The Sun with a turnip on his head?

As my friend Howard said last night as we watched the game in the pub:

“If England have always been good at one thing, it is their ability to open your rib cage, remove your heart, set it alight, and stamp all over it.”

Last night England weren’t even very good at that… tears were shed from my eyes!

No Replies to "Groundhog Day for England....Again!"

    Got something to say?

    Some html is OK

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.