Would anyone have genuinely been proud last year to see Wayne Rooney and co. with the World Cup in their hands? My greatest fear, back when I was still filled with the usual optimism, was that Rio Ferdinand, then England captain, would follow in the hallowed footsteps of the great Bobby Moore. There would have been no escaping his smug, gormless image, strewn across the entire world’s media.
Rio is no hero. Thankfully, Emile Heskey, in his first moment of brilliance, put paid to that with a ruthless but effective challenge in training ending Ferdinand’s hopes of even a holiday to South Africa. These are not footballers to look up to. Rooney was arguably the world’s best footballer for a spell in the season leading up to the tournament, but I would have no pride in laying claim to Rooney as English. The nation is no longer proud of its football team. There are not the heroes that there used to be – no Shearers, no Beckhams, no Stuart Pearces. You could never have questioned Pyscho’s commitment.
What happened to the spirit of Euro ’96? Is it all Gareth Southgate’s fault for missing that penalty? Maybe everything would have been different if that had gone in, and we’d have gone into the penalty shoot outs that followed full of confidence. Was it Beckham’s moment of madness against the Argentinian’s, or was it was the knocking down of Wembley’s iconic Twin Tower’s that was the death of the Three Lions? The loss of pride in England’s national team reflects a terminal lack of pride in our nation as a whole. The fact is people just aren’t as patriotic anymore. I just got back from a month travelling around America, and believe me, you cannot move for the Stars and Stripes.
It has been approximated that there will be 100 million American flags sold this year. This figure sounds completely bonkers to the English who are only used to seeing our flag stuck on cars and flying from bedroom windows for about two weeks of the year, every two years. It is getting to such a stage, with public patriotism so low, that for many the first thing that springs to mind when seeing a Union Jack or St George’s cross is the despicable racism of groups such as English Defence League.
To concentrate on matters of sport, England no longer seems to produce the kind of players who inspire. There is a belief with some critics that the influx of foreign talent such as Gianfranco Zola and Dennis Bergkamp that the Premier League has brought will inspire players to become more interested in skill and the importance to entertain. However, it is one thing watching your heroes, and quite another being able to replicate it, as my Dad would often demonstrate in the back garden. No matter how much he idolised Georgi Kinkladze, the closest a player in the Premier League ever got to the style of Lionel Messi, my Dad was still unable to bring what he saw to the back garden. For any of you who can’t remember ‘Kinky’, I cannot recommend this video enough.
The fact is, it is players like this that England are missing. There hasn’t been an English player since Paul Gascoigne with the same thirst to run at defences.