Monday, 25 June 2018

The Philosophy of Being An England Fan

Where English football is concerned we have a tendency to veer between two poles in our support for the national team. We are either despondent and full of hate for the team as they let us down once again or elevating them to world beaters. So let's not get carried away by this victory against a pretty hopeless Panama team who were there just to make up the numbers and expose the flaws in the way that teams qualify for the World Cup. Panama do not really deserve to be there as their (very entertaining and rather touching) joy when they scored a goal illustrated.

England played well but they don't really deserve the joy and exultation sent their way by the BBC panel made up of ex England players. At the same time they have won both of their games, regardless of the quality of the opposition, and that represents real progress. We have seen England teams in the past struggle again such minnows, indeed there was a degree of huffing and puffing against Tunisia, and so we shouldn't be churlish. England beat Panama and then some. They looked full of quality and enthusiasm and have in Harry Kane a striker with ice in his veins. His superbly struck penalties were wonderful. But the so was Jesse Lingard, by far and away the best English player. The great worry is that this England side still look as shaky in defence as they look impressive going forward. Against better opposition they may well be exposed.

Now things get a bit tougher. Or a lot tougher. Belgium, our next opponents, are a very good side, who could very easily go all the way in a wide open tournament in which nobody has yet excelled. Fortunately this next test comes in a game that doesn't really matter. Finishing top of the group would be nice, but we are through to the next round and the opposition looks beatable whoever they turn out to be. This represents real progress. England are through to the knockout phase with a game to spare and can play the last game relaxed and confident. We can even make a few changes. Perhaps drop the hopeless Raheem Sterling, thus far much the worst decision the otherwise impressive Gareth Southgate has made.

It is too early to get really excited about this England team and their potential. And anyway our more realistic and philosophical approach to our chances has served us well. Maybe they are playing better because the pressure has not been ramped up. There is plenty of time for that if we make it to the heady stage of the quarter or semi final. To be clear, England should be making it to at least the quarter finals of every tournament. But recent experience suggests our getting there will feel like a non league team making it to the 3rd round of the FA Cup.

This England team does not yet excite me, not that that has stopped me shouting and screaming and swearing at the screen with the best of them. If we play well against Belgium and make it to the quarters then past sins will be forgotten and we might even start buying flags again. That's what football does to us. We soon forget the disappointments. And anyway they make the winning so much more joyful. In England's case however it has been a long long time and even then we only know the joy of making it to the semi-final. I'm too young to remember 1966. Yes, it really is that long ago now.

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