England's Most Hated Men

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You may not know their names, but Jorge Larrionda and Mauricio Espinosa, the referee and linesman who ruled against Frank Lampard’s non-goal in Sunday’s game against Germany were under the protection of elite police over the weekend, shielding them from potential attacks delivered by furious England fans who blame the two men for England’s humiliating exit from the 2010 World Cup. Following a week of news front pages like this one from The Sun, which accompanied with a picture of the tentative German team on safari is more evocative of World War propaganda than a headline from a credible newspaper, it’s hard to deny that national momentum was behind us cruising through to the Quarter Finals:

ENGLAND’S World Cup rivals Germany looked a bunch of scaredy cats when they saw THREE LIONS in South Africa yesterday. Perhaps it reminded them of the mauling they face tomorrow from boss Fabio Capello’s goal-hungry men.

A mauling there was, yet not in the sense that The Sun could have hoped for, as a crushed England squad touched down at Heathrow Airport early this morning following England’s 4-1 thrashing by Germany. The aftermath has been sadly predictable. Larrionda has been vilified by the press, his track record as a referee called into question, whilst increased calls for goal-line technology like those seen in sports like tennis are everywhere, in media and conversations from Southampton to Scunthorpe. And it’s true. Larrionda and his assistants are partially to blame. But more responsible are the eleven men in England shirts who played on the pitch that day. And to a great extent the millions of fans who watched them. And quite possibly a man named Fabio Capello.

The disappointment felt towards our inglorious England squad is symptomatic of a culture of hype from the media and public alike. It’s an absurd expectation for us to believe every four years when the big competition rolls round, that our national team will suddenly make a break from their catalogue of almost uninterrupted failure and deliver sound thrashings to sides like Brazil and Portugal in their campaign to win the World Cup, when the best result we can muster against Algeria is a goalless draw. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that England fans are victims to a sense of entitlement that is at once delusional, endemic and totally bizarre. It will undoubtedly shock some readers to learn that England’s national team is simply not as good as we think it is. Statistics will willingly confirm this.

And why? Is it the Empire that made us like this? The remnants of an overinflated sense of our ‘great’ footballing nation’s skill and prowess? We did invent the game after all. Yet goal-line technology will not solve the ills of a team whose fans will not be silenced over an ancient victory against a team that no longer exists, 44 years ago. For a well needed reality check, I suggest reading this book:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dont-Mention-Score-Masochists-Englands/dp/1847244092

Am I a cynic? Well…yes. Is England amongst the best national teams in the world? Not a chance. True, our players might be amongst the best paid in the world – Chelsea teammates Lampard and Terry raked in well over £6 million each last season, with club salaries many times more than that of the Prime Minister. But bank balances and net worth do not equate to success on the pitch, dedication to the sport, or moral integrity. If that was the case, then perhaps a certain extortionately paid member of the England squad would have decided that indulging in a high-profile affair with the girlfriend of his England teammate, months before the World Cup no less, would not be a positive step in ensuring the side’s unity and success upon entering the tournament.

When back in March, the entirety of England’s ambitions in international football rested on the status of ligaments surrounding the talus bone (lower ankle) of a certain Wayne Rooney, a country held their collective breaths. The England team are lucky to have such patient, long suffering fans, who along with the tabloid press are practiced and adept at placing their all their hopes and dreams into single, pedestalled players. Had we lost the World Cup the moment when Rio Ferdinand’s freak knee injury ruled him out of the tournament? Or when Capello decided to leave Theo Walcott out of his final 23? Of course not. It was months, years before that. And who knows how things would have panned out if Lampard had equalised before half time? But consider this: after we beat Germany in 1966, England has not reached another final, neither European nor international since. Germany have reached 11 and won 5. Is this Larrionda’s fault too?

Yet, as a deflated England flew home this morning in their specially chartered Virgin plane, perhaps they should have given a thought for the French team. After their disastrous exit to South Africa in the group stages, the French were flown home in economy seats. England were spared the luxury of Upper Class.

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