England’s qualification for the 2010 World Cup was deemed important enough to knock even current tabloid fixation Jordan off the front pages. To qualify with eight consecutive victories, scoring 31 and conceding only five, is indeed an impressive feat and the manner in which qualification was confirmed, with a resounding victory, was also noticeably un-English. In the immediate aftermath the papers quietly acknowledged that overhyping the national team has been counter-productive in the past. But they were completely unable to resist the temptation to do so again, sometimes even on the same page as the pleas for restraint.
There had been plenty of time for Africa-related puns to be carefully crafted and stored for use in such an event. Judging by the following morning’s headlines, however, England’s success took some by surprise. The Mirror went for the distinctly limp Bok of the net and That veldt good. The front page of the Sun, meanwhile, offered a list of South African items, including Zola Budd and wildebeest. This was coupled with a pun, Get de beers in, so forced it had to be explained on the same page.
Across the coverage there was a set of common themes. A major one was “exorcising” or, more prosaically, gaining revenge over Croatia – England had Stoned The Cros. Everywhere were comparisons between the “genius” that is Fabio Capello and Steve McClaren – forever doomed to be a fool with an umbrella. There was sudden optimism over Aaron Lennon’s pace and several comparisons with the watching Usain Bolt.
England had developed special powers too – according to Sam Wallace in the Independent the understanding between Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard was “uncanny, some secret Scouse wavelength”. While there was some doubt over the role of Emile Heskey, the fact that both Frank Lampard and Gerrard scored was enough to guarantee a general mood of self-congratulation and a firmly held opinion that England are now “world class” – the team that “nobody will want to meet”.
Some of English football’s big personalities rushed to confirm this. Even by his standards it was a hectic couple of days for Ian Wright. Having been caught up in the row over African football academies he had claimed: “To be accused of raping a country and exploiting the kids is a disgusting, cheap shot. I will not stand for it.” A day later he’d cheered up, telling the Sun: “What a wonderful world! Suddenly England is the best place on planet footie... These players are good enough to win the World Cup.”
In the same paper a beaming Harry Redknapp caught a similar mood: “Why on earth shouldn’t we talk up the best England squad since 1970... We have a group of players which cannot be bettered by anyone.” The Tottenham manager went on state, twice, that foreign defenders can’t cope with Spurs’ own Peter Crouch.
Many are now counting down to the World Cup opening ceremony on June 11, 2010. After the final two qualifying matches however there is the small matter of England’s first ever game in Qatar – a friendly against Brazil in Doha on November 14. If England’s opponents win comfortably expect an outpouring of doubt over a lack of understanding in the team, the Lampard/Gerrard problem and that inscrutable foreign manager. Ed Upright
From WSC 273 November 2009