Even then the win against Sweden had me squawking like an angry macaw at the bastards in navy blue with sky blue trim (and how weird does that kit look, eh?). First 45 minutes, all fine. We can’t keep the ball but neither can Sweden. It was like they were all playing for charity. Still it’s a short journey from Gerrard’s Cross to Carroll’s Noggin and England go 1 up.
Ten minutes into the second half England give the space of Hyde Park to rampaging Viking Incarnate Olaf Mellberg and we’re 2-1 down. Cue Wearguard Woy being decisive and positive: Milner goes off having played like a cotton town on its last legs (bags of industry, no end product) and on comes Theo Walcott, who reminds me of one of them Mazda sports cars: he’s fast, smooth, difficult to catch but everyone knows it’s not a real sports car.
Now once I’d recovered from chewing fingernails, fag-ends and a good proportion of the rug in the front room, I started to get that awful feeling again. You know the one? When images borne on sun-kissed clouds waft across the windows of your mind. Images of white-clad lads, lions in triplicate about their stinking nylon shirts, holding aloft some kind of bauble or trinket. They are smiling, they are triumphant, and fuck me, they’re English!
Before the Sweden game I looked at the England subs bench and it could not have looked thinner if it had been adorned by cover models for Vanity Fair. There are still obvious problems with the team: John Terry could be out sprinted by a broken-winged swallow at the moment (I’d be playing Jagielka meself); Gerrard feels wasted playing deep; and Ashley Young looks more nervous than a stray Corgi in a Korean kebab shop.
Then again, the upside is that England scored three without their ‘talisman’ (ridiculous football-speak meaning ‘best player’ which in Rooney’s case isn’t backed up by recent performances in an England shirt); the scorers were all between 21 and 23 years of age; and hellfire we’ll have Spain in the quarters so really it’s not that important what happens so long as these young lads keep getting a kick.
So, yes, low expectations, but no, not remotely downbeat. I think the FA have to be congratulated on not going for Redknapp who, given the strange bumptiousness of his departure from White Hart Lane, was probably going to be the right man at the wrong time. Certainly the media would have been jollied up and over-optimistic, 'Arry would've been unable to resist givin' it large and we’d have never had this quiet acceptance of over-achievement by modest players.
As for the rest of the tournament, I think you’ll find I’d pointed y’all in the direction of Russia’s inevitable demise. Germany continue to feed the posse of pundits with the usual clichés. They know how to win, they’re never beaten, they’re organised, efficient… they also happen to be really bloody good but let's not let that get in the way of an old-fashioned stereotype. Hellfire even Vieira was joining in with it. (Disappointing to see Keane and Vieira sharing a TV studio without anyone having the wit to order some pizza at half-time).
Spain’s little ninety-minute keep-ball session against Ireland was one of the more one-sided affairs I’ve ever seen in world football. And with Torres looking more confident they might yet have someone who can finish of all the pretty patterns with a proper punch. I know the stats for Xavi are always amazing but we have to remember that he never passes it more than ten yards. And given the way he shoots I sometimes wonder whether he can kick it much further.
Holland left in trudging oblivion. Good. I still haven’t forgiven Van Marwjick for besmirching the good name of Dutch footy with that cloak and dagger clobbering they tried to give Spain in the World Cup Final.
Portugal and Germany are shoo-ins for the semi-finals now; Spain’ll join them, as will France or Italy; all of which makes for a bleeding wonderful spectacle for us. My only fear is that the closer the final, the worse the theatrics.
It hasn’t been too bad – indeed Gerrard’s star jumps have been up there with the best – but there are some knobheads who roll around the floor like they’ve injured themselves in an accident at a timber yard. I mean that old duffer who Nalbandian scarred at Queen’s Club yesterday would’ve been doing sixteen somersaults around the park had he been wearing a Croatian football shirt.
The greatest disappointment thus far has been the bottling of it by Poland, both in their first game and their last. Neither the Czechs nor the Greeks could intimidate a flock of sheep, and yet the Poles wilted under the weight of expectation in a way England’s golden generation could only sit back and admire.
The golden generation has of course pretty much gone. At last. This new generation needs a less blingy epithet – one more in keeping with Cameron’s England. It’s the Tinfoil Generation; shiny, modest and surprisingly useful.