The Decline and Fall of the England Football Team
by Gavin Newsham
Atlantic Books, £20
Reviewed by Pete Green
From WSC 280 June 2010
Reading this book is like watching Seth Johnson against Paolo Maldini. It's a steady and accurate retelling of England's years of hurt, with details of each international tournament and some glimpses behind the scenes. But only the most passive of supporters and readers are content merely to know – the rest want to know why. To have any real value, a book of this sort needs the wisdom and guile to advance further, analysing and accounting for England's failure. And this is where Hype and Glory comes up short.
The problem is partly structural. Each chapter covers one manager's reign. Results fluctuate, newspapers scream, P45s follow. Then we move on to the next chapter and the next manager. The author paints himself into a corner with this format, as it permits him little space to ponder the longer-term footballing, social and cultural trends that might be holding England back. And what analysis there is seldom adds up. Steve McClaren's failure, "especially with the so-called ‘Golden Generation' of players at his disposal, was shocking", his very appointment "inexcusable". Yet just a page later the culprit is exonerated: "The truth, of course, was much simpler... England, as ever, simply weren't good enough."
This tendency to want it both ways becomes unsurprising when Gavin Newsham, a journalist, needs to examine the role of journalists. He rightly points out that Hoddle's infamous diary would once have passed below the radar, but in the Premier League-era media interest has "exploded beyond all reason". However, he also tries to justify the papers' perverse fixations: "It was hard not to find the real-life Carry On Soho Square that [Eriksson] was starring in absolutely compelling viewing." Was it? I don't know a soul who gave a damn where Sven put his cock.
Hype and Glory has its moments. One is its terse but lyrical critique of the FA: "16 Lancaster Gate was all mahogany and memories." At its best Newsham's wit is blunt and bathetic – post-Taylor, any manager is "only one result away from going out in a blaze of root vegetables". But sometimes it's scattergun prose firing wide. In Venables's vicinity legal claims "flew around like confetti". Praise for the 5-1 romp in Munich was "truly fulsome". Keegan's resignation is an "almost surreal moment".
For most fans, then, this volume will offer little fresh insight. We know Robson and Taylor were undermined by tabloid persecution, we know the papers forced Hoddle and Eriksson out of the job. We don't know why supporters endorse this process by continuing to buy tabloids. The Premier League was sold to sceptical fans on promised benefits to England. But it's the Premier League's hype and TV money that have set club football on a pedestal, from the players' perspective as well as the fans', yielding the kind of languid, injury-averse non-performances in England shirts that keep the national team down. Are England really underachieving, in fact, or are those quarter-finals about reasonable given the nation's population and resources? These questions and more are not answered here.