Running Scared: England's National Team
One of the great conundrums of football is how a team of averagely talented players can sometimes play better and beat a team of superior players.
This is often especially the case during international weeks such as the one that has just happened. As you will be aware, England haven’t been playing well and the country, especially the tabloid media, is in full ‘get McClaren’ mode. It’s a nasty sight and it’s led to some very ugly scenes at the England games with fans booing players and the manager and generally behaving like the kind of people who appear on Jerry Springer to discuss why it’s a good idea for their sister to be a crack whore.
On these occasions in England, it is traditional to ask, how can put up such a good show when the supposedly superior England can’t even score against Israel.
This past week this has been said about Scotland and Northern Ireland who both had excellent results. Neither side is full of top talent but they play with a sweaty, well organized discipline and take their chances when they crop up. England is full of superior talent but has failed to perform.
But it’s not such a mystery that so-called poorer sides often play above their supposed level. It’s simply because there is far less pressure on them to do well. When you’ve got nothing to lose, it’s easier to play with freedom and commitment. England, by contrast, is expected both by fans and by the players themselves to win and win well every game.
This clearly, puts huge pressure on them and consequently they play with fear and negativity. They tend to choose safe options because they’re scared of making a mistake, letting in a goal and suffering precisely the fierce berating that we’ve seen in the press this last week.
This paranoia and inhibition has hampered England for 40 years. We’re scared; too scared to play and that makes us play badly which in turn attracts more criticism and that makes them even more scared and inhibited. It’s a vicious circle of defeatism that is only matched in its madness by the circle of over-rating that happens as soon as we play well and win a game by a few goals. Very soon we’re hailed as all conquering giants of the game destined to win the next big competition. No pressure boys!
It’s a form of sporting manic depression that does no one any favours. Were England to be less vaunted and if less was expected of them, they would, almost certainly achieve much more. But somehow English culture won’t let that happen. I suspect, with my psych-analysts pipe and slippers on, that it’s because as a nation we’re too much in love with cynicism and defeat and that we rather enjoy feeling bad about everything. Which when you think about it, is in itself a sort of madness. But it’s been this way for 40 years and I don’t see it changing any time soon.