In the summer of 2018, everyone was in agreement: England’s World Cup was sure to be mediocre. The disappointments of the previous two international tournaments had got the better of us. A new look squad with an underwhelming manager (harsh, I know, but probably true) hardly had us on the edge of our seats as the greatest show on Earth approached. But that summer turned magical. Blazing heat, Kane’s goalscoring and flying pints restored a sense of national pride to a country whose identity was in some kind of a crisis. Were we very good? On reflection, probably not. The only two decent teams we played, we lost to… but that didn’t matter. Those boys who represented the Three Lions that summer came home heroes.
But this time it is different – no one agrees with anything anymore. And England expects.
But as Karl Marx once said (or was it Marcus Rashford? Same thing, right?), ‘Reason has always existed, but not always in reasonable form’.
With great talent, comes great responsibility and with Southgate’s current squad at his disposal, the pressure has certainly mounted over the past three years. It is often stated as ‘a nice problem to have’, having so many talented players to choose from, but I’m not entirely sold. The conversations have already started as to who simply has to start, and they seem to be plentiful. With such attacking might but such a questionable defence, the England manager’s job this summer will be all about finding the balance. But whatever he chooses, I can already hear the outrage when one of Foden, Grealish or Mount is left out come Croatia. As a country, we can’t even decide to get behind anti-racism, never mind whether we should play a back three or not.
Which leads us on to a more important and utterly depressing topic, one that is baffling going into a partly ‘home’ tournament. As if booing your own players for making a peaceful, anti-racism gesture isn’t quite bizarre enough, the idea of these same young men leading some kind of Marxist coup is a step further. I’m not sure how many pre-match pint conversations you’ve heard discussing Das Kapital (1867) but I’m certainly struggling to recall one. The fact that these same ‘fans’ were calling for the public ownership of their clubs and opposing the vile greed of rampant capitalism only a few weeks ago is beyond irony – it is pure stupidity. “We don’t want politics shoved down our throats at the football!” says the bloke doused in poppies, singing ‘There Were 10 German Bombers in the Air’ at away days and chanting about the IRA. But to boo your own players, and everything they stand for (which let’s face it, is nothing to do with Marxism and politics), the very players you are there to support? Again, it goes beyond irony. This has been said before and I will repeat it again, this isn’t a football problem, it is a societal problem. Football fans don’t exist within their own demographic – they are all of us. And so, these opinions don’t just exist within the stands at the Riverside, they stretch across our nation. For years now, we’ve been at each other’s throats over one thing or another. Maybe we need Southgate to make us whole again.
But as Karl Marx once said (or was it Marcus Rashford? Same thing, right?), ‘Reason has always existed, but not always in reasonable form’. Let’s get something straight: after coming out of over a year’s worth of lockdowns, of the death counts rolling on and on, of isolation and loneliness, this should be our celebration – our celebration of not only football or Europe but the fact we can (almost) live again. Whatever happens this summer, be thankful that it happened. Be thankful that the players that those idiots boo are running their arses off for their country and for our entertainment, just to make us feel normal again. So, find yourself a big screen, have in hand your plastic cup of flat, warm lager and just fucking enjoy it already.