Yesterday, me and a colleague – yes, a female one – had a wee blether about the football. That’s right. Women in Scotland who like football and like to think they know a thing or two about it.
We were discussing Engerland’s prospects and both of us admitted to having a wee soft spot for Roy Hodgson.
Particularly as we felt there was more than a touch of sniffiness evinced at the time of his appointment and since then. This, I reckoned, was because he hadn’t followed the usual, expected path as a football manager, eschewing the glories offered by the lower leagues, choosing instead to manage *abroad*. With enough success to eventually result in a gig in his homeland, with the Fulham job leading to a much bigger posting at Liverpool. We all know that job ended in tears but he wasn’t exactly welcomed in the post nor given a fair chance at it.
There’s also the small matter of his unconventionality – for a footballing type. His interest in culture is remarked upon, as his ability to speak a host of other languages. That foreign-ness thing again. And then there are those who just don’t think he is up to the top job in football (sic).
0 – 0 1 -1 (I was having a senior moment clearly – apologies) draw in the opening match against France allowed the detractors the opportunity they had been seeking, to start questioning his appointment openly. Yep, this early. Yet, I think his approach is the right one. Safety first, a gentle easing into the tournament, without unleashing everything in one big bang seems to be his way. And as it’s worked for teams like Germany in the past, who are we to question the tactics?
Especially when he managed a win against hoo-doo team Sweden. The first half was far from pretty and the second was occasionally slipshod. But he changed the tactics at halftime and it worked. And a win is a win is a win. The fact that the triumphalism usually accompanying English adventures in championships is missing suggests that everyone agrees a win against Ukraine on Tuesday is far from guaranteed. And is perhaps evidence of a new realism.
Whisper it – England is not nearly as good a team as it used to be. The so-called Golden Generation is on its way out and Hodgson has clearly decided to give them a shove, as the decision to leave Ferdinand behind (inexplicable though that might seem) suggests. This is an England team in transition with Hodgson building for the future – so long, of course, that he gets the chance to do so.
That Ferdinand decision speaks of a man who knows his own mind and what he wants to achieve, who will refuse to be blown off course by the force of public and media opinion. Something else to admire.
Which all suggests that we will see a different England at this tournament. One that has lower expectations stepping on to the field more in hope than innate belief at their greatness. And a little success in such circumstances would be a very good thing – a success borne of endeavour rather than arrogance.
Not least because of the constitutional flux in which these islands find themselves thanks to the Scottish question, or questions, to be put. And actually, a little success for England – in their ain colours, not the ones belonging currently to us all – might also be a very good thing for doubters everywhere. If England can stand on the country’s own, so can the rest of us. Divvying up the political – and therefore, cultural and sporting – furniture can be achieved, without recrimination and without the prophecies of doom so beloved of Unionists everywhere being fulfilled.
There’s also the neighbourly question. Or the Andrew Wilson Doctrine, as I like to think of it.
No one likes a surly neighbour. You don’t wave yours off on their summer holiday wishing them a flat tyre on the way, a missed ferry and a two week downpour. So why when it comes to our national neighbour are we so consumed with ire and ill-feeling? Yes, yes I know the media don’t make it easy for us all. But we can simply tune them out and turn them off surely?
Moreover, it says something unpleasant about us when we allow ourselves to be defined by the people we share a border and language with, as well as chunks of culture, heritage and history. This doesn’t make us the same, far from it, not least in our political outlook and leanings. So not quite siblings then, more like cousins.
And just like the cousins we meet up with on family occasions, we might wince a bit at their choice of attire, their life choices, at their brashness, their loud laugh and ridiculous moves on the dancefloor. They might embarrass us – worse, some of them might have a few skeletons we hope they’ll keep firmly in the cupboard – but when it comes to bigger stuff, well they’re family. And mostly, families look out for each other. All families have their disagreements, some even manage to have fall-outs that last for years, but in the main, either we’re agnostic about what goes on in their lives or are content to wish them well. Just as they are with us.
So it should be with England in Euro 2012. As we stand on the cusp of taking the biggest decision Scotland will face in hundreds of years, we should be shrugging off the old ways and trying some new ones on for size and fit.
Dumping the one that requires us to support anyone but England on sporting occasions would be a start. And if we’re brave and mature enough to try on one that has us at least smiling at their progress in this football fest, then we might find we actually quite like the fit.
Are you supporting England in Euro2012? Yep, I am. And I might even buy the T-shirt too.