It was going to be the single moment when my football dreams came true - as Peter Crouch took Beckham's exquisite cross on his chest and lashed the ball into the Croatian net. It was going to be the reject's revenge: the Steve Bull England goal, the Savo Wembley goal and a David Geddis winner, all rolled into one. It was going to ram those doubters' words down their throats with a sink-plunger. It was going to be one of the greatest football moments ever, as against all the odds England were going to qualify for Euro 2008, after one of the most unlikely comebacks, since Churchill returned from the wilderness. But for reasons best known to themselves, the England defence parted and the guy with the flu, sustained no doubt by illegal levels of Lemsip, rifled in a third, to kill off all hopes. With one decent shot Lemsipovic, whatever his name is, brought about what looked like a momentous tragedy but in fact, on later inspection, it turned out to be the culmination of the long-standing systemic error, which benights and besets the English international football set-up, from top to bottom.
It didn't start well. There before a global television audience was the New Wembley; the great sporting monument and symbol of national football pride; the great shrine to the birthplace of the world's favourite game and it looked like shit. The best part of a billion quid spent on a roof and it couldn't even keep the rain out. The great folly which had just about bankrupted the FA and had caused endless delay, turned out to be absolutely useless. Some bloke poked at the turf with a fork, like someone trying to improve the drainage of his potato patch. And then, horror upon horrors, in this much-vaunted place of football pilgrimage, where once the twin-towers had reigned, looking as glaring as a Shiva Linga in the Vatican, like a bad tattoo on a whores belly, were the markings from an American football game. Anathema!
The starting eleven consisted of a rookie goalkeeper behind a rookie defence, in the sort of conditions which would make the ball as slippery as a bar of soap and provide quick-sand underfoot. The midfield was that addled confection of Gerrard and fat Frank, with Barry left to do the guessing, as to where the two mavericks, might decide to wonder. The wingers were joker Joe and Wright Junior, while Crouch was to be the loan (very much alone) head-on-a-stick, isolated somewhere in the mud, of the Croatian's first third. The absence of Hargreaves' prophylactic presence (England's best World Cup player), looked ominous. After enjoying a glorious first five minutes, the midfield began to trip over each other and the team looked as headless as a Steinberger bass. I have never seen anyone look more frightened than the manager.
No George, It didn't turn out nice again, and I got a bit upset.
God save the team and their fascist regime We know you are morons, not out favourite sons God save the team, you ain't no human beings There is no future in England's dreamings Dont be told what you want dont be told what you need Theres no future no future no future for you God save the team cos the Euros meant money And our figureheads are not what they seem Oh God save history God save your mad parade Oh lord God have mercy all crimes are paid When theres no future how can there be sin Were the heroes in the dustbin Were the poison in your human machine Were the future your future God save the team we mean it man There is no future in englands dreaming No future for you no future for me No future no future for you
I never knew that that was such a beautiful song - it goes to show its all about presentation.
So who next? Do we learn from the Scots and not bother with the German experiment or the Italian experiment? Or do we find someone with a thick enough skin to put up with the morons of the Press, and experienced enough, to understand the morons in the squad? I would go for the latter. All footballers are a bit fick but all nation's footballers are fick in their own way. We need someone that understands English fickness and sensibilities and can lead them to greater glory than has hitherto been experienced, since hero Bob was held shoulder-high.
Let us assume for once that the turnover and availability of players, means that it is not possible to integrate every player into a variety of systems. Let us assume that that has never worked. Let us assume Shankly was right and play the same system at all levels and stick with it.
Let us not bother with catanacio, a sweeper system, or anything other than 4-4-2. Let us keep to a system that as many players as possible understand and can slot straight into. Let us pick a system which the least experienced player can understand. Let us assume that tactical changes are usually triggered by events in a game and cannot be worked out exactly in advance. Let us assume that most of the English players in the Premiership are centre-halves and let us assume that we have a shortage of world-class goal-scorers. Let us gear the whole set-up for the least able players, not the most talented. Because it seems that all too often the team's fate is decided not by the greatest but by the least. But most of all, let us assume that we can only play like the English and nobody else.
Now let us start again from scratch and for once do it right.