Tag Archive | "england team"

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Anyone But England: English Football Fans in Scotland

Posted on 25 February 2010 by JamesHamilton

It wasn’t so long ago when the English felt free to mock inhabitants of Her Majesty’s erstwhile and remaining possessions(start at 2m 16 secs)…

..and going further back still, most early histories of the Football Association refer to Scottish professional players in alienating terms: they were foreigners, come from outside to take the shilling and pollute the holy amateur game of England.

Those Edwardians angry at the incomers were administrators and (a few) journalists. There’s no hint that the Preston or Blackburn or Villa fan at the turnstile minded their Scottish players at all. And one hundred years on, I don’t even want to contemplate what the Football League would have lost had it not enjoyed Nevin, Dalglish, Law, Alex James and what must be thousands of others.

Some Scottish fans will know how hard many English find it, to feel how they’d like to feel about the Premier League and the England national team. “Is Wayne Rooney England’s only likeable player?” asks Football 365. “Anyone But England” has never hurt less than it does now. What might have been an insult of real force – when an England team could contain a Charlton brother, a Brooking, a Mick Mills or a Gordon Banks – now sounds, in the era of Cole, Terry, and Ferdinand, no more than a sound but slightly exaggerated opinion that many disillusioned Englanders quietly share.

“Anyone But England” isn’t, of course, anything to do with the rise and fall of the England moral barometer. Neither is it reciprocated. There are a few English fans who become exasperated enough by ABE to stop actively supporting Scotland’s teams in European or international competition, and a small number who go further and cheer on Scotland’s opponents. But we really are talking about very tiny minorities: the English tradition is to support the other British Isles nations and, where available, other Anglophone countries too (USA excepted, if not by me personally).

Not all English traditions are so evenhanded. Especially when it comes to other countries, and that’s why I’d defend Scotland’s silent but mutually-reinforced decision not to adopt this one. Nevertheless, it’s true to say that Scottish fans can go to English pubs to cheer Scotland on and, for the most part, not have to give it a second thought. What happens to England fans, going to Scottish pubs, to cheer on England? I’ve done it, and here’s what I have to say:

The number of Scots who express ABE in anger is vanishingly small, and any discussion of ABE on talkboards will attract comment from Scots who disagree with it and dislike it as a childish hangover and a block on Scottish development.

The golden rule about ABE is that it must be expressed in a humorous tone. Serious use of ABE is considered de trop. But so is energetic argument against it from an Englishman, which is why the wearing of an England shirt in a Scottish pub, whilst unlikely to inspire anything worse than brief comment, is seen as inappropriate, a misjudgement of the situation. That shirt, there, is such an energetic argument.

You are highly unlikely to meet anyone who wants to press the ABE point  even amongst those Scots for whom ABE is an important fact of life. The conversation always moves on. There are other things to talk about, and this is especially so when it comes to football.

Much ABE isn’t about England at all. It’s not about hating the elderly in their freezing deckchairs at Morecambe, for goodness’ sake,  or a playground of children in Gateshead or a Leytonstone mum struggling to stretch her pennies. And there’s always a note of regret behind the humour, a sorrow that Scotland isn’t better than she is, an indefinable if-only..

The expression of a small measure of ABE is expected of you if you are Scottish and part of a group of fans whose teams have made contact with the auld enemy. But you don’t actually have to believe it. And you are, remember, expected to use inverted commas as you say it. Fail that test and it isn’t ABE at all, but something more serious, something nastier that Scottish football is keen to leave in the past.

ABE is not a first-order expression of Scottish nationality. It isn’t the equivalent of wearing a kilt, or a Scotland shirt, or of flying the flag of St Andrew or making a Burns Night toast or climbing your last Munro. Next to these things, ABE is a ginger wig on match day, ABE is an inflatable haggis.

In this sense, then, wearing an England shirt in a Scottish pub is a betrayal of the principles of ABE - it’s missing the joke, missing the point, ignoring house rules. You’re unlikely to get any worse for it than a comment or two, if even that. But you’ll have insulted your hosts. Your England shirt – boorish and aggressive in most places even in England – is a tiresome, humourless and provocative rag up here. It is, above all, boring, dull as a wet day and just as depressing. Don’t forget, either, that there are still amends to be made, all around the world, for what louts in England shirts did in the years between the Heysel ban and the Beatles last LP. This is not just about Scotland.

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Alf Ramsey Picks The Team: Prologue

Posted on 21 December 2008 by JamesHamilton

He wasn’t first choice: that was Jimmy Adamson of Burnley. And when the job offer did come, he didn’t agree straightaway. Alf Ramsey had enough about him to negotiate, and, courtesy of those elocution lessons he always denied, the voice to do it with. In 1962, these words were not blindingly obvious:

I think an England manager must make up his mind what players he has and then find a rigid method for them to play to. If any player, no matter how clever an individual is not prepared to accept the discipline of the team’s method then I can see no advantage in selecting him.

The football conundrum is that it is a team game with all the room in the world for individual expression. The weight has to go somewhere. In England, with a traditional dribbling game, it went to the individual. In Scotland, with a traditional passing game, the team was more the thing. Ramsey hated Scots. But he thought like a Scot about England.

To get him, the FA had to change the habits of ninety years. No more selection committees. Ramsey was to be in total charge of tactics and team selection.

That was more than a change in manning and demarcation. It completely altered the cultural place of the England team in the national game. The selection committee, with Walter Winterbottom’s involvement, would try to put together a winning side, true. But an England shirt was also seen as a reward for service. And there was a pork barrel element to it too: committee members would favour players from their own clubs. All this would now stop, and something else take their place.

