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12 June 2024

The mission for our lads at the Euros? To save the nation’s pubs

An early exit from the Euros for England and Scotland could finish off Rishi. But it’s our poor old publicans I worry about.

By Hunter Davies

The last general election held in July was in 1945 – and I remember it well. I was nine and living in Dumfries. I used to stand out on the pavement with my little pals chanting, “Vote, vote for Mr Attlee, kick old Churchill up the lum, we’ll buy a penny gun, and shoot him up the bum…”

Funny how I can remember the words, yet if asked I would say my parents were Tories. They read the Express and old Winny was our wartime hero, so why were we chanting for Attlee? Must have been the mood on the streets at the times.

I also remember the election of 1970: the last time one took place during a major tournament. Harold Wilson was miles ahead, so he thought, but in the World Cup quarter-finals Germany stuffed England and four days later, Wilson got stuffed as well and was out of office.

Is there a correlation between football success and politics? Most experts seem to think there is a small effect – if the lads do good, the sitting government does good, taking some credit. An early exit from the Euros could finally finish off Rishi. But it is our poor old publicans I worry about, not Rishi. He will survive. His missus will provide. But the pubs, so many of which have been closing recently, could take a hammering.

The government has relaxed the licensing laws in all pubs, giving them two hours extra opening – if England or Scotland reach the semi-finals and final. Wahey the lads. So the fortunes of the Tories and Wetherspoons are in the hands of Gareth. Oh God, poor chap – as if he hasn’t enough to worry about. What to wear, that must be one problem. Not that boring waistcoat again. Looks like he will wear a cardy.

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Once again, England will be relying on Harry to do the business. Remember him? Bloke in lederhosen, last seen drinking beer in Germany to drown his sorrows.

When Maddison was dropped, it meant that Spurs had no players in the England squad for the first time for, oh, decades. I am too tired to work it out, but am sure Sky will tell us at some stupid moment, probably during the Scotland-Germany opening game (14 June) when it is the last thing we will be thinking about.

I was hoping that young Jarrad Branthwaite might make the final squad, having got into the provisional group of 33. He is from Carlisle and played for CUFC originally. I thought he looked a big awkward lump, but he improved once at Everton. I was pleased someone from Carlisle was playing for England. Not happened recently. Kevin Beattie was one, and Peter Thompson.

What about Crystal Palace? Four in the final squad: the most from any club. How the old order has changed. I suppose it is because the traditional sources, such as Man United and Liverpool, are full of foreign players.

How about Scotland? They have several regular Prem players – such as Andy Robertson, John McGinn, Scott McTominay, Billy Gilmour, Ryan Christie – seem organised and have a good manager. They could surprise Germany, who have been dodgy recently. Which is one of the reasons why the bookies are making Ingerland favourites for the Euros.

I refuse to believe it. Ever since 1966, before every World Cup and Euros, England fans and the back pages have told themselves that, if not quite a golden squad, the lads are going to do it; this is their year; oh yes. Which always turns out to be bollocks.

Those two warm-up games were so depressing. Rubbish against Bosnia in the first half, though they did manage a jammy goal. Totally rubbish against the might of Iceland – and getting beaten. The humiliation.

All that tippy-tappy, cross-field passing, getting nowhere. You can see it in warm-ups and in training. They do that standing-in-a-circle nonsense, with one in the middle, while the others continually pass the ball across. They are all experts at it, but in a real game you want people to go forward, beat their man by dribbling, which now seems to be banned, or by a killer pass. I hope when it is all over Gareth does not regret dropping Jack Grealish. For he will be blamed for Wetherspoons going broke and no one turning out to vote.

[See also: A dramatic Premier League finish – plus Postecoglou, pin-ups, and a distinguished pigtail]

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This article appears in the 12 Jun 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The hard-right insurgency