If you’ve watched an England game on telly this World Cup, apart from a feeling of ennui matched only it seems by Emile Heskey as he spends another match mostly inhaling the pitch, you’ll have gained two things:
Except that they’re sort of the same thing. One is an ex-player’s easy statement on a team’s failure without having to do such things as explain tactics, the other a Danish lager PR machine’s attempt to associate themselves with football, without having to understand anything about it bar the jingoistic assumptions made by sections of the press.
Passion is an odd thing, it’s the only piece of the gamut of emotional reaction to sport that advertisers and the media will attempt to engage the public over. You’ve seen John Barnes, a player torn apart by the press during his playing career for a perceived lack of it held up as someone to connect over just how much of it he has. If it can be whipped up to involve some cheap nostalgia so much the better. Barnes’s appearance is linked to the current wave of re-imagining the golden era of Italy 1990, there’s even a film out One Night In Turin based around the tournament — with the tears and kisses and penalty misses that do nothing so much as remind me how much the video from only twenty years ago has degraded.
It’s not quite how I remember that World Cup, the headlines were about how bad things were, not how memorable. It existed as one of the great last sorties of English hooliganism abroad, there was constant footage of it raining plastic glasses and plastic chairs in picturesque squares all over Italy. The film is based on a book by Pete Davis called All Played Out (now re-issued as One Night in Turin), which is a fantastic, if depressing, read about how Planet Football is divorced from all reality and the lives of the fans. Davis quotes a distressed Englishman — no doubt dressed in too-small shorts and one of those headache inducing plastic flat-caps we used to have — after a disappointing draw against North African opposition: “fight you bastards” he says “like we fight for you”. Sound familiar? The film doesn’t touch too much on that.
Do players really have less passion now than two decades ago, and if so can that role-call of famous English help. Can a naked-from-the-waist (up, thankfully) Jeff Stelling inspire, does our greatest living World Champion — The Power — chucking a ‘good arra’ mean anything to our current team? I’m not sure it goes far enough, these are media savvy young men who will assume well wishes from the stars of stage and green (and have you noticed Steve Davis CGI’d into recent transmissions?). What they need is inspirational figures alongside them when it really counts.
It’s said that the great Liverpool team of the 80s could afford to play Sammy Lee as they “could have covered for Thora Hird at left back”, never mind a player who’d just been transferred a little above his ability. So with that in mind, can’t the England team cover for the lack of experience or fitness of a sententious Englishman who will lead them in all things passion?
If Beckham can travel without being fit to play, surely the presence of a great who can play (without them being able to really play) is a possibility. And we could stick them on the wing that Gerrard doesn’t seem to be using anyway.
Of the advert crew, we have to excuse Dames Holmes and MacArthur for FIFA are not enlightened enough to allow a female winger, but surely Ian Botham could do a job? Beefy is so English that supposedly preferring the charms of the West Indian dressing room to that of his own team hasn’t dampened his iconic status, and he had a few games for Scunthorpe and Yeovil too.
He can’t do everything of course, but not every game needs so much of the passion and we have a lot of national treasures around. An easy qualifier against the Faroes for example might only need the passion of a Bradley Walsh or a Jonathan Wilkes, a friendly against a local side pre a tournament could be the opportunity to rest the big guns and use a Duncan Norvelle or a Stan Boardman (who pioneer Fat Ron Atkinson used extensively in the build up to big Villa games in the nineties).
A vital qualifier away in Turin might be the time to use Brian Blessed, where you could use a home game to blood David Mitchell, maybe he and Robert Webb could be twin raiding wing-backs.
Roy Race knew all about the power of celebrity, and also blow-driers, when he picked Steve Norman and Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet for Melchester. Imagine the faces of the opposition when we bring on The Actual Mayor Of London for a corner. And BoJo has experience.
It’s the World Cup and we need to show that passion, so we need to lay every card we have. Princes William and Harry were in the stands on Friday, and the dressing room after — luckily before anyone touching cloth came in to ask to use the bog — why were they not in the room before, kitted and booted, three lions over their royal right-nipples ready for battle. Where their ancestors lead England into the breach, they could be leading Aaron Lennon onto the bench and playing themselves.
Forