Well, at least we can beat the world at writing cliches

So what did you think of it? England's ignominious exit? I thought the lads played a blinder, incisive, direct, no messing around, got the boot in where it hurt, took no prisoners. Yes, a great victory once again for our glorious media. The football experts who know it all, especially afterwards, have been on top form all week, telling us exactly what's wrong with England.

My favourite was a Sunday Times pundit who suggested that English schoolkids should no longer be driven to school, but should go on their bikes, as they do in Holland. Dutch kids weave in and out of traffic, live on their movement, live on their wits, hence, wait for it, they grow up to be Bergkamp and Overmars. Brilliant, huh?

Others blamed the government, cutting school sports, thus kids come home and play with their computers instead of growing up to be, well, Dennis Bergkamp. Funny how Bergkamp, after a couple of good games, became a role model. Would you want your kids to grow up scared of flying and with a perpetual scowl?

It's too easy to say "Sack Keegan" - very few have said that so far, it's hard to spin it out for 1,000 words - and it's far too obvious to say "England are Crap". We've said that for, oh, must be 30 years. After every humiliation, every stuffing by the Faroe Isles, every time we failed to get through the qualifying rounds for a World Cup or European Championship, we've had breast-beating, soul-searching, cliche-clutching. We must teach our kids proper skills and technique. We must renounce up and under. We must copy Johnny Foreigner's training methods, diets, sexy shorts, slipper boots, command of English, great haircuts.

Whatever happens, "we must learn from this". How often have we heard that phrase? Said not just by the clever clogs on the back pages, but by the great brains of the FA, the officials and coaches who always promise, after every debacle, that things will be different next time, that changes will be made. And what happens? Nothing. Only the blame changes. Being out of Europe, that was fashionable for a decade. Now it's Europe being over here, that's the real trouble: too many bloody foreigners in the Premiership, stopping our brilliant young talent from coming through, tra la.

I prefer the obvious explanation for England's early exit: they were crap. We have defenders who are middling to good at defending, such as Keown, Campbell and the Nevilles, but useless at anything else. So they thump it forward to midfielders with only marginally better ball skills, who can't control it, so back it comes. The best form of defence, they say, is attack. That's not quite true. The best form of defence is possession. Then pass it to someone, preferably in the same colour shirt, who can attack.

Why can't we do that? Why don't we have players in every position who are comfortable on the ball? I don't have clever clogs, just cheap ones for the garden, but I am willing, like everyone else, to lay blame for this on our boring, blinkered coaches.

But I'd also blame our blinkered players. In the end, they have to perfect their own skills, teach themselves to kick with either foot from the age of eight, practise on their own each day from the age of 14 even if they are in so-called academies of excellence, not tell themselves they've made it and have no need to practise any more just because they've got to 18 and are in the first team on a million a year with everyone telling them they are brilliant. They let themselves down, not just us.

We've known it, seen it, commented on it for years - their lack of ball skills. What was more surprising and worrying was a lack of confidence. Never thought I'd see English players with their heads down, scared of the ball, with so little self-belief. Under Hoddle, you often saw them looking confused, because Hoddle's mind and methods were often confusing.

But Keegan is the ultimate optimist, one of nature's cheer- leaders, who told them they could win, and appeared to mean it. He looked round the dressing room, saw big names, and convinced himself that this meant big winners. So why did their heads drop, morale seep away, despite having a manager like Keegan? It could be that, after 30 years, it's at last got through to English players. They now know they are crap.

So perhaps this will be the real turning point, when lessons will be learnt by the people who matter most: the players. They will now arise and heal themselves. Or possibly - no I can't bear it, I've already got a headache thinking back over their three games - things will get worse. Before they get even worse.

One more game and I can bin the charts I have lived with these past three weeks, vacate the chair I have grown into, clean up the apple gowks on the floor, the dirty mugs, the whisky glasses. And end with some cheerful thoughts.

Almost every armchair punter got it right, whether in the street, down the pub or up on the fells. Three weeks ago, I wrote down on one of my charts - oh god, it's faded in the sun - what three local sheep farmers and our two regular postmen had all told me - the last four teams would be France, Holland, Italy and Portugal. As for the experts, in the back pages and on the telly, only half of them got it right. Mainly because so many tipped Spain and England - yes, even England - in their last four.

Among the TV commentators, Barry Davies in the end annoyed me most. He now appears convinced that he's too clever to be a common or garden football commentator and should really be at All Souls, or working on the human genes thingy.

Unlike our own dear Big Ron. What a treasure. I'll miss being in his Wide-Awake Club these past three weeks.

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