Harry Kane is a brave man, but he may not have chosen the best course of action when he criticised England’s fans. The fans had booed England as they struggled to score against Malta, telling them that were, “s***.” After the game, Kane had told the England fans that the reason that England players were professionals and international footballers was because of their effort, and the fans were sitting downand gawping because of a corresponding lack of application. In some ways, he was right.
Gary Neville has been held up as an example of a player who made the most of his talent by practising whenever possible, and taking his job and ambitions extremely seriously. Kane, too, was not highly rated before he broke through at Spurs. Other, more talented players fell away as they discovered cigarettes, romance and alcohol. Any player who can make their way to the Premier League, and then the England team, has not been found wanting for determination. They have worked hard almost every day for perhaps two decades.
England manager Gareth Southgate stated in his most recent press conference that it was not a lack of pride that caused under-performance. He returned to the notion that the players care too much, that they get caught up in expectations of performance and find that too difficult to cope with. It’s an idea that has been cited so often that it would be odd if there weren’t something to it. For whatever reason, English players work incredibly hard to get to the international stage, often playing well for their clubs to bigger audiences, and when presented with an England shirt, they are overwhelmed by the context.
There has been speculation over this. The lack of English technical ability, the cosseted upbringing and current lifestyle that their job affords them, leaves them without the ability to lead one another in difficult circumstances. It’s hard to be sure if the latter point is a factor, but it seems a fair bit of speculation, at least. The players have no little talent, but can’t work together when left to their own devices, and are held back by the yips. It doesn’t make them bad people, nor does it make them, ‘s***.’ It might mean their performances sometimes are, though.
READ MORE: Wenger – I nearly QUIT Arsenal in the summer
The reaction from fans has been gradually turning over the decade. The Golden Generation has exited, as has Wayne Rooney, the last great hope. Now we are left with a side without a figurehead. As the side has declined, the atmosphere in Wembley and away has worsened. There are boos in the ground, home and away. At home, they have had to suffer Roy Hodgson. Away, they have had to suffer Roy Hodgson European Championships and a World Cup. It was dull, pointless stuff.
Under Southgate, England now have a manager who appears to have a grasp on the failures of the English system, but no real solutions are offered. In fairness to Southgate, there might simply be no solution – not everything can be returned to its previous excellence. Just look at the last series of Breaking Bad or The Wire. Just because what came before was excellent didn’t prevent a decline into mediocrity. Southgate’s greatest success over the years could be to lower expectations substantially, with no great aggravation from the crowd or the press.
The press will probably accept things. There are still bumptious jingoists in the papers, but most people writing for newspapers and websites now understand that a mediocre set of players will deliver a mediocre set of results, and no accomplished, sophisticated manager would ever want to try his hand at changing this.
But it is the fans who need to change their understand – those at the grounds, at least. Fans who go to support England, the football team, probably like England, the country. We can guess that most people who are hardcore England fans lean towards the pro-Brexit side of the vote.
Anyone who actually has an affinity for England, and what it represents, is either delusional or unpleasant.
England’s influence on the world is malign, a fact going back centuries. If we use the existence of the Empire to explain why it is horrendous until a date of, say, 1960, we can use more specific examples of terrible things it has done since: Bloody Sunday, the Iraq War, Yarl’s Wood, selling arms to dictators and the veneration of militarised society. It is a country that is willingly cutting off its nose to spite its face, while also cutting off its feet because the EU told it not to. Football fans who cheer for the football team might just be cheering for a football team, but they do so in this context.
It is a leap – but let’s be honest, a correct one – to lump the people getting pink in the face about the England team and booing, into the above demographic. And that is the problem. You can convince some of the press that things are unlikely to get better anytime soon, and they will believe you. But what you can’t do, as Kane has, it to invite the agitated and angry onlookers to consider the facts.
If they can’t tolerate England’s relentless and intractable decline on the world stage in terms of business, politics and cultural influence, then the chances of them accepting something similar from the football team is asking for retaliation. Kane wasn’t wrong to spell out the reality of playing for England, but he won’t be rewarded with an easier life for doing so.