Because Steve Nash Likes It
An insider’s look at the comings and goings of the World Cup.
JUNE 19, 2010: The Sun Most Certainly Sets on the British Empire
I was already prepared to write a story on the state of English fandom following the painful performance of the lads last night in Cape Town. I suppose Wayne Rooney’s passing comments as he left the pitch have only magnified what was already a bizarrely tense relationship between team and nation.
There were thousands of Brits in Cape Town, stampeding the most popular watering holes down at the marina and up on Long Street before even the sun had properly woken up and stretched its legs. Some dressed as crusaders, a few painted head to toe, little kids and old men alike with St. George’s Cross etched on their faces. Most were in good spirits, friendly enough in their sparring with the outnumbered Algerians that had made their way down from the north end of the continent. The highest intensity displays of xenophobia were aroused only when a few Germans innocently stumbled in to the crowd, where they were immediately welcomed with songs glorifying the English Royal Air Force’s World War II escapades against the marauding Nazi forces.
There was, however, a lot of booze downed in the dangerous seven to ten hour window that the 8:30 kick-off allowed. The skinny, pre-pubescent physiques of some of the shirtless patrons shooting back pints seemed like it might be problematic for the stadium decorum to come (not to mention the glistening braces of a good few; they must not be on the National Health Care System, we all know that doesn’t provide for dental), but shit, it is the World Cup. As match time approached, the frequency of f-bombs, c-bombs (if you don’t know what a c-bomb is, it is a very frowned upon synonym for the vagina in the US of A), f’ing c-bombs, and the relatively harmless ‘bastaaads’ the English so love made a noticeable increase.
Sitting in a section of English fans, the dense smell of beer was tangible, like you could grab it, push it, bottle it, cut through it with a machete; there was no avoiding its reach. The place was loud, the singing of ‘God Save the Queen’ immense. They were ready for blood, a vintage Frank Lampard rip from 25 out in the first few minutes to send them in to riotous euphoria. But when England struggled to find a rhythm in the early minutes, struggled to hold possession against the quick and inspired Algerians, the mood in the stands shifted sharply.
Impatience was first manifested in the grumbling building from all corners of the stadium. This anxiety fused with the already strangely unconfident play of the team, growing and growing with each stifled attack and listless loss of the ball.
‘GET FUCKING HESKEY OFF THE FUCKING PITCH.’
‘WHAT THE FUCK ARE THEY DOING? WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?’
‘I’D BE TEMPTED TO TAKE FUCKING ROONEY OFF. HE IS FUCKING USELESS.’
‘LAMPARD IS COMPLETE SHITE. I CAN’T BELIEVE I PAID ALL THIS MONEY TO COME AND WATCH THIS SHITE.’
Semper Fidelis it was not. These and other similar utterances echoed throughout my section before the whistle for half-time had even blown. By the twentieth minute, you could see the pressure weighing down on the English players, gesturing at one another in disbelief, shouting, and throwing up arms in bewilderment as yet another simple pass didn’t connect. When the players did leave the field for the fifteen minute interlude, they were sent-off with a loud chorus of boos. Heads were hanging, body-language negative and defeatist.
On the other end, the Algerian players were swarming about, encouraging one another with thumbs up and congratulations upon big tackles and incisive balls in to the English defense. Ryad Boudebouz was the best player on the pitch for the duration, aggressively taking on defenders with his quick first step and clever changes of direction. The Algerian cohesion on both sides of the ball far surpassed anything seen from their opponents, and had they shown a bit more composure in the front third, they might have stolen a victory. Furthermore, their fans felt the momentum native to the hard-fighting underdog and helped push their team on to what was a fair result at the very least.
For the much maligned, rancorous British fan, I must say, their team did play the match in a Percocet-esque (perhaps even oxycodonin) coma state similar to the haze of the Larry Brown New York Knicks. There was a fundamental lack of urgency to all their movements, whether in making the appropriate runs for crosses or fetching the ball for a throw-in. The whole effort was apathetic. Drained from the arduous Premiership/Champion’s League schedules and the burdensome emotional strain of carrying an entire nation’s sensationalistic expectations/venomous pessimism looks to have left them a disheveled bunch.
Where they go from here is anyone’s guess, but they are spiraling. There is something about the English football mindset that does not inspire fear like their fellow European-World-Cup-champion-pedigree breathren. Yes, arrogance and entitlement are expressed in calling their football governing body the Football Association (as opposed to every other country which calls their’s in one wording or another the German Football Association, the Brazilian Football Association, etc), and do form part of the country’s founding mythology. Originators of the sport, they still feel a superiority and ownership of football despite the nature of the game allowing for an indigenous and cultural redefinition of it in every place it gets established. With the Premiership the top club league in the world top to bottom (although that may change with financial problems at Liverpool and Manchester Utd as well as increasing income tax rate in the UK possibly driving big name players to Espana, Italy, etc), they can puff out their chest a little further.
But competing with the smug self-absorption that their sensationalist media so propagates is also an underlying and inescapable feeling of fatalism. As Dempsey’s relatively innocuous try from the top of the box trickled past yet another English goalkeeper unprepared for the world stage, there was a pre-2004 Red Soxian grown of inevitability. The deepest stream of consciousness of every English supporter runs something like this: ‘Of course they would fuck up. They always do. Why the fuck did this have to happen against those loud, brutish Americans? Those new money charlatans? Bloody hell. Not on Maggie Thatcher’s watch. Tea, crumpets, rain. Tea, crumpets, rain’
The moment something ominous appears on the horizon, the narrative in their media, fandom, and perhaps within their team (though I think Capello is well-suited to reverse this confidence issue), becomes not a consideration of how to surmount the trouble, but how and in what painful manner they will be sunk this time around. Can there be any doubt of the result if England is to find themselves in another penalty shoot-out come the elimination stages?