I didn’t even watch England’s final game. I was too busy watching Luis Suarez bite someone again. (Seriously, FIFA needs to do something about this guy.) Before Italy vs. Uruguay, I flipped over to the England game at the introductions and I could have sworn I saw Roy Hodgson shake his head during the national anthem. He went with a completely different lineup: Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, James Milner, Ben Foster, Adam Lallana, Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley and Frank Lampard. It was a bold statement, a lineup that screamed, “eh, what the hell?”
It will probably be Lampard’s last World Cup and, with the lineup today, it looks like the future of the England squad lies beyond Rooney and Gerrard.
Sometimes I feel sorry for England. They get analyzed and scrutinized with a specificity and negativity that is worse that what our athletes face. The English media is just as obsessive as ours but they don’t even get to divide their analysis among four different professional sports leagues.
Nick Hornby’s article about England’s failure was enlightening, though. Their first World Cup was in 1950. They didn’t even qualify in ’74, ’78 or ’94 and they’ve only won five knockout games in all of the World Cups (excluding ’66 as you need to do). I had no idea. In Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski devote the first chapter to England. The one way this year that England didn’t fit the model is that no one pointed to a scapegoat or a gross injustice. I pointed this out to an English friend who said, “yeah, well, Diego Godin should have gotten a second yellow and been sent off for clotheslining Sturridge.” So, I guess it’s always the same with England.
In Those Feet, David Winner outlined the culture of soccer in England, from the earliest forms of “folk football” in England to their fields and their boots. The English prefer strong strikers who simply shoot the ball in the back of the net. The English, traditionally, would value a team full of Alan Shearers and Nat Lofthouses (he was in the book, had to google him, honestly) when they need to compete against the Neymars and Eden Hazards and Arjen Robbens of the world.
Or maybe it’s just British culture at large. As Hornby says, “Dutch kids have access to video games and junk food, and yet that tiny, Northern European country, with a population two-thirds smaller than ours, consistently produces world-class players.” ESPN would go so far as to tell you that the Dutch really only need two and they have a great point.
So, after all of this, after two disappointing losses, England tied Costa Rica, who was already through to the round of 16. They tied 0-0. They couldn’t even score a goal. After all of that, a tie. Well, whatever, I wasn’t even watching.
So, what am I going to do with this damn jersey? I suppose I’ll wear it when I go running. Maybe I’ll wear it for pickup games? I spent ninety dollars on it after having just quit my job. I guess I was only counting on wearing it for the three group matches and a couple of knockout round matches. That’s only four or five times, but still.
We can talk data and history and culture all day but that’s not why we watch sports. We turn to data when we need to explain away our disappointment. I just wanted to see England win some games. Now I’m stuck with a ninety dollar shirt.