As Wayne Rooney trudged off the Green Point Stadium field on Friday night, he turned to the camera and eloquently stated, “Nice to see your own fans booing you. If that’s what loyal support is…for f**k’s sake.” With the nation unsurprisingly outraged by Rooney’s assertion, a hastily-assembled apology was swiftly issued by the Football Association on the Manchester United man’s behalf. Although for the sake of my reputation amongst friends and family I chimed in with a vicious condemnation of Mr. Rooney’s character and behaviour, I couldn’t help but agree a little with the comments of England’s number ten. Having stewed a little more upon what he said, I thought to myself, does Wayne Rooney have a point?
Yes, England’s draw against Algeria was an unwanted result. Yes, the performance was turgid and disappointing. However, the failure to break down an Algerian ranked 22 places behind England in FIFA’s world ranking was as much attributable to the North African side’s determination and organisation as it was to England’s shortcomings. But, it seems as though the level of disappointment and anger aimed at the England side is resultant from the nature of England’s support. Let me elucidate.
For better or for worse, the press and fans within this country heap an unbelievable amount of pressure upon the national team prior to and during every major international tournament. I cannot fathom why the fans and media consistently have such expectations; England have won just one major international tournament in history (and that was a 44 years ago), despite the presence of world-class players the side perennially struggle to perform as a team, and there are several other nations in the world with more distinguished international histories and the ability to perform much better than England as a team (in this writer’s opinion Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Holland, Italy and, in spite of their poor showing, France, all fit the bill here).
So before a single ball is even kicked, the 23 men selected to represent the nation are already subject to unfeasibly unrealistic hopes and expectations. Following the announcement of the draw for the World Cup group stages, one popular tabloid newspaper greeted said draw with the headline of ‘E – ngland, A – lgeria, S – lovenia, Y – anks’, simultaneously displaying extreme arrogance and further heaping pressure upon the England side.
Despite common belief, I find it unfathomable to believe that not a single one of the players selected to face USA and Algeria did not give 100%. Whilst credit must be given to the USA and Algeria, the sub-standard nature of individual players’ performances can be linked to the fear borne of such high expectations.
Thanks to the work of an aforementioned tabloid newspaper and a collective relative lack of knowledge of international football, fans expected England to ‘batter’ or ‘thrash’ the ‘vastly inferior’ USA and Algeria. As such, many of England’s players, for fear of national vilification, were unable to play with the freedom with which they do for their respective club sides. Whilst many England fans are quick to build up their players and their side, they are just as willing to knock them down and crucify them for their perceived failures.
The booing which followed the final whistle on Friday evening was indicative of this fan culture. Whilst I empathise with the fans who spent thousands of pounds in order to travel to South Africa, I cannot help but feel that the main purpose of said trip was not for personal enjoyment or entertainment, but to support their team, and to show their support through thick and thin. After the draw against Algeria, it is unlikely that fans would have harboured a level of disappointment even remotely comparable to the level within the squad itself. With the side already under pressure, I cannot help but feel that booing may have exacerbated the weight of expectation upon the already beleaguered players.
Despite the abject nature of England’s first two displays, the side remain in a good position to finish top of their group, and unlike the likes of Spain and France, do not have to rely upon other results going their way.
Unfortunately, due to my dearth of knowledge regarding fan support in other countries I cannot compare England with other nations across the world. Whilst I do understand the need of fans to express their displeasure at England’s below-par displays, I cannot help but feel the manner of support may be to the detriment of the team.
Come on England!
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