You're a passenger in a car that someone else is driving, and your hands are tied, and up ahead is a container lorry full of hot liquid manure that you're definitely going to run into the back of, but your driver's deaf and blind and not slowing down, so there's nothing you can do except writhe in your seat and brace yourself for the impact.
That’s roughly how I feel watching England at a major tournament. Even with the most minimal of expectations, crushing disappointment is imminent. We all know the score. Media create absurd hype. Cars and houses are abruptly adorned in patriotic decorations. Horrible adverts featuring Terry Venables appear, informing me England are brilliant and are definitely going to win. The whole country then forgets we’re not that good at football. Words such as ‘pride’ ‘passion’ and ‘belief’ are subliminally flashed at you. The tournament starts. England go out. Media camp outside the manager’s house and tag his children. FA sack manager. Media appoint new manager. It’s become the nationwide protocol over the years really.
Yet this time it’s a bit different. The appointment of Roy Hodgson is hugely encouraging. It feels like a massive two fingers to the media that tried to
flaunt Redknapp to the FA by, metaphorically, putting some lipstick on him, a wig and teaching him to walk sexy. Hodgson represents the media’s dwindling potent death grip on the FA’s throat and it is now no longer gospel to expect tabloid rags to decree appointments; hopefully the tide is turning and the national side is now in the hands of those that are accountable, even if the FA are somewhat naive themselves.
We have also come to accept the heavy reliance of the English talisman in tournaments. Today it is Rooney before that Beckham before Gascoigne before that Lineker. Conversely, we are going into Euro 2012 with a Rooney-less and Wiltshire-less England meaning the only way to progress out of the group is to play well as a unit using a format the manager has chosen. It’s been a long time since we have seen an England side reliant on a team game rather than one individual player with better technical ability than the others. Less expectation amounts to less pressure, surely? Without Rooney there is less pressure to succeed and more reliance on others to step up. It will be interesting to see how they cope without the ‘golden generation’ tag and perhaps now finally England have recovered from the talisman syndrome that previously limited their success.
Compare Spain’s squad for example with the probable England squad going into the tournament. Think about that for a while. In club terms, Spain are Manchester United and England are Fulham. What manager could possibly beat Manchester United with Fulham… oh wait. Yes, Hodgson’s greatest managerial trait is his ability to overachieve with unfavoured teams. How can that possibly be any more relevant to this current England side? His failure with Liverpool is not at all relevant to the squad of players he has available when you just think about it. Now, I’m aware one single managerial change is just a drop in the ocean in terms of the problems England face, but if the players stop believing they are deities who were put on this earth to be arrogant alpha males then perhaps we can overachieve like Fulham.
It is us, the nonsensical English fans that put ourselves through the predictable few weeks of fury. It is us that need unnecessarily dramatic Shakespearean verses shouted at us in order to think we could do well. Poland and Ukraine will be unfamiliar territory for the England players this summer, but the majority still expect much of the same. For those that remain unconvinced by my declaration of promised changed: once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.