Unlike cricket or tennis, my interest in football seems to sprout once every four years – like a long hibernating bulb that appears in colourful glory all of a sudden for a few short weeks in spring. In just a week, we’ve seen colour, contrast and above all, dashing deeds of goal-scoring by many a different team – from Algeria to Costa Rica, Brazil and Holland.
England is where I live – but its national identity continues to remain a mystery for someone like me who is from the former colonies. England was the team that was always so easy to hate (especially in cricket in those days) and to be fair, they are wonderful losers. Stoic, witty and graceful in defeat. Losing, somehow becomes the English character whereas winning makes them a little unsavoury, in my opinion.
For once, I wholeheartedly tried to support England and for the first time noticed actually wanting them to succeed in yesterday’s match against Uruguay. The opposition – a team that appears to have daily training in the mean streets of a South American favela, were deadly aggressors. Forget the Maradona lookalike Suarez, for a minute – just the sight of the muscle-packed wild-haired Cavani, Caceres and co. racing into the England squad, engaging in leg locks and repeated neck clinches felt particularly vicious. But this England team that I felt impelled to support have very little I can say in praise. They play reasonably well, are highly regarded in their individual club careers (each of them gets paid £30 million!!), but are simply not a team. They know how to look sorry after their match and are effectively the luckiest men in the world, who get paid a fortune to go and lose.
Somehow this one fact alone niggles away at me – for the many World Cup tournaments I’ve seen, the build up is always more impressive – there’s hope that it may happen. Coaches from far and wide have tried – from Northern Europe who spoke in strange English, from southern Europe with very little English and then a true blue English manager have had the responsibility to turn the fortunes of this sad squad. But England has never made any real mark and probably never will. For me, watching England play is depressing and more, quite confusing. I haven’t seen a more inept set of talented players. Fans who’ve travelled all the way to Brazil are probably “gutted” but are they really? Or is this a habitual ritual, a modern pilgrimage of witnessing the national team’s humiliation that satisfies a bizarre need to suffer in public and wallow in the misery of a glorious delusion, to do it all over again next time?