Too many papers and websites were interested in everything but the teams actually playing at Euro 2008, Ian Plenderleith discovers

England may not have played any football at Euro 2008, but their representatives did them proud. The members of the media who travelled to Austria and Switzerland could not get England off their minds. The Independent’s Nick Townsend was so taken with the Germany v Portugal quarter-final that he wondered if there was “anyone sitting at home seriously bemoaning the fact that Becks and the boys were not there to enliven things”. Fuelled by the fresh Alpine air, he mused on how the atmosphere might have been sullied by England travelling “as always, not in hope but in a heady atmosphere of lager-fuelled, St George flag-strewn expectation”.

The Mirror’s Oliver Holt was also applauding his compatriots’ enforced stay-at-home summer, tapping into the counter-populist vein with the attractive but impossible to prove speculation that “maybe it’s because England aren’t there in Austria and Switzerland that it seems to be such an uplifting festival of football”. Brian Moore at the Telegraph consoled himself at England’s no-show by harrumphing that at least “we do not have to listen to rubbish on radio phone-ins. Callers should have an IQ test before anyone is put on air.”

One dissenter was blogger Oli Dinsmore at the Footballing World website, who’d tired of the better-without-England view. Why had we bothered to enter the qualifiers at all, he wondered, and why had we been so irate when we failed? And “if our inherent loyalties matter not, and it’s solely aesthetic beauty that we crave, then why don’t we all just go down The Tate instead and have done with it? It’s free, and there are no commercial breaks.”

Dinsmore may have touched on a sub-­conscious dishonesty in the papers’ clamour to claim that an England-free European Championship was an all-round better product. For the writers could not break free of a longing to mention home at any given opportunity, no matter how irrelevant. Tim Rich began his match report on the Turkey v Croatia quarter-final in the Daily Telegraph with: “Croatia eliminated England from Euro 2008 and they were eliminated as England so often are – on penalties by a side they should have beaten.” Two mentions of England and we hadn’t even reached the end of the first clause of the first sentence.

“Croatia have guts, too, England know that,” wrote Martin Samuel in passing on the same game in the Times. On the same website, the Sunday Times’s Joe Lovejoy managed two sentences of praise for Russia following their defeat of Holland before he got down to the most important point: “Russia were marvellous. A credit to themselves, to their intelligent, resourceful management and to their domestic club football. Not one of their squad plies his trade in the Premier League – a situation that is certain to change.”

Meanwhile, Spain, according to the Daily Mail’s Matt Lawton, saved us from a certain catastrophe by eliminating Italy in the ­quarter-finals: “Had it not been for Cesc Fábregas and his ability to convert what was his first-ever penalty here in Vienna on Sunday night, the Premier League’s representation in the latter stages of this tournament would have been pretty thin.” And what would we have written about then?

What were writers doing for content besides desultory previews, England stories, Premier League transfer rumours, or manically posting in-game commentaries on their blogs while everyone else was watching TV? Soccerlens, purveyors of “football news you can trust”, was also one of several sites looking to mask its lack of insight by publishing pictures of attractive female fans. Close to the end of the tournament it summarised matters thus: “We’ve seen our fair share of beauties in the stands and on the streets as women from all over Europe have trekked to Swiss-Austria to be part of the Euros.” The Soccerlens gallery includes several shots consisting of nothing but cleavage. Maybe they should rename their site Soccer Voyeurs, the site for perennially single fans.

Comedy site The Onion Bag at least injected a veneer of self-parody by having a country-based knockout of models, proceeding to a final. The Mail website went with a lengthy and tedious pictorial pre-tournament feature aimed at waking up the English public with the question: “Still don’t know who to support at Euro 2008? The horde of continental WAGs about to hit Austria and Switzerland might just help make your mind up.”

Matt Lawton’s blog on the same site mentioned his visit to a bar in Vienna “that was suddenly invaded by half the Turkish squad and, dare I say it, their very classy looking WAGS”. Apparently the Turkish players were more interested in “talking to their glamorous other halves and singing traditional Turkish songs than studying the brilliance of Andrei Arshavin” on the flat-screen TV showing Holland v Russia. There’s a shocker – some footballers preferred a night off with their partners to watching more football. Maybe they’d been inspired by the Mail’s incisive investigative piece into the “horde of continental WAGS”. There’s some hope, though – none of the above attempts at attracting the Kleenex-clutching demographic managed to garner a single reader response. Not even a tired “phwooargh”. It’s time for a new online ladzine – Overloaded.

From WSC 258 August 2008

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