The international break recalls years of English mediocrity, and leaves me longing for the Prem

Watching England play three times in a week has left me bored out of my wine-sodden mind. 

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

England, our England. Well not quite mine, as I was born in Scotland of Scottish parents and have always wanted Scotland to win, especially against England, but after Scotland I love Ingerland, oh yes.

So this past week should have been such a pleasure. In the absence of any Prem games we got the thrill of England playing three times in a week, just when we were beginning to think the lads were all in the bar fighting – or in the bedroom – while Rev Gareth Southgate escaped to a monastery.

They won the first two games, against Wales and Belgium. As I write the game against Denmark is yet to happen, but come on, don’t be churlish – two wins so far, pretty decent, don’t you think?

Not really. I was bored out of my wine-sodden mind. The defence is full of lumps, who either pass sideways or backwards, and have not a creative thought in their mind. I was moaning and groaning throughout the whole of the first half of the Belgium game.

I could not think of a player on the pitch who could do any better than my tortoise. I missed Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish, two players who might do something interesting and positive. Instead, the team played like frightened rabbits, determined not to make any mistakes.

And yet they beat Belgium, ranked the world’s number one. How did that happen? A penalty and deflected goal and because Belgium were even more boring, plus Kevin De Bruyne came off injured.

Looking back, I fear I have long been moaning about England. It’s hard to remember many joyous moments since 1966. I thought then, on the way home from Wembley, that’s it, England will be top of the world for, oh, ages and ages.

All those dreary managers we have had, such as Sven-Göran Eriksson, Steve McClaren, Fabio Capello, Roy Hodgson, Sam Allardyce. I did like Terry Venables, he made me smile, and for a while made the team smile. Alf Ramsey was a dour bugger who sounded like a speak your weight machine, but he knew his own mind and stood no nonsense.

Poor old Rev Gareth has had a lot of nonsense to put up with. Maybe he is too nice, but you have to be in this age of player power. Being a bastard would not work. But I can’t understand why he did not play Grealish against Belgium. No one was showing the slightest creative spirit.

[See also: Why football is still the great escape, even without the fans]

That sort of stuff is now, surprisingly, being left to the Prem, where they are belting forward like mad things. OK, teams give away more goals, but it is fun and entertainment we want in football – well, I want. Not square passing.

Gazza was the great entertainer, always up for a laugh, even when flat on his back having missed another tackle. I did love watching Glenn Hoddle, could not take my eyes off him, even in the warm-ups. Pulling up his shorts, oooh Ivy…

The so called Golden Generation had some fab players, such as Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney, Rio and Becks, but did they win anything? Did they heckers. Always fell at the quarter finals. France and Spain also had their golden generations, but they actually won World Cups and Euro championships.

Is age turning me into a moaning Minnie about England? I would deny it. I think the Prem is excellent at the moment and some young players are really exciting, such as Jordan Sancho and Mason Greenwood. But will they continue to develop and will Rev Gareth give them his blessing? He does sing the national anthem very nicely. Everyone would want him for their son-in-law.

Harry Kane gives us hope. He is a trier, a consistent scorer, despite not being blessed with great speed or dribbling skills. He has turned into a good leader and role model, off and on the pitch. I gave a little cheer when I saw him getting ready to come on against Belgum, and poured a second glass of wine. I put it down when I saw something I had never noticed before. Stripped naked – well, topless at least – it was clear he has NO TATTOOS! Most unusual today. See, all is not lost for Ingerland… 

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 appears in the 16 October 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Can Joe Biden save America?

Free trial CSS