Europe bids fond farewell to England

What is to be done about the England football team? Mark Perryman has six points for fans to ponder
December 2007

No I'm not joking with that headline. I've been inundated with messages from football friends in Austria, Croatia, Germany (yes Germany!) saying how much they'll miss us at Euro 2008. The huge numbers who travel - 400,000, more than likely, if we'd qualified - boost the coffers of the host countries. The trouble has more or less gone away, replaced by fans who are among the most welcome guests at the tournament party.

As for those sour-faced leftists 'celebrating' England's defeat - you have the blessed audacity to claim the mantle of understanding working-class politics? Just try explaining your revolutionary defeatism in public and see what that does for your politics. It sickens me at times like this that a group as marginal as the left pretends it knows what's best for the rest of us, surrendering its credibility as it once again dumps on the progressive, inclusive potential of our national identity. For the Croatia game I was at Wembley with Hajra and Nadeen, England fans wearing the hijab - that's the England I'm proud to be a part of and parts of the left will never engage with thanks to their inability to understand why.

The web, phone-ins and back pages have been buzzing with ideas on what is to be done after England's defeat. Here's my six points for those Red Pepper readers who share my view that what happens to the England football team actually matters.

1. Spiral of decline

If you thought missing out on Euro 2008 was bad: just wait until the 2010 World Cup. Second seeds in a group with Croatia again. Top team goes through, and only the best eight runners-up get a play off. The 2010 qualifiers are looking tough, very tough: a quickening spiral of decline beckons.

2. The table doesn't lie

Without Sven, and allowing for the likelihood of injuries, qualifying for Euro 2008 was never going to be easy. The fact is we're now light years behind the likes of Germany, France and Italy, and just a middle-ranking European football nation at the Croatia-Russia-Israel kind of level. If we'd qualified does anybody seriously think we'd have got out of our group in the finals?

3. Over-rated players

With very few exceptions our so-called world-beaters only look good when they play for their clubs playing alongside world-class team mates, none of whom are English unfortunately.

4. National team as the pinnacle of the national game?

Not any more it isn't. Within a few years the England team will all be players from the bottom half of the Premiership, and within five from the Championship. Either the FA follows the Sir Trevor Brooking strategy of huge investment (far, far more important than the 2018 World Cup bid) in 5-11 year olds or the cycle of decline will become unstoppable.

5. No return to the home internationals

Okay, they'd be fun, but what exactly would an England team (or, for that matter, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) learn playing other teams too poor to qualify? It would be a huge step backwards conducted for one reason: money. The same reason our hallowed Wembley turf was turned into a quagmire for the Croatia game as a result of the stadium hosting that American Football match.

Yet there was Gordon Brown, the morning after the night of non-qualification, wading in to support the return of the home Internationals as a way of developing his British vision. Does this man ever step out of No 10 and into his constituency? Nothing represents the fact that England, Scotland and Wales are separate nations more effectively than a football match. It would almost be worth their return to see Gordon at Hampden Park for Scotland v England waving his cherished union jack, and to witness the response he gets.

6. Sacking McLaren

The easy bit. But the guy who appoints the new manager is the one who forced Sven out, failed to recruit Scolari and chose McLaren instead.

The future? The only hope is that Trevor Brooking is given a free rein, resulting in a huge investment in 5-11 year-olds, so that by 2017 the Premiership academies are stuffed full of English 17-year-olds, or that Mourinho decides his ego could do with rescuing England and a few of the under-21s come good. But I wouldn't bet your house on it!

Mark Perryman is the convenor of London England Fans, author of Ingerland: Travels with a Football Nation, and co-founder of www.philosophyfootball.com






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