Typical – you decide it’s finally safe to write England’s footballers off as a bunch of overpaid sex-fiends with as much chance of winning an international tournament as Monserrat*. You vow you’ll concentrate on the important things in life, like getting enraged about George Lucas’s continuing mutilation of the Star Wars trilogy, and hey, maybe you’ll even go to the theatre once in a while, you know, just to see what the fuss is about. But then England’s Under 21s win 6-0 against Azerbaijan, you start to hear whispers of a new ‘golden generation’ and just like Michael Corleone you find yourself sucked back into the drama – you dare to believe once more.
For every Englishman born after 1966, the experience of following our national team has been like getting an STD from Dot Cotton – a few brief moments of pleasure in exchange for a lifetime of resentment, disappointment and self-loathing, a life of looking at yourself in the mirror in disgust and asking how you could have been so stupid. Realistically, there are only two options open to the introspective Dot-clap carrier: ignore everything Eastenders-related, pretend it never happened, and move on with your life OR desperately keep watching in the hope that one day they’ll introduce a storyline where Dot drinks a magic potion that transforms her into a Knightley-esque beauty you can brag to your friends about.
And that magic potion plotline is what we’re being given now, from both the press and the FA: yes things were ugly in the past, but very soon we’re gonna be the real deal, a full-on Gemma Arterton of a team: young, talented and exciting to look at. In a couple of years we’re going to be brilliant, transcendent, unstoppable – stop me if you’ve heard this one before Arsenal fans….
England’s Under-21s victory over Azerbaijan was undoubtedly impressive, and yes, we’ve got a great set of skillful, athletic players with tremendous potential for the future but let’s get real – we’re talking Azerbaijan here. If this victory had come against Spain or Brazil, then perhaps there would be reason for excitement, but the truth remains that as soon as any English football team comes up against a side that knows how to retain possession, we revert to the hoofball tactics that we’ve seen year-in year-out under managers domestic and foreign. It’s in our DNA, and I’m afraid it’ll take more than a drubbing of some footballing minnows to convince me we’ve evolved.
In all the excitement about the Smallings, Wilsheres and Joneses we seem to have forgotten that there was a time when we were equally excited about the Ferdinands, Lampards and Terrys. A smarter man than I once said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and you would have thought that after all the claims of ‘golden generations’ and ‘new eras’ in the past decades these new proclamations would be treated with cynicism, but it appears many members of the press and public are suffering from collective (dare I say deliberate?) amnesia. But I’ve had my dalliance with Dot, I’ve looked in that mirror and I don’t want others to have to go through the shame, the pain (and the uncontrollable itching) unnecessarily, so in the style of a polite Chuck D I offer you my warning – please don’t believe the hype.
I truly hope these youngsters are the ones who finally bring silverware to our shores, (god, how many years of hurt has it been now?) but until all this potential has yielded some tangible success, let’s all keep our pants on eh?
*no disrespect to Kenny Dyer and his boys – but when you get beaten 4-0 by Bhutan, maybe it’s time to start thinking about whether this football lark is really for you.