Euro 2012 qual. - England fans need reason to love again

Wed, 13 Oct 12:50:00 2010

Fan reaction to England's draw with Montenegro shows just how hard the national team have to work to get back in the public's good books.

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FIFA president Sepp Blatter jets into London today for a flying visit to meet Prime Minister David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson, before flying back to Zurich in the evening.

Perhaps it's just as well he didn't make it an overnight stop and come to Wembley last night.

One of the key points repeated about England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup is that no country can rival the passion of the fans from the home of football. However, there was little of that in evidence as the national side laboured to a 0-0 draw against Montengro.

Even the FA appear to have reined things in a little. Before the start of the pre-World Cup friendly against Mexico, supporters all around the ground were invited to don coloured t-shirts to form a giant St George cross of - we were told - world record-breaking proportions. This time, perhaps from a combination of new-found austerity and much-needed humility - fans behind each goal were given coloured cards instead.

If England thought that the contempt aimed at them during August's friendly win over Hungary - both via a record low attendance and abuse from those who made the trip - was the end of their post-World Cup just desserts, then they had another thing coming.

It would be harsh to compare the performance of Fabio Capello's men here to the turgid goalless stalemate with Algeria in South Africa last summer. It would be generous to call that showing a performance at all.

Whereas, with a demoted Steven Gerrard free to patrol the middle and Adam Johnson continuing to make Capello look a fool for fitting Shaun Wright-Phillips up for an M&S suit instead of him, at least there was the merest hint of endeavour and spirit in this Group G qualifier.

The players tried their best to stay patient as they worked at breaking down a resolute Montenegro side shorn of their star player shortly before kick-off, but that attitude was not shared among the fans.

On the face of it, the crowd of 73,541 was a strong one but, despite two much-improved outings resulting in two wins out of two going into this match, the attendance was only a few dozen more than that of last month's Bulgaria clash.

A misplaced Gareth Barry pass as half-time approached brought on the first significant rumblings of discontent, and the volume of the boos as the whistle signalled the break would have been louder had Wayne Rooney not had a chance just moments before.

Despite the half-time entertainment featuring a penalty shootout involving estate agents, amateur referees and a member of British Airways cabin crew, the crowd still had plenty of bile in reserve for the professionals once they re-emerged.

With every leaden touch from Rooney and long ball up to Peter Crouch, the Three Lions' faithful support pushed thoughts of England inevitable confident march towards Poland and Ukraine further back in their minds, to be replaced by memories of Robert Green's Rustenburg gaffe and Barry's floundering in Bloemfontein.

The vociferous penalty appeals were not in a empathetic sense of shared injustice, but more in frustration that somehow their team could not even manage to be awarded a blatant penalty.

The only touch of warmth came in response to the introduction of Kevin Davies, an unlikely hero who had grafted and muscled his way to an international debut aged 33. The differing reactions to the booking the Bolton target man received for a trademark aerial tussle to the one dished out to young upstart Ashley Young for diving in the area was telling.

England's fans showed last night how they have not forgotten - let alone forgiven - the aberrations of the June (there was to be no July).

Despite remaining unbeaten in their group, three points off the leaders with a game in hand, it's now clear just how hard England must work to win back the nation's hearts.

Tony Mabert / Eurosport

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