In The Critics this week

David Jones remembered, the start of Simon Amstell’s post-Never Mind the Buzzcocks career and Adam S

In this week's Critic at Large essay, David Wheatley makes the case for the poet and artist David Jones, whose book-length prose poem about the First World War, In Parenthesis, has just been reissued by Faber & Faber (for whom Jones was discovered, in the 1930s, by T S Eliot).

Elsewhere, Ryan Gilbey wonders what happened to François Ozon (his new film is The Refuge), Rachel Cooke is not sure if Simon Amstell, whose post-Never Mind the Buzzcocks comedy vehicle Grandma's House began on BBC2 this week, is as smart as he thinks he is, and Andrew Billen isn't convinced by climate-change drama Earthquakes in London.

In Books, the economist Diane Coyle reviews a new biography of Adam Smith, which saves the economist from his battier free-market admirers, Jonathan Derbyshire talks to James Robertson about his novel And the Land Lay Still, Leo Robson wonders if Tom McCarthy's new novel really does stake out a new direction for fiction and Vernon Bogdanor remembers the "unheroic" Clement Attlee.

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England are out of the Euros – I only wish I'd cared a bit more

Try as I might, I just can’t make myself care about the England football team.

In a humiliation widely regarded as unprecedented, England have just fallen in the 2016 European Championships to Iceland, a country, it was stressed in the build-up, with a population the size of Leicester. True, if the story of last season in the Premiership taught us anything, it was to entertain a wholly new respect for things the size of Leicester. But even so. Iceland! Land of the puffin!

And so the post-mortem begins. It had already begun, in fact. In comments that set a new record for impatience in this area, Raheem Sterling of Manchester City was irrecoverably monstered for various inefficiencies on the right-hand side in England’s opening (and drawn) game. Roy Hodgson, the manager, resigned minutes after the Iceland defeat, reading a statement apparently written in the dressing room between the final whistle and the press conference. With that kind of flair for a deadline, he should obviously now go into sports journalism. But Hodgson’s future was a keynote in the debate even before the group stages were completed. A headline in the Sunday Times, as England entered the knockout phase, facing a highly winnable tie, read: “Hodgson: I won’t beg for my job”. With England, you have to be ready to get your post-mortems in earlier and earlier.

There has been a shift, though. Typically over the past half-century, England would fly in to an international tournament (assuming they’d qualified for it) in a media-supported horn-blare of expectation and entitlement, most of it patently unreasonable. The team’s subsequent failure to match those implausible expectations would then duly sponsor a long period of anguished wailing and dark recrimination. Things have calmed down, however. Of late, thankfully, a more modest understanding of England’s place in the global framework has taken hold. Now the team arrives helpfully cushioned by carefully managed expectations. And then, when they don’t win the tournament, the anguished wailing and dark recriminations start.

Such was the way in 2014 when the most downplayed England team in history went into a tough World Cup group in Brazil and, as widely predicted, didn’t emerge. The consequent flagellation lasted months – simply segued into this new one, really. England has been experimenting with modesty but the lesson of France, surely, is that the experiment has failed. English football doesn’t do modesty – from the overfunded swank of the FA’s hand-picked training and troughing headquarters in Chantilly, down to the aggressive occupation of foreign town squares by its supporters.

On that subject, it was more poignant than usual to reflect on the geographical affiliations declared on the flags at the England end in Nice on Monday night. Harpenden, Bletchley, Lincoln, Burton. Manchester? Newcastle? London? The big metropolises? Not so much. Hard not to catch an eerie echo of the referendum vote map laid out in that carpet of modified bedsheets. Perhaps those England fans actually meant it when they stood on their chairs and sang to their hosts in Marseilles, “F*** off, Europe – we’re voting to leave.” In the international tournaments, the discontented and the overlooked are heard. They take their game back.

I only wish I cared a bit more. I’ve tried, I’ve strained, but it won’t come. The fate of the English national football team doesn’t engage me – except as black comedy, of course, where it’s irresistible. I’m a fully paid-up, card-carrying Chelsea fan and it seems to create barriers at these big summer events. Support a team with five Tottenham players in it? I have too much invested emotionally, year-round, in the notion of Harry Kane not prospering on a football pitch to make the necessary leap, even though it’s June and we’re supposed to be on holiday. I’m not pretending this does me credit. But I can’t deny it.

Giles Smith writes for the Times
Hunter Davies returns in September

This article first appeared in the 30 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit lies