As I travel past the bright lights of the Wembley arch I reminisce about England and my years as a fan. A few things go through my head; past glories, favourite players, the old Wembley and the feeling the Twin Towers used to provoke. As I tune back in to my phone and read a status update from the England Facebook page that tickets for the Sweden game are still available, the nostalgia is lost and I realise how much supporting England has changed and how it isn’t what it used to be.
With this in mind I cast my mind back to Italia’90, to when England went out valiantly in the semi-finals of a tournament that they managed to light up, uniting a country in the process. I remember the feelings as I watched the games, the excitement and the emotions. I remembered how many people invaded Luton airport to welcome the team back to home soil when it was all over. This was the last team that, to my mind, truly represented the people, when football was just football rather than the unstoppable commodity that it has become now.
I don’t know an England fan that remembers Italia’90 and doesn’t think of Paul Gascoigne’s tears on the Stadio Delle Alpi pitch that fateful night. He was a symbol of the people, the tears were significant to everyone that watched the semi-final, and it summed up how the nation felt at the time and came from a player that would inspire a generation, a true people’s champion. We all felt at one with the England team, part of something collective, part of a fantastic story and part of something that felt amazingly English.
Players like Paul Gascoigne were superstars, but never seemed that different from you or me. Their lives weren’t stupidly flashy, they didn’t seem to have a chip on their shoulder because they had more money than your average man – they reflected English society with their effort and heart every time they stepped on the pitch during a tournament which since 1966, has been our best chance of success. More than that they kept it real, they didn’t live that differently to you and I, doing the things we like to do, living a ‘normal’ existence.
Fast forward to now and it is a very different picture. We have a team of under achievers who don’t portray the emotions and heart of old. Players that are paid more money to play football than their predecessors, but are more detached from reality and the supporters than ever before. During this economic downturn, where the average person has minimal amounts of money (if they are lucky to have a job), we see our heroes driving around in their flash cars, eating at the finest restaurants, buying the biggest houses, breaking the law and getting away with it and only working 5 hours a day – they difference between ‘the people’ and those that represent us in an England shirt is at an all time high.
The international stage should be all about the people. 11 players, the finest in the country, who represent their country with pride and passion, playing the rawest form of the game that still exists today, where money doesn’t and shouldn’t matter. International football is a totally different beast to its club counterpart and should be the only ‘retro’ form of football that remains and stays true to the game rather than the money.
International football, more specifically the FA, have an important task to play in preserving football by keeping the old school alive. The natioanl governing body should be the museum that houses the history, with the team on the pitch writing new chapters as they play, but doing it for the sake of the game rather than anything to do with business or money. We know the players give up their match fee’s to charity every time they play for England, it is only right, they are representing the people as the chosen few and there is no monetary value that could ever be placed on such a privilege.
Every time an England player pulls on that jersey he should remember the days of playing in the street as a kid, watching England on TV and pretending to be Gazza. A lot of England players always run with the line ‘it’s an honour to play for your country’, but very few seem to truly appreciate it. It was refreshing to hear Scott Parker, England’s Man of the Match vs. Spain, comment that:
“Whenever I put on an England shirt it is a proud moment for me. In one way, I have to pinch myself that I am going out to represent my country. You watch their (Spain) players on TV and it was a pleasure to play them in real life. To get the result is even better.”
Despite being a Premier League star, the sincerity of his comment shines through and after a stereotypically ‘English’ performance of grit, determination, and will to win (dare I say bulldog spirit?) against Spain, Parker optimises what playing for England should be about…pride and honour. It is a pity he entered the fray so late, as he would have been a much more all-encompassing and embracing captain and role-model than John Terry.
If the FA have got any sense (I know this seems far-fetched) then they will do everything they can to preserve the magical heritage of English football and that will start with an Englishman commanding the national team once more. I haven’t had a massive issue with a foreign manager until now…I now understand that to be English, understand the people, understand the heritage of the game and what an honour it is to represent a nation you have a belonging to, an Englishman must manage the team. Team talks should be about pride, honour and motivation more than they should be about tactics.
It is a pity Scott Parker has been largely undervalued for so long in the same way current Spurs manager and potential successor to Fabio Capello, Harry Redknapp, has – Parker’s playing career in a way is a reflection of his current managers managerial career…they both seem to be hitting their prime late, but are both unquestionably the epitome of English football, new and old.
Anyone under the age of 25 are unlikely to remember the times when football was pure, when supporting your country was something that wasn’t questioned and something people were proud to say. There is a generation out there who only know who Gazza is because their dad said he was a really good player! It is the FA’s task to educate younger generations about the history of the England team, to change the minds of those who don’t mind missing an England game nowadays because it doesn’t mean the same to them as it did before.
Club football is becoming a victim of its own success and this creates an opportunity for international football to be reborn. Despite the negativity towards the international game, if the FA pull their heads out of their arses, they will realise that the England national team is a platform where real football, as it was intended, can be pla. In the wake of remembrance Sunday and the poppy debacle, it is easy to see how our game is slipping away…it is up to us to keep the history strong until the FA realise that embracing the old and mixing it with the new is the only way to bring back the true honour and pride of representing your country.