Alfred J Prufrock, wrote TS Eliot, measured out his life with coffee spoons. In “Hey Bulldog”, a song with dopey lyrics, John Lennon said that some kind of happiness is measured out in miles. My life has been measured out in England-Germany football matches.
The first one I saw, on 30 July 1966 at Wembley Stadium, made me awfully happy. It still makes me smile every time I see my framed ticket hanging on my lavatory wall. I paid £5, which was about the most expensive seat. I must have been well off then. Most seats were 10/6.
During these past 56 years, watching England has mostly been a disappointment. Yet we always seem to persuade ourselves that this time will be different, the lads will do it for us. Every season there are indeed new young players, new faces, but when they get their chance for England, they seem to shrink, become overawed.
My heart missed a beat recently when I saw the England team coming out in red – the colour they wore when they won the World Cup – in memory of the Queen, who presented them with the trophy in 1966. I quickly changed into my black suit, which I wore in 2014 when the Queen gave me my gong. I am wearing it now, as I type this. Out of respect.
For most of the first half, I crouched behind the sofa. I did not want to witness any appalling errors, but too late. I caught goalie Nick Pope dwelling too long on the ball and his defenders clutching their heads as the Germans whizzed past them. Not that their team was much better.
They are both middling, disappointing, annoying teams. England were already relegated from the Nations League, whatever that is, whoever cares. It’s the World Cup, innit, wot matters.
Now and again Harry Maguire did go forward – look at me, oh, am I not brave? – before suddenly stopping, remembering who he was, Harry Maguire, lump of this parish, then turning and sending the ball all the way back to his goalie. Job done. He had not given the ball away. John Stones passes the ball blind, so he can’t be blamed for giving the ball away.
Both teams did that in the goalless first half. Or fell over, failing to control the ball. Poor old Raheem Sterling. What has happened to him? Is he the next Dele Alli, about to disappear into space? Kyle Walker also seems to have lost his essence.
Yet the back pages have recently been going on about a vintage generation, how we are blessed with so many good young players. If so, surely they would have managed at least one win in their last six competitive games.
Yes Harry Kane is good, but he has little support or supply, so he lumbers, and is too willing to go back and get the ball. He has none of the energy and flair and menace of Erling Haaland.
The second half, though, was pretty exciting, with England coming back from 2-0 down to a 3-3 draw. So jolly well done. Still not a win, but come on, they could well have got stuffed, after losing two quick goals.
Both teams, though, look poor bets for the Fifa World Cup in Qatar, which begins in November. I imagine all German fans are as annoyed and disillusioned as England fans. Whatever will become of us?
And Gareth Southgate? He did look neat and serious and sensible in his dark suit and little beard. When he does get the push, I hope he will take holy orders. He will make a perfect curate. But he is secure until after the World Cup. For once, one of his subs was no worse than the player taken off, as Mason Mount did get a goal. Phew.
But still no win in six games. What on Earth is the problem? Is England’s present state of woe a reflection of the country’s present economic situation? Both in dire straits. Harold Wilson tried to take credit for England’s World Cup win in the Sixties, as a reflection of good times off and on the pitch. All fantasy of course.
I think the solution is obvious. Instead of sending to Qatar the so-called Lions we have seen play in recent weeks – falling over themselves, running into each other, without a leader on or off the field – I think we should send the Lionesses. All of them. The whole squad. Plus their excellent manager, Sarina Wiegman.
I’ve had a look at the World Cup rules and can’t find where it says that England must send out 11 male players. I can’t see a mention of women being banned. So let the Lionesses run out for England against Iran on 21 November. They will play much better than the present male team. And wouldn’t that amaze and alarm the Qatar and Iran FAs..?
“Love in Old Age: A Year in the Wight House” by Hunter Davies is published by Head of Zeus
This article appears in the 28 Sep 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Truss Delusion