Another England game and for many it leaves another feeling of slight depression.
Our response to the outcomes of football matches largely depends on what our expectations are. Hence, Scotland concede three at home and lose but come away feeling good about themselves because, in scoring twice and coming back from two nil down, they exceeded what they considered was likely or possible.
England, on the other hand, go into a game against Montenegro expecting an easy win and come away with a draw after a pedestrian performance. The press are tearing them to shreds again and no-one feels good about it at all.
It seems people never learn from the past. How many times does this have to happen before we will reset our England expectations? After every loss or every lack lustre performance, it is still said that England SHOULD be doing better than this. But why? It happens so often that it is obvious England’s mediocrity it is not a blip, it’s been this way for years and years. England occasionally play well, but mostly don’t. That is the long and bitter truth. Who can think otherwise?
So why is there a pre-game anticipation of anything else and why the post-match depression? Haven’t you been paying attention? Why did you think it would any different?
It matters not one jot that some England players play better for their clubs; that isn’t an excuse for thinking they will do as well for England. We have enough evidence garnered over many years to surely convince us all that for whatever reason, they probably will not play as well for England as for their clubs. We know that’s the truth, so why is it still a shock to some people?
And yet, like some weird kind of groundhog day, after every dull performance the English public and press is up in arms at the disgrace of being unable to beat a team that in truth most people knew nothing about and had formed a view of their quality based on almost nothing except that unfamiliarity. Time and again this happens; it’s like a mental illness, a form of madness.
I wouldn’t claim any special powers but even I, after four decades of watching the English do this to themselves, have stopped thinking we’ll be any good before the game and I have stopped the wailing and gnashing of teeth when we prove otherwise. This doesn’t take any wit or intelligence, it’s just recognition of what I’ve seen year in year out.
It doesn’t show lack of belief or ambition to think England won’t be that good, I want them to be and I know, now and again they will be, but I don’t expect it anymore. I expect games like the one we saw on Tuesday.
It’s disappointing that England are unexceptional but perhaps a more sane reaction would be to accept the fact, perhaps then the pressure of the players wouldn’t be so great and then perhaps, just perhaps, they could play with a degree more liberation.
We should all know that England’s problems are endemic and go right to the grass roots of the game, so please, let’s recognise that in our expectations of how the current squad will perform. Not to do so is simply perverse.
Editor’s Note: Johnny’s new book: “We Ate All The Pies: How Football Swallowed Britain Whole” has received the massive honour of being listed as one of William Hill’s Sports Book Of The Year 2010 – the biggest, most prestigious sports books prize in UK.