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14 October 2017

Finally, I understand the point of watching England play football

It is a reflection of the human condition.

By Hunter Davies

I have at last worked out the point of watching England. They have become a classic text, like the Bible, Shakespeare plays or Beatles lyrics, which every generation can study and take from it whatever it wants.

You thought Beatles lyrics were pretty simple. A friend of mine, a retired professor from York, has sent me a 30,000-word thesis explaining the words of “Eleanor Rigby”. I’d never realised that it was an opera, with the middle section missing.

I watched England last week, against two of the giants of Europe, Slovenia and Lithuania, and at last realised what it was all about. England are there as a metaphor, a reflection of the human condition, illustrating so many clichés, whether we are in politics, the arts, the City, or anything.

Why do you do it when you know what it’s going to be like? This is what our loved ones say when we go to places, meet people, do things we know we won’t enjoy and make us miserable. Watching England is like that. It is just another of life’s lessons.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. We long for people who aren’t here, thinking that when they return it will all be brilliant – like, er, Adam Lallana. Oh, if only he had been fit and brought his magic to the midfield, England would have been so different. In absentia, reputations soar. But it’s all fantasy. Mrs Thatcher – now, if she was back in the team, we would not have all this nonsense, she would knock heads together, oh, yes.

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Things were better in the past. The golden generation, God, it was brilliant. Gerrard and Lampard, Scholes and Beckham, and, of course, Gazza – we were lucky to have such world-class stars. Except they won bugger all.

Time to change the team. Gareth Southgate dropped Hart against Lithuania, brought in a different goalie, plus two first caps, Winks and Maguire, and totally hammered Lithuania (1-0, thanks to a jammy penalty). Meanwhile, Mrs May is dropping/might drop Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary and bring in some new blood. The point is to show them, to stop the sniping. Something must be done, changes must be made.

Life is a struggle, life is hard, we are not meant to enjoy it. Too true, squire. You watch England to realise that almost every cliché and generalisation about life is generally spot on. So you sit and suffer, hoping that when you get back to real life, you will have suffered enough.

What we now need is a different sort of manager/prime minister/head teacher/editor/chief executive. Fabio Capello was liked by no one, neither the fans nor the players. He was a control freak, a nasty bit of work, had funny foreign ideas, no one understood him. Let’s bring in someone different, a nice, avuncular native England gent, someone liked by all – who turned out to be, er, Roy Hodgson, famous only for England losing to Iceland 2-1. This almost always happens: what we want from the next boss is for them not to be like the last boss. Rarely comes off.

You have to laugh. Otherwise you would cry. So we chortled when, against Slovenia, Gary Cahill passed to no one, Eric Dier sent the ball into row Z and Kyle Walker took a free kick that has still not landed. Then, in the match against Lithuania, it was so funny when Jordan Henderson started waving – was his mum in the stands, or was he indicating that he was trying to pass to someone?

You have to live in hope. Look on the bright side. The world’s greatest striker is currently among us, the one and only Harry Kane. He will lead us to glory, don’t you worry. And we also have other top players such as… er, now where is the team sheet? Well, then, Harry Kane, hurrah for Harry!

The signs are now all in our favour, oh, yes. If Argentina don’t get to the World Cup finals, which now looks possible as they are only fifth in the South American qualifying group, there will be no Messi. And Portugal might not make it either, so no Ronaldo. It’s all going our way… 

This article appears in the 11 Oct 2017 issue of the New Statesman, How May crumbled