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26 June 2024

England are rubbish again, but I make my own Euros entertainment

We are paying for building our players up too much. God, it is so depressing.

By Hunter Davies

Professional footballers are always told, just as children are always told, not to listen to nasty people saying nasty things about them. It will just upset you. So ignore criticism. Don’t listen to or read horrid stuff. Especially in this age of social media. Obvious, but oh how very wise.

The opposite can be just as bad, though people are rarely warned not to listen to praise. Lavish, over-the-top praise can turn your head, make you arrogant, complacent and entitled, stop you trying your hardest.

Could this have happened to England? The England team was dreadfully overpraised during the build-up to the Euros, despite being rubbish in friendlies. Jude Bellingham was acclaimed as a total genius, the world’s best young footballer. Phil Foden was amazing, so talented, showered with awards already. Declan Rice: what a brilliant, solid yet gifted player. Every country must wish they had Declan on the team sheet. In fact the whole world is jealous of England, all the talent Gareth has to call on. How lucky we are. Blah blah.

The dangers and burdens of such inflated praise affect not just the recipients but us too – the fans, the armchair lookers-on. And also the back-page scribblers. They got carried away, telling us and themselves: this is it; we are among gods; living with giants; this Ingerland team really is soooo special.

When, alas, star players turn out to be mere mortals and the manager obviously dazed and confused, we turn on them for letting us down. We gave them everything money could buy, or at least priceless adoration. Now they turn out to be useless – so thoughtless and selfish when we have invested so much time buying in to the fantasy, and the merchandise.

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Hence the boos after England’s appalling early games against Serbia and Denmark. Hence the back pages turning on their former heroes. Even the blessed Lineker lashed out, criticising St Harry. Oh God, it is so depressing. Let’s now keep quiet about them; either way they have had their time in the Sun. And in the Mirror and the Times. So let’s turn to the fun side…

Studio discussions. Normally I never switch on till kick-off, go for a walk at half-time, turn off at the final whistle. I don’t want to hear the pundits’ banal observations. I have enough of my own. But the BBC and ITV teams, the men and women, have been excellent: honest and informative, willing to rubbish our stars, which rarely happens in the Prem season.

Hair. Best so far has been the Swiss manager, Murat Yakin. His hair is so thick and lush, with the dinkiest, cutest streak of grey flopping at the front. Yummy.

Tattoos. I half-imagined it was just a fad in the Prem. My fave is the Italian with the face of a pretty woman on his neck – how on Earth did he manage that? She smiles every time he heads the ball.

Banners. When things get boring I try to spot supporters who have carted their local banner all the way to Germany and hung it up so the whole world can see they are from… Rushden.

Scotland. Jings, they were awfie awful against Germany – hammered 5-1 – but the Tartan Army kept up its support, until their team were cruelly knocked out by that 100th-minute goal from Hungary.

Best teams. Germany look likeliest so far: on song from the beginning, despite the German media suggesting recently that their team has faded, without enough new stars. Spain and Portugal also seem on form, and the Netherlands and Turkey – all playing better than England at the moment.

Chants. Supporters of all the 24 nations sing the same songs, with different words, I presume. It’s rather comforting. All fans react much the same. Close-ups show them motionless, lost in their own grief when their team is getting stuffed.

So let’s acknowledge and enjoy the emotions of the game. The family of football bonds people and nations together. Together in our misery.

[See also: The theatre and the misery of VAR]

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This article appears in the 26 Jun 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Lammy Doctrine