A.J. Walker


England, the World Cup and the End to Agnosticism?

Been loving the World Cup so far, though I have not seen as many games as I would like. It is a strange one as an England fan(-ish). So far I've not made it to the pub yet to watch an England match. Three games in. That said, I definitely fall into the demographic that calls himself a Liverpool fan first and foremost and England gets a minor look in during a tournament (which let's face it usually lasts just a week).
Footy Venn
I've always struggled to get behind England due to the years I've grown up with them. For decades we're played beneath ourselves. Draw and boring draw for years; or defeats of course. Experts (okay, journalists) and then managers seemed to criticise the team for not being able to retain the ball like our adversaries do and so the drive seemed to be for England to play like other teams. To retain the ball and pass it around and around waiting for the opportunity to put through a key pass to a runner who never came. If the other team hasn't got the ball they can't score and all that. The problem with that is that for years we've played boring football and it hasn't actually achieved anything but mediocrity even when we've had plenty of class players in the squad. The attackers haven't had the opportunities and the defence has not been up to the task.

Watching an International match on the weekend of those awful Premiership international breaks has never been something anyone really wants to do - except to check if the manager was overplaying 'our' players and risking injuries to our stars. The product of Premiership football is so far ahead of the average international match especially friendlies when there is nothing to play for but a pride none of the footballers have these days. The most frustrating thing is that many of the shortcomings have been so obvious to anyone who watches the game that it defies belief. All our footballers are involved in teams that play exciting and sometimes innovative football, many from great counter attacking teams. Why constrain the England team to play in a way to defend and keep the ball to pass it around like Spain or Italy do or in the fashion where football is played differently because the climate dictates it! We're not Spain, Italy, Brazil or anyone else. We're England.

And what are friendlies about anyway? They are not a product anyone can value. At least back in the 70s we had the British Championship even if the results were largely predictable they were proper games, with players really playing with pride in their shirt. Perhaps now football fandom and hooliganism has changed they could bring that back. I'd rather watch England v Wales or Scotland v N.Ireland in the British Championship than England v Portugal in a friendly with below strength teams and ten changes at half time.

For years we have not played to our players strengths and it is crazy and mightily frustrating as an agnostic England fan. Why not play fast counter attacking football? Why put a straight-jacket on the teams and make players play in a way that makes them uncomfortable and stiffen them up? But for years they have. We've also tried to stuff all our best players in, even if it meant putting players in the wrong position, trying to put the eleven best players on the pitch even if they all played in the same position it's ludicrous. By doing that we created teams that couldn't play as teams. Teams should play as more as the sum of their parts (Iceland anyone?) or at least be equal. Square pegs in round holes means it's never going to work.

We have played crap boring football for decades and for no good reason and, importantly, to no good end. Play as well as you can. Let them play with freedom and without fear and okay we may get knocked out early (poor Germany, Portugal and Argentina have already gone home), but at least we can see we've tried and for pity's sake the fans may actually enjoy watching the match for a change. New fans and old fans may come to the fold and support their international team, God forbid.

And that I think is what Gareth Southgate has tried to get the team to do; get a balanced team, put players where they should be and play with the hand brake off. It's not rocket science and it's a crying shame that we've had so many teams over the years with plenty of players with obvious abilities who've not achieved their potential. Or let's face it entertained us. Sport IS an entertainment after all.

So who knows, we may go out on Tuesday to Columbia. But if we do let it be whilst playing a brand of football that shows what English football is about. Let them play with a smile on their face and all that. And maybe I'll smile too.

Come on England! (there, I said it)
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