by Bob Lethaby
I had grown to genuinely hate the England football team; the miserable players, the deadpan managers and boorish, racist fans, were a stain on tournaments where Spain and a young German team played with freedom, desire and vibrancy.
England featured several players on fat club contracts who appeared to play begrudgingly in what became a self-fulfilling prophecy as supporters of rival clubs booed them for their perceived lack of effort, resulting in fixtures becoming a seething coming together of bitterness, hatred and jealousy.
I don’t really care what players earn; they have to give up their youth, their friendships and their families to make it in football and many of them also have to overcome blatant nepotism if they don’t come from a family of former professionals (the Lampard’s and the Redknapp’s for example) so good luck to them if clubs are prepared to pay them handsomely.
What is repugnant is when they turn up on the international stage overwhelmed by unsavoury arrogance that comes from being adored by fans at club level. Some players seemed to appear like they are doing everyone a favour just by turning up.
This came to a head during and after a pitiful display in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when England, under Fabio Cappello, desperately conjured up a turgid 0-0 draw against Algeria before getting ripped to shreds by Germany in the second round.
I gave up after that.
So, last night, out came a team who pulled on the odd looking shirts and ravenously took the opportunity of what they regarded as a privilege rather than a right.
It was a fantastic match where England looked like the Germany of 2010 and 2014, playing high tempo football, moving the ball around at pace and pressing their opponents into unforced errors. Even at 2-0 down you thought they could win it, as the chances kept coming.
I can’t remember the last time I saw England play without fear and with such freedom of expression. It was an undoubted example that if you play any sport with a morbid fear of being the one to make an unforced error, you will shrink into obscurity. You have to have the courage to express yourself.
In recent years, in keeping with the British economy, England were playing with sporting austerity, holding back, not daring to look forward and take calculated risks to move into a brave new world like Germany have done so since reunification, both in culture and in sport.
Does the conservatism in our DNA also come out in the sporting arena? I think it does you know.
So what does Roy Hodgson do? Retreat to Rooney, Barry and Milner, claiming that experience is vital at big tournaments? Or does he become brave and throw caution to the wind and allow the likes of Alli, Kane, Dier, the vibrant Spurs trio, to light the competition up but also run the risk of being caught out by naivety.
In 2010, the young German side were a joy to watch, crashing through the tournament with the gay abandon of youth, hammering England and Argentina before being narrowly losing to Spain who were still a year or two ahead of them.
No, matter, there were no recriminations for their exit, for the foundations were in place and the team peaked just in time to become the first European team to win the World Cup in South America, the 7-1 dismantling of hosts, Brazil, being the highlight.
It’s incredibly early days and without the retired warrior and leader, Schweinsteiger, it has to be said that Germany have lost their way a bit, however, this was an England team that really looked like they could at least compete at the Euro’s, which would have been an outrageous statement two years ago.
Hodgson needs to get the media on his side as well because if he is prepared to gamble on this young team, everyone needs to understand that it can go horribly wrong against wily opponents like Italy, who will know how to exploit the lack of discipline and the petulance that can come with youth.
However, on the evidence of last night, England looked like a team that are worth getting behind; playing high tempo football, creating loads of chances, scoring great goals and possessing the belief to keep going after a setback. You can’t ask for more than that.
They may get caught out by the abandon of youth, but compare that to square passes, miserable faces and fear of error, before a hasty retreat to the safety of irrational and pitiful domestic club adulation, as seen in 2010.
Come on Hodgson, be brave, the alternative is turgid misery that at best ends in a pitiful penalty shoot-out.
Read more of Bob’s writing here