When I was steered by a friend to read Piers Morgan’s latest column I was as dismayed as I was unsurprised. Usually I try to avoid his work and refrain from the vitriolic shortcomings of most online commenters but this was a particularly poignant instalment of football criticism; it wasn’t poignant for any specific issue it raised. Instead, the overarching opprobrium directed at Wayne Rooney and the England players served to poignantly encapsulate our media’s greatest flaw being reciprocated by our best player.
England’s performances over the past 12 years at international level have not been good; at the World Cup we have reached the round of 16 (1998) and two consecutive quarter finals. In the European Championships we have been knocked out in the group stage (2000), the quarter finals (2004) and failed to even qualify for the 2008 competition. In the meantime Brazil have reached the World Cup final twice (winning it once), France have reached the final twice (winning it once) and won Euro 2000, Italy won it last time round (and reached the Euro 2000 final too), Germany reached the final in 2002 and the semi final in 2006 (finishing runners up in Euro 2008), Holland reached the semi final in 1998 (and have been in consecutive European Championship semi’s in 2000 and 2004), Spain have only reached the quarters but – crucially – won Euro 2008, and Portugal have reached the semi final (in 2006 and Euro 2000) and the final of Euro 2004.
The list is to elucidate a fact; there are seven teams who have consistently bettered England in major tournaments for over a decade. It’s not even mentioning Greece’s Euro 2004 victory, Russia’s splendid run in Euro 2008, or Turkey’s semi final appearances at both the World Cup in 2002 and Euro 2008. So why, besides the obvious, is this important?
Piers Morgan was moved to call England ‘execrable’ and that his 13 year old son’s judgments on the game were critically accurate and wholly justified. He further called for Wayne Rooney to be dropped in an attempt to force the ‘overblown, overpaid, overhyped halfwit’ out of his poor form. The only thing missing from his blunt invective was an effigy of England’s number 10 being burned in hate. The process of reading Morgan’s diatribe exposes the dangerous chasm between perception, expectation and reality that exists in this country.
Considering the record listed above, how is it that anyone can be surprised by England’s failings at international level? I am not at all condoning the shocking performance on Friday evening because to be so bereft of ideas at such a crucial moment was excruciating to witness. But I condemn a media who overhype a team that has failed to progress past a quarter final in 14 years and then unceremoniously castigate them, whilst attempting to retain some sort of moral high ground. I condemn a nation that clings to, and reconfigures, a solitary World Cup victory 44 years ago to the evident detriment of its current squad. And I condemn a nation that, despite all of the above, still ranks itself as third favourites in the run-in to the World Cup.
The reason for our false delusions of grandeur is inextricably linked to the media’s sensationalism. As a commenter from Kansas City posited on Morgan’s article; ‘You’re perpetuating the England curse. England’s woeful performances in recent years are not a coincidence. It is a team undermined by its media and that entitled, arrogant, reactionary attitude bleeds into the supporters’. Yet, going one further, it seems the players have also reciprocated the proclivities of its media. Rooney’s reaction was unreasoned and ill-advised; after all, the supporters have turned out throughout qualification and spent thousands of pounds to fly to South Africa. And we, as a collective, need to redress our expectations. There are ten teams who have achieved noticeably better results than us in the past 12 years so how can we continuously fool ourselves to the crown before a ball has even been kicked?
If we break these tendencies we may have a real chance to progress. But football is very much about the present moment and, for now, Rooney is an enemy who has displayed the same failings as his most vocal detractors.
Related article: Harry Highlights an English Flaw
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