I suddenly remembered why I stopped watching England play football whenever possible about ten minutes before kick off last night.
I can say with absolute certainty that I watched every single England senior men’s team football match between around 1998 and the 2010 World Cup. I know because often times, when England were playing say, a really guaranteed to be dull friendly against Luxembourg, I would resolve to not watch it – until I found myself in a pub somewhere, watching the match, as if I had no will to resist. But the 2010 World Cup broke me; or more specifically, one particular match at that World Cup, England v Algeria on June 18th, 2010 in Cape Town.
It remains the worst game of football I have ever watched. Actually, scratch that: I don’t see how it will ever be possibly superseded as the worst match I’ve ever watched in future, so let’s just call it the worst football match of all time. Algeria came to get a point and parked the bus. England, weirdly, seemed to be playing for the same result, even though that made no sense. Although there had to have been some, I can recall no shots on goal from either side throughout. At the end, the England fans in the stadium booed. Rooney got irritated about it, even though had England won that match they would have won the group and then had Ghana followed by Uruguay as obstacles to the semi-final – as opposed to playing the Germans in the second round, who predictably whomped us 4-1.
Since then, I have watched England sparingly. And I rarely really enjoy it when I do. Last night, was a good example – I think the fact that it was England facing another north African team in the World Cup couldn’t have helped calm memories of 2010 for me. Worse, England played exceptionally Englandy throughout: an opening 20 minutes when there were enough chances for England to go up 4-0 up squandered, as if they just sort of exploded onto the pitch at the opposition; a very bad break crushing their collective will; a second half in which England loped around the pitch, seemingly exhausted. The thing that wasn’t very England about last night, however, was the result. England v Algeria wouldn’t be remembered as the match that broke my ability to obsessively watch England football matches if they’d managed to win 1-0 off a cheeky header from a corner in stoppage time, of that I feel certain. Last night, England slightly lost the plot in the second half of a World Cup match – and yet still managed to win nonetheless. When was the last time we saw that happen? 1990?
This is an England side it could be easy to get your hopes up over. Southgate is a very likeable, down to Earth bloke, who is miles away from either the continental coldness of a Sven or Capello, as well as from a Keegan or McClaren “Stevie G and I are BFFs” type of vibe. He just seems like a guy who has a job to do and wants to get on with it. The players seem to be responding well to this. There’s enough talent there that if they play as a unit, they could get to the quarters at least. But then again, maybe I’m just allowing myself to get carried away, something I always promise myself I won’t do every time the World Cup comes around – and then duly break that promise to myself at the first sign of hope.
While you’re here: I’ve written a new book called “One Last Number”, about what happens when the biggest pop star in the world kills himself live on stage, taking some of his fans along with him. It explores what can and cannot be considered real news in this day and age, and how the splintering we see within social media means we no longer have shared, collective narratives when large scale tragedies occur. Anyway, it’s being published through Unbound, where you have to sell enough advance copies before going to print. If you’re at all interested in “One Last Number”, check it out here: