England, best football nation? You’re having a laff

I'll always remember where I was when I heard that England had been seeded for the World Cup. There was dancing in the street, bonfires on the Heath. Then, when the draw was announced, and in effect England had got a bye, and therefore got straight to the final, the celebrations went mental.

On the front page of Saturday's Times, it said "England are winners". Well, that was it. No wonder the Post Office immediately made plans to issue commemorative stamps, just as it did in 1966, while the Royal Mint is doing a special World Cup gold coin with Sir David's head on. Yes, only a knighthood, that was a bit mean, when you think what Becks has done for England, football, humanity, haircuts, cutaway collars.

In the afternoon, I went to Arsenal to see them play Stoke. I had been looking forward to witnessing Gooners celebrating Arsène's 500th Premiership game as Arsenal's manager, but the more earth-shattering news of England's World Cup triumph had overtaken it. I nearly got run over by the FA's open-top bus filled with happy, laughing FA officials in their best blazers, throwing champagne and tenners to the cheering crowds. Ah, happy times. Then, on the Monday, I sobered up. How can we possibly win it, when we are so rubbish, the also-rans of world football?

Andy Gray and Sky tell us all the time that the Premiership is the best in the world, everyone admits it. So why can't we attract the best players? In the European Player of the Year awards, none of the top seven - Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi, Iniesta, Eto'o, Kaká, Ibrahimovic - is English, nor does any of them play in England.

What does that tell us? That our lads are not good enough and the top stars don't want to play here any more. Ah, but we are the richest league, no question. We are when it comes to paying fortunes to agents for doing bugger all, and charging fans to watch games, but not when it comes to buying players. We can afford only about half what Europe will pay. Ronaldo cost £80m, Ibrahimovic £60m and Kaká £56m. Our most expensive current player is Man City's Tevez at, supposedly, £45m. Shows what paupers we are.

Where we probably lead the world is in paying over the odds for journeymen players. Even the lumpest Prem player you haven't heard of who sits out each game on the bench is on £2m a year. In Europe, they pay mega for the best,
but washers for the rest.

As for our stadiums, come on now, magnificent or what? Don't tell me we don't lead the world there, which is why we should definitely get the 2018 World Cup.I've been looking at my World Cup charts, which already cover the walls in my room, and it's interesting to see that South Africa has got one stadium, Soccer City, which holds 94,000 - more than Wembley. Two hold 70,000 each, comparable to Old Trafford, while a fourth holds 62,000, just a bit more than the Emirates. Another six hold well over 40,000. We, meanwhile, are putting up titchy grounds, such as those of the MK Dons and Derby, as possible World Cup venues that hold about the same number as our living room.

Best, biggest football nation? You're having a laff. Jammiest. Oh, yes. Fabio has had all the luck, right from the qualifiers. Let's hope it continues.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 14 December 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The Muslim Jesus