I remember the England of my childhood.
David Beckham. Michael Owen. Alan Shearer.
I remember when Beckham took that free kick against Greece that curved out of the keeper’s reach and sent us to the World Cup.
And the celebrations!
The players were jubilant. Even watching on the television, you could sense the excitement – it was palpable. England fans across the country were celebrating – we are going to the World Cup.
And the countdown began.
Fabio Capello’s team of 2010, who went to South Africa with such optimism. We qualified with two games to go! And the expectation of what this manager and this squad could do was felt across the nation. It was good times.
Cut to 5th October 2017.
In front of a Wembley crowd with 20,000 empty seats. Tickets for a crucial qualifier being forced on people at £20 each.
It’s a drab match, with a poor performance. Harry Kane, however, sends us to Russia next summer with a stoppage time goal.
And the celebrations?
Well, there are none. Not really. A few handshakes from the players. A round of applause from the subdued Wembley crowd – a crowd that had been rendered so bored throughout the match, they had launched paper aeroplanes onto the pitch.
Where is the excitement across the country? The England flags? The pre-orders on the Panini sticker album?
People don’t seem to care anymore. And that was only highlighted further when we went to Lithuania and won by a penalty, against a national team that played in a stadium – and I use the term ‘stadium’ very loosely. Their ground had the capacity equal to that of a standard National Conference side.
There is no exciting play. There is no Beckham or Owen to get behind. There is no optimism to what we can achieve.
This, for me, stems back to the Iceland match at the last Euros. England fans had been let down time after time over the past two decades – but always against better teams. So when we go out against Iceland…
Loyalty wobbles. Interest wains. Eyes turn elsewhere.
There is no interest. The other day I wore an England top to play football, and another player, also English, said, “what are you wearing that crap for?”
You would never said that about your own team, but he was willing to say it about his country.
Just cast your mind back to 1990.
The pessimism that was felt after numerous let downs before that campaign.
The lack of belief in a side that had repeatedly given fans reasons not to get behind them.
We got to the semi-finals.
So there is reason to believe.