But Ramsey’s desire to pick the team himself didn’t make the complete sense in 1962 that it makes now. There was still very little football on television, and what there was was insufficient for tactical analysis or judgment of players or the spotting of new talent. The England manager would need a thousand scouting eyes. He’d need to attend matches as often as he could.

In 1962, with the maximum wage only just abolished, football club squads were far larger than they are today – probably at least twice the current size. They would be predominantly English. Furthermore, the retain-and-transfer system, which still had a year to live,  meant that a lot of top talent was trapped in the lower divisions. Picking the best squad from such a throng, let alone the best side, was a formidable task.

By 1962, too, the war babies were coming into England contention. They were the best fed generation before or since, and their crucial street football years had been clear of cars. Hungary aside, the South Americans, who’d sat out 1939-45, dominated post-War football. By 1966, England would have a new group ready to take them on. And what a group it was: between 1966 and 1972, the First Division had enough talent to carry seven different title winners, all of them memorable sides.

What’s more, this group were in receipt of better training and tactics that any previous English players. Ramsey himself had played in both the 1-0 defeat to the USA in 1950 and in the 6-3 Hungarian disaster. He wasn’t the only man in English football to spend the ’50s suffering from and obsessing over these experiences. Joe Mercer and Walter Winterbottom went into the schools to institute Jimmy Hogan-style skills training; Stanley Matthews pioneered modern playing kit; Don Revie brought Hungarian ideas to Manchester City. And the clever Scots, Busby and Shankly, had arrived.

By the end of the 1960s, the culture would have changed, and working class male talent went, successfully but with no track record, into music. But before the decade was out, England would send a team to the top of the world and bring it safely back again. Four times. Once before Ramsey, in 1961, Winterbottom’s last great side with the young Jimmy Greaves. In 1964, the year of Johnny Byrne. In ’66. And – it’s right by my calendar – 1970.

It was done despite a querulous press corps (“What’s it about, Alfie?”) and some spectacular condescension from television and middle class media. It ends, as we’ve seen, in endless remembrance, celebration and a lifetime of receiving lifetime awards.

Ramsey took over in May 1963. 1961 had been great, but better was to come.

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England and the World Cup: A Longer View

Posted on 26 June 2006 by JamesHamilton

I’m not going to enter into any detailed analysis here, but these are some pointers as to why I think England have only one World Cup star on their shirts:

  • England’s best teams have almost always peaked outside World Cup years – the 46-48 side, the 60-61 team, and the 75-78 side that Revie never picked are just 3 examples.
  • Although the press and the fans prioritise World Cup success, the FA haven’t on the whole, preferring to see the England team as an enjoyable adjunct to the real business of maintaining the best grass-roots game in the world. Choosing the England manager has been a case of finding someone who will take care of far more than just the international side – one reason among others for the appointment of Bobby Robson and Ron Greenwood; similarly, the non-appointment of Brian Clough.
  • For the first half of the twentieth century – the half that gave Italy two of their three World Cups, and Uruguay one half of theirs – England were quite correct to focus on the Home Championship as their source of international competition. Between 1900 and 1920, other international matches – such as the Olympic tournaments – were far too one-sided. England, with a fully-fledged league system behind them, got into double figures frequently, and ended up sending an amateur team to the Olympics just to make things more competitive. Between 1920 and 1950, things were a little closer – but when Italy brought their “World Champions” to England, they resorted to thuggish tactics simply to keep England in sight. After the war, England became far more involved in international football, but before 1950 the story was much the same – easy victory. It’s forgotten that England’s defeats abroad – to Spain, for example – were defeats for what was almost certainly a badly hung-over team who were treating the trip as a holiday yet playing hyped-up super-motivated opposition for whom the game was the highlight of their lives.
  • What’s seen as England’s fallow period since 1970 was in fact very short – lasting perhaps from 1972 and the Netzer game at Wembley, to 1977 and the defeats to Italy. It’s a period coinciding with Ramsey’s decline and Revie’s failure to pick a team from perhaps the best generation of skilful, inspiring footballers England’s had since the War. The anxieties and lack of confidence that were born in that period are still with us today, and are reflected in the bizarre, Cassandra-esque reporting of international matches. I believe that England teams have, until Eriksson, played at 5-10% below their real ability as a consequence of this. By contrast, our success in European club football in the 1970s raised confidence and expectations to such a degree that a mediocre side such as the Aston Villa of 81-2, or the talent-limited Forest teams of 78-9, could expect to win European cups and do so, repeatedly.

It sounds strange to say it, but behind all of this is an unexpected truth: we have cared less than other countries about winning the World Cup. Mexico have gone home already, but their team had six months together to prepare; we negotiated an extra week. During tournaments, there’s a lot of huffing and puffing in the media, but the fact is that we can put up with not winning – and that’s why we don’t.

Four years ago, Clive Woodward decided that nothing was going to stand in the way of England’s rugby men winning the ultimate title, and that was the beginning of a quite extraordinary and utterly focussed effort that just – by the skin of the teeth – succeeded. Such was the mental energy expended that the side have since gone into colossal decline, and have no chance of defending their title next year. Likewise, the England cricket team won the Ashes through what appears now as a moment of decision – that it mattered at the ultimate level to win, and it mattered now. Since then… it’s all gone away. In both rugby and cricket teams, the vital players have been missing through injury almost ever since.

If England win – and they seem to have a similar outlook to the rugby and cricket teams – you can almost guarantee four years of total mediocrity afterwards. You can probably guarantee it anyway – Erickson’s successor has been chosen, not to win trophies, but to facilitate the development of a new generation of English coaches. It needs doing, but it’s not a goal shared by the press or the fans.

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