Can you remember a time when football supporters showed such indifference or apathy towards an England? Especially one that had just qualified for the World Cup finals? Gareth Southgate’s men were unbeaten in their group with 8 wins and two draws.
Why is the big question? Have fans fallen out of love with international football because they think the players are overpaid prima donnas and completely out of touch with supporters. I think there is an element of that but I think it is more to do with the fact that it is just not exciting watching England play anymore. The game has always been about winning be it in Leagues or qualifying for international tournaments; England have done both. However football fans also want excitement in terms of attacking play, goals, goalmouth action with goal-line clearances, hitting the woodwork, controversy, tackles, and the odd inspirational character who makes you want to watch. It is all those things combined that attracts us to the game. We are soccer-addicts looking for a regular football fix that will lift us out of our seats and leave us breathless with excitement.
England appear to play a possession based game rather than a passing with a purpose game. But in my opinion it is more than just that.
I saw some interesting stuff on social media a few days ago that made what I thought was a valid point. The cash rich English premier league attracts the best players from around the world and as a consequence our national team suffers. So called smaller countries best players play in the premier league and as a consequence their national teams benefit. It makes most international games tougher for England against opposition that in years gone by might have been considered an easy game.
However lack of goals has been an issue for England supporters borne out of the way they play. The three lions scored eighteen goals in qualifying from their group. Other group winners were far more effective in front of goal with Germany scoring 43, Belgium 43, Spain 36, Portugal 32, and Poland 28.
Many second placed teams scored more than England including Sweden, Denmark, and Italy with even some third placed teams scoring more goals.
From a management perspective Gareth Southgate would be within his rights to point out that many of those high scoring second and third placed teams will be sat at home watching the world cup finals on TV while England will be competing in Russia and that would be a very valid point. However it is only valid if England could possibly, but more importantly, have the mind-set to change the way they play in the finals. I hope they do but am not sure that we will see too much difference in the way England approach games in Russia. Although Gareth Southgate has made it clear he wants to play with three central defenders and that should mean two out and out strikers.
On the positive side England had the best defensive record in qualifying along with Spain only conceding 3 goals. That is a massive plus especially in tournament football and when you struggle to score goals. However against the better more free scoring sides in the world it just might not be enough.
I am a big fan of Gareth Southgate and I hope he proves us all wrong out in Russia but based on what I have seen so far reaching the “round of sixteen” would In my opinion be the most England fans can hope for although having said that I really hope I am wrong. Like all football fans I would love England to win it and give the country a massive lift. However England fans are ever-hopeful yet ever-disappointed so much hype surrounding previous qualifications and yet this time the Head Coach has effectively played it down and virtually made it clear they cannot win the world cup. That may be clever of him and help to lower expectations and pressure on team especially from the media.
A few nights ago I was watching an amazing TV documentary about the legend that is Sir Bobby Charlton and to be reminded of the joy and euphoria that came with winning the World Cup in 1966 made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The whole country was caught up in the celebrations and to this day I am sure we all still get emotional watching Bobby Moore picking up the Jules Rimet Trophy, or watching diminutive Nobby Styles dancing a jig of abandoned joy with the world cup in his hands or hearing the wonderful Kenneth Wolstenholme’s famous fourteen words “Some people are on the pitch-they think it’s all over- it is now”.
Let’s hope that in Russia it’s not over before it’s really begun. Gareth Southgate has a handful of friendlies to convince and reassure us that it isn’t. Yet when the first game kicks off we will all be rooting for England and rooting for them to do a 1966. It’s a funny old game as Jimmy Greaves famously said.