One of the most popular cliches in football, and in life, is about learning lessons. You get totally stuffed, play like shite, but neither you nor your manager can actually admit as much after the game. So what he says, shaking his head wisely, looking awfully solemn, is: "We've learned some lessons today."
He is hoping to suggest, to his players and the world at large, and to himself, that it has been worthwhile, insights have been gained, experience gathered, because he is thinking on a higher plain, not taking one game at a time - it's all part of a greater scheme of things and really he is still in control, still knows what he's doing. Which is shite. It would be simpler to say "We played crap", but he can't do that. Human beings like to think that living is a learning experience. Otherwise what's the point, eh?
Sven Goran Eriksson indicated all this after the England game with Finland. And he really did say that he and the players had learned a lot. Bless.
From where I was sitting, I learned what I already knew: that Andy Cole is never going to score for England, no more than Kevin Phillips, who has already been rejected. Surely that was Cole's last chance. (If it turns out he scored against Albania, after this went to press, I'll eat Desmond Hackett's hat. It must be lying around somewhere, a bit mothy, but uneaten.)
I also learned that McManaman, one of my fave players of modern times, still doesn't seem to fit into an England formation.Very soon, Sven will learn that lesson. And we all relearned that ancient truth we first picked up with our mother's milk. At some point during every England game, a Neville will make a balls-up. Gary's own goal, off his knee, was a classic, one for the family album.
But I also learned how stupid I was to have written off Seaman in my mind's team to play Mars. I did think he was finished, not much good, you know. I was wrong. He's still the best available. I always did have faith in Becks, oh yes I did. I knew he was suffering only a temporary loss of form. As a captain, he might not shout and scream, but in that Finland game he led by example.
From long experience of never getting carried away by our football experts when they carry themselves away, I'm reserving judgement on Steven Gerrard. Mainly because he is the new England love heart. There's always one. If I hear another pundit say Gerrard's "got everything", I think I'll scream. Peter Reid said it three times in five minutes.
And he hasn't, not at his age, when he's only 20, and has lost so many games through injury. He has good skills, a big heart, but he is still clumsy, uncoordinated, always liable to give away a stupid free kick by being impetuous or, more worryingly, doing further damage to his own adolescent, unformed body by throwing himself wildly into tackles. All I've learned is that he could be good, one day, possibly, maybe.
What the team as a whole learned is that there are no easy games. But they knew that. It's been written inside every player's Christmas cracker. They also learned that luck usually evens itself out. Yawn yawn. They also learned, once again, that it's not over till it's over. All perfectly true, as every trainer and coach has been telling them since they were in nappies.
The thing about football, and about life, is that you tend to learn stuff you've already learned - the main lesson being that you can't do much about it. As I'm sure my good friend T Blair will agree. I bet that ages ago someone put in his cracker Harold Macmillan's quote about "events, dear boy, events". Just when he thought he was cruising, along comes foot-and-mouth. I bet that afterwards (if there is an afterwards), he'll say to himself: "I've learned lessons by all that."
So what lessons have you learned in this life so far, Hunt? Do share.
"Don't get it right, get it written." That was from a very old cracker. It doesn't mean get it wrong, just don't piss around, waiting for inspiration or the right conditions. Get it down, get it done. It's the people whose critical faculties are greater than their creative faculties who disagree with that jolly handy motto.
A year ago, I had a brilliant idea for a book about the Quarrymen, John Lennon's schoolboy skiffle group which became The Beatles. The five original members disappeared, once Paul and George arrived, and I've often wondered what happened to them. By chance, two years ago in Cuba, I met them. Only one had gone on to university, to Cambridge, and ended up on the dole. One has ended up a multimillionaire. I know, I thought, I'll do their story over the past 40 years, a story of our times.
Boring, boring, said my two regular publishers, Little, Brown and Weidenfeld & Nicolson. They both turned it down and I was well cheesed off, thinking they're probably right, I might as well give it up. Months later, a publisher called Omnibus, which I'd never dealt with before, contacted me on another matter, to write an intro for someone's book, and I said, oh, by the way, got this great idea, what do you think.
The book is currently being serialised by the Sunday Times. OK, that doesn't prove it's a good idea, or a good book, but it proves a lesson I learned many years ago and was on the point of forgetting: rejection is only someone else's opinion.
So Andy Cole, not rated by me, and Kevin Phillips, not rated by Sven, keep at it.