Dec 052011

I’m going to take a small break from writing about Arsenal today to vent on a subject that has infuriated me since listening to the European Championship draw on Friday evening, and that is the supreme arrogance of English pundits with regard to the national team. We all know that England are forever overhyped before major tournaments, but it is the dismissive contempt for many of the other countries (those not called Spain, Germany or Italy) that winds me up the most.

England got a relatively kind draw (at least compared to other groups), with Ukraine, Sweden and France their three opponents. But by the same token, those three countries probably feel they got a kind draw with England – after all, Germany and Italy were also in pot 2, and would be expected to go further. Despite this, Radio 5 had Paul Ince and Darren Anderton (I know) talking about the draw, and both concluded that England would be favourites for all three games, and should progress with ease.


Let’s start with France, the opening game. They’re terrible, right? Laughable in the World Cup, an imploding disaster of egos? Well, no, at least not anymore. Since Domenech’s hopeless reign ended, they’ve enjoyed something of a renaissance, qualifying top of their group, and embarking on an unbroken 18 match unbeaten streak, stretching back fifteen months, and including a comfortable win over England, something they have managed on each of the last three meetings between the countries. Even with Rooney, England would not be favourites for that one.

Next up, Sweden. England’s recent friendly win over the Swedes was their first triumph over them in 43 years. In between, the two countries had met twelve times, with Sweden winning four, and the other eight clashes ending in draws. Hardly a record that backs up the ‘overwhelming favourites’ label. The Swedes may not be as strong as they have been in previous years, but it takes remarkable arrogance not to notice that the same could be said of England. A draw, as ever between these two nations, is the likely result.

And then, finally, England face Ukraine in Donetsk. Hosts are always terrible in international tournaments, right? And as we know from club football, Ukraine is such an easy place to go and get results, isn’t it? Oh.

The fact is – all four teams in the group will be pleased with the draw, and confident of progression. But to hear pundits dismissively talk down the other three countries is exactly why so many nations are willing us to fail. Time and time again we convince ourselves that we’re amongst the contenders, but a quick look at the statistics reveals a telling tale.

Of the 16 countries competing, nine (Germany, Russia, Holland, Italy, Spain, Czech Rep, Denmark, France and Greece) have lifted the trophy. One more (Portugal) has competed in the final. You can also add Ukraine (four finals, and one triumph, when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union) and Croatia (two finals when Croatia was part of Yugoslavia) to that list, which leaves just four of the sixteen countries as nations yet to appear in the final.

Those four countries are England, Ireland, Sweden and Poland.

Given that, it is remarkable that there is any optimism around the national side, particularly when you consider that the ‘golden generation’ (which was hardly golden, at all) has passed, and the only striking threat is suspended for the entire group stage. It says everything about England’s lack of forward options that he will still be taken.

But I have nothing against optimism – having unrealistic hopes is part of being a football fan. But listening to Ince and Anderton dismiss our opponents as trivialities en route to the knockout stages was cringeworthy in the extreme.

England are often criticised for being a quarter final team. To be so again could be argued an overachievement.

  4 Responses to “The arrogance of being English”

  1. We are pleased we have not drawn Spain and etc. We are pleased to be drawn in a group where we might (ie. might) go through. I can’t see what is wrong (or arrogant) about that ?

    • It isn’t arrogant to say we’re pleased wth the group – we should be, it could have been a lot worse.

      It is arrogant to suggest that we’ll be favourites for all of our group games, which is plainly untrue. They way the pundits were talking, you’d think we’d breeze past these teams.

  2. Another self loathing English journo? If you think idiocy and nationalism aren’t rife in the rest of the world you are sadly mistaken. I’ve lived in Canada, Hungary and presently France for 7 years and they have all been more jingoistic than the English. What passes for polite conversation in terms of internationalism and integration around here in France is quite shocking. Especially to to someone of mixed ancestry from London. So please quit knocking us before we’ve even started. As for talent, how’s the OX going to improve when AW wont bring him on when we’re 4-0 up with 10 mins to go? Why bring on Ben & Arse? Waste of an opportunity for a very promising young English player who has a long shot of making the plane.

  3. i agree there is a real arrogance about the english media in regards to the national team. as an american who has lived around the world i think its a bit different than the english fan, who often has an incredible blend of hope, arrogance and mostly pessimism which only the english can achieve.

    i almost always cheer against england. mostly because of the media, i really dont want to hear them harp on about england more than i already have to. the thought of a england victory in the euros makes me cringe. as it would mean that while watching costa rica v peru ten years from now, with not an english man in site (save the commentator) ill have to sit there and listen in disbelief as they manage to start talking about englands famous victory.

    its not the fans or the players….its the media. so i think this article makes a valid point. england are by no means favorites for that group. historically you would say that france and england would go through but sweden are always strong (if not great) and hosts are usually up for it. england will do well to go through but rest assured that myself and many other football fans will be desperately hoping for another implosion from england just so i can watch the media sweep it under the rug, and start all over again for 2014.

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