Hoping for England

Being a die-hard England fan is no walk in the park. The vastly underwhelming past decade or so of football has well and truly conditioned us to be deadly-efficient at sucking the tiny fragments and molecules of positivity from any situation, no matter how mortally depressing. We are in a sense much like the cacti in the desert that are able to somehow make a living in the most torrid of desert conditions. Sucking moisture from the dry sand.

Beneath the surface of habitual pessimism and the perennial ‘England are useless’ cliche, we have great hope that our national side might one day get its shit together.

A lot of this hope comes from the youth. There’s always some new kid on the block who bursts on the scene and sets the Premier League ablaze. Players like Sterling, Rashford, Ali, Stones, they seem to come around quite frequently.

Of course, we know that even if these players do develop into greats, it doesn’t mean they will do it for England. Look at Wayne Rooney, the bloke is the all time leading goalscorer, having scored more than Sir Bobby, but he’s done next to nothing in major tournaments, most of his goals coming from penalties against San Marino. He couldn’t hack it. But still, the arrival of the Messiah is always round the corner. A certain Harry Kane is stepping into those shoes nicely at the moment. He is proving to be unstoppable, and surely it won’t be long before he gets scooped up by the Galácticos and scales Alan Shearer-like heights.

But behind him and the new Tottenham wizz kids, we’ve got crop full of world beaters waiting to take their chance. Our under 17s just won the World Cup, and just about every other team below the 21s have excelled on the world stage this year. Let’s hope to God this Phil Foden lad and all of his mates get given the leg up they need. The potential is undeniably there. The signs are good. Let’s hope we don’t find a way fuck it up for them.

Every five years or so England managers are disgraced, and resign before being burned at the stake, and replaced with a whole new manager with a different ‘philosophy’ altogether. And with every new manager promises a complete squad overhaul and team revamp. This is of course a good thing.  It’s happened so many times now that one of these times the gamble has surely got to pay off. It has to happen eventually, that’s basic science. One day, the cogs will simple slide into place, and England will become a lethal footballing machine…

So we’ve been alternating between states of total, bone-crushing disenfranchisement, and latent bursts of flickering optimism. Now is certainly a period for the latter to dominate. Last night a diminished England team full of youngsters took on the world champions Germany and held them to a goalless draw at Wembley. We played pretty well in defence and attack and could easily have won the game, had we taken a few simple chances. The likes of Harry Maguire, Trippier, Abraham, Gomez and Ruben Loftus-Cheek rose to the occasion ( Ruben Loftus-Cheek. What the hell kind of name is that? It’s probably the wackiest name I’ve ever heard in my life, no word of a lie). Eric Dier is looking like everything we need in midfield right now,  John Stones is soon to become the most solid centre half in the Premier League. Vardy is a menace. Pickford has the makings of an excellent keeper. Despite the fact all of these didn’t look out of place on the night, we can’t help but think if we had super Harry last night the net would have bulged.

Watching Lingard miss that half volley inside the six yard box in the 93rd minute was typically exasperating. You’re watching it while it happens in real time and you just know it’s not going to go in. So you go up to the bar, and order a nice big pint of ale that you can’t really afford and you’re back in the real world with the rest of the shitmunchers.

Things can only get better from here and sooner or later we’re going to smash a chance like that into the roof of the net. We have the coolest manager on the planet, the best young talent, and are home to the finest league in the world. We even created this stupid game in the first place. We can’t keep letting the Germans have all the fun. It’s time for them to fuck off. They’ll surely get bored of it all soon anyway, and then it will be England’s time to take over the world…

That’s right, we always say it my fellow cacti, but there are some serious positives to suck from this England team, so get behind the lads because the good times are coming, you’d better believe it.

Gareth Southgate: The Cool Cat

When everyone’s having a hard time… when things are going bad… when the citizens have lost faith in their leadership… when Godzilla comes to town every two years and tears the place to pieces and you reconstruct the towers over and over again, only for them to be destroyed in that same fashion… an inescapable cycle… that’s right… when right in front of your eyes your dreams are pecked out of you like the very liver of Prometheus; left to suffer on the side of a mountain for eternity, his liver constantly regenerating, only to be ravished again and again by the vultures… a nation afflicted by an indomitable curse…you begin to question why you even bother anymore…

And then all of a sudden, a cool cat suits up, puts on his cufflinks and comes to the rescue.

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Now I was delighted when I discovered that Big Sam had become the manager. I thought he was the man for the job. I thought we could do with a bit of rigour, a bit of Big Sam-like ferocity. And what’s sad is, he wanted it more than anything. His whole career was leading up to that job and when he finally earned it, he was too stupid and too greedy to keep it. We became a managerless laughing stock. Candidates for the full time managerial position were a motley crew of rising and decaying stars, nobody striking as truly worth the cataclysmic investment needed for an official appointment- no Messianic figure was waiting in the wings. It was simply a case of; Gareth, you’re up.

Step up a charming young gentleman with greater experience than many might give him credit for. A vicious old school British centre half, reviled by some for his penalty miss, and revered by others (Villa and Boro supporters) for his inspirational captaincy, winning two League Cups and leading two small time clubs into the UEFA Cup. Some think that Gareth is a tame, docile beast, but some are wrong. Others know better, like Roy Keane for example, who still claims that the belligerent centre half attempted to break his legs, before stamping on him. You only need to look Gareth’s hair from those days to realise that that is the hair of a fucking nutcase.

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When then high-flying Boro manager, Steve Mclaren was called to take the England job, Gareth was called upon to manage the side at the age of thirty six — and seized the challenge with both hands– passing with flying colours for three seasons. Following this he took a break to relax, drink lager and think tactics. Three years later, he took control of the U21 side, gaining a vast knowledge of the youth of English football in a successful three year stint.

With 2016 came the biggest hurdle of all, the footballing job of everybody’s nightmares. Like us, Gareth has seen England managers come and go and ebb and flow and rise and fall to their deaths. They have a habit of signing off in the most ignominious of circumstances, desperately clutching an umbrella, resignation speech prepared pre-match, or negotiating a needless trip to the Middle East with a fictional agency in an upmarket boozer.

But Gareth was not daunted by the liquid of the poisoned chalice. The country called for Gareth, and Gareth did what was right. With a truly Gareth-esque swagger he grew a beard and took responsibility. To accept all of the aforementioned positions inherently implies inborn leadership skills, but more importantly; the man is ice cold in the face of a challenge, and not afraid to lay down his life for the cause.

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Even contemplating Gareth is enough to get me thinking up a bunch of words I associate with him that I’d never normally get to use – Gareth is saviur faire in the way he conducts himself in interviews, he appears suave in his risky, debonair waistcoat, Gareth is aplomb in the way he carries his body as he walks up to the touchline, Gareth oozes sangfroid from his pores. He is cooler than the proverbial cucumber.

The curse may not withdraw. We may go down like we always have, the doomed nation, shackled to disappointment. But I say if we are going to go down, we might as well go down under the leadership of a cool cat. And as we’ve agreed, that is certainly what we’re dealing with here.

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