THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Josh Widdicombe knows how unattractive, overpaid and self-important England are, but he’s still going to support them

It was in the 20 or so minutes between Germany’s fourth goal and the full-time whistle that I decided I had finally had it with supporting England. It was the same decision I made four years ago – when defeat on penalties to Portugal finally opened my mind to the fact that England had been rubbish for the whole World Cup – but this time I told myself I definitely meant it. Maybe.

A lot of my friends had previously meant it when they said they had given up supporting England, whether the final nail in the coffin had been Sven’s celebrity XI, McClaren’s shower or just Skinner and Baddiel. When you asked these people if they were excited about the World Cup they would talk about “the Spanish team’s unique interpretation of the beautiful game” or “Lionel Messi’s low centre of gravity”, while they “couldn’t wait for England to be eliminated, so we can get past the circus and just enjoy the football”.

Talking to people who have stopped supporting England is like talking to people who have quit smoking, with them forever telling you how much better everything now is and urging you to have the willpower to follow their example. With a mixture of contempt and pity they ask if we realise that England play ugly football, that the players are over privileged millionaires or that supporting them aligns you with jingoistic tabloid hysteria?

Of course I know this, but to be honest I don’t really care. Is anyone really under the impression that supporting a football team is ever the result of a logical argument? All my best memories of football are rooted in emotion, not logic. I don’t daydream about Xavi’s pass completion ratio or Joachim Löw’s tactical acumen. However much you appreciate the technical side of football, it is never going to compare to the joy of your team scrambling an undeserved victory.

One of the first things that attracted me to football during my cliched first hit of Italia 90 was the joy of the shared experience. And football still provides no greater shared experience than supporting England at a major tournament, the only real time that almost everyone you know is on the same side.

It may have its tacky elements (small flags on cars, tabloid nonsense, John Terry), it can be hugely depressing and it can put you in the company of idiots – but, as someone who didn’t enjoy the Takes That’s comeback singles, supporting England in the World Cup is the closest I am going to get to feeling part of a big national event. And while the idea of a shared national experience may conjure up grim images of royalists in Union Jack hats cheering the marriage of Charles and Di, if you put your cynicism aside you will find it is actually quite good fun.

And anyway, the argument against supporting England is built on a huge double standard between domestic and international support. “How can you support that bunch of overpaid spoilt brats?” ask the doubters, referring to the same bunch of brats that are supported without shame by fans of their domestic sides every week of the year. Does Steven Gerrard become any more moral when he plays for Liverpool than when he plays for England? I’m not sure he does. However, if someone abandoned their club team because they didn’t like the attitudes of the current squad they would be accused of a lack of loyalty.

When England were eliminated a lot of people told me they were glad because they didn’t deserve to win the World Cup, it would have been bad for football if they did. To be frank, watching this overblown FIFA shindig with its official tyre manufacturer, I am not sure football was going to come out in a good state whoever won it.

Bad teams winning tournaments doesn’t change football for the worse – the FA Cup didn’t have to struggle back from Wimbledon’s victory in 1988. What’s more, were there any former Wimbledon supporters who had abandoned the club due to its poor playing style bemoaning that football was the loser as Dave Beasant saved John Aldridge’s penalty?

Renouncing England after the defeat to Germany I felt like someone who comes out of another messy break-up and claims they have given up on relationships forever. But then, after a while, the pain fades and you start to wonder if maybe the next time it will be the one. And while it will probably end in disappointment and it may be easier to just not get involved, I would prefer to take the gamble that one time it may just all work out perfectly.

From WSC 282 August 2010

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