The Fan - Hunter Davies still dares to hope

They took 400 books with them to read while they were away. My wife wants to know the titles. But, a

What have they been doing all week, wor lads? Getting very depressed, I should think. Physically, they are in prison, cut off from their families, confined to barracks, their rations restricted, no freedom of movement, escorted by armed guards to and from their exercise yards. Luxurious confinement maybe, but incarceration none the less.

Since Sunday 2 June, they have also been mentally and emotionally in jail, locked up in their minds, going over the event that caused their downfall. Poor things. No, really, I do feel sorry for them. We can escape, we people of the real world. They are trapped.

By the time you read this, after the Argentine match on Friday, everything may have changed. But after the Sweden game, one or two players will have had dark thoughts about Sven. What has he done for us anyway, apart from getting us to the World Cup? No victory for eight games now. No decent performances, not since Germany, which was ages ago. Why doesn't he do any coaching? All he does is hang around, saying nothing, doing nothing. And that long-ball tactic! It was like going back to the Dark Ages, or Wimbledon. And playing Becks when he was clearly not match-fit. If he's going to make money out of us, selling records and stuff, he might at least have waited till we'd won something.

Then the darkest, most depressing thought of all: would we have been better off with Venables? Tel's always quick to change tactics, good at geeing us up, building confidence. Unlike Sven.

I was depressed, even before the game started. Only one English player, Owen, sang the national anthem: "Five Swedes are singing their song," said my wife, who had come in to watch the kick-off. "I bet the score will be 5-1 to Sweden . . ."

Will you get out of the room, woman, you know nothing. But it was a worrying sign. Having shouted at her, I then started shouting at the English defence every time they belted it over the top, cutting out our midfield. It didn't work once, yet they kept on doing it.

Then I got really, really angry with Big Ron. I love his way with words, especially his own invented words, he's my favourite football commentator . . . until last Sunday. "This is easy," he kept on saying. "Swedes are nothing, not one of them would get in the English team, this is so easy." "WILL YOU SHUT UP," I yelled. I had been up since 6am watching two other games before England came on, so I was pretty exhausted and ratty, and also nervous. But when we heard Becks was playing, and Dyer on the bench, and all the ITV studio pundits tipped England to win, I thought, well, why not, we're bound to come good some time. Most England fans have been sane and sensible and realistic these past few weeks, genuinely believing England would not get through the first round, after what we had seen of them in the friendlies. But then, despite ourselves, hopes began to rise, little hearts fluttered at the possibility of Deus Becks ex machina arriving on the scene to perform some sort of miracle.

When Campbell scored, from Becks's corner, it seemed as if it might happen, even though England had done little against a very poor team. The celebrations were instant, and old-fashioned,with Ferdinand jumping on Campbell's back. It suggested they had not expected to score, and had therefore not practised. Even Senegal, total outsiders, had clearly worked out a routine in advance for their game with world champs France - the Senegal scorer taking his shirt off while the others danced round it, one of the best, most original, most joyous moments in the World Cup so far.

Deep down, I suspect that England had lost all confidence, even before that Sweden game. Scoring did nothing for them. I don't think I've ever seen a team play as badly after having scored. So it was no surprise when Sweden equalised.

"What happened to all the books?" asked my wife, cheerfully, choosing that moment to come into the room again, just as I was screaming at Mills, threatening to throttle Big Ron, kicking the furniture. Go away, woman, I might say something I'll regret.

Dyer came on, then Joe Cole, and did nothing. Sweden should have won 3-1. We were lucky to get a draw.

"You know those 400 books they mentioned in the paper?" she said as the final whistle blew. "They took 400 out with them, yet we were never told the titles, or whether they have read any . . ."

England did get a point. After two days, out and about, distracted by other things, such as living, my depression began to lift, ever so slightly.

I began to tell myself that in theory they can still go through, which is what I said from the beginning, when everyone else was pessimistic.

But they are probably still locked into their depression, unable to escape from their fears, time hanging very heavily. And I bet the last thing they've thought of doing is reading any bloody books . . .

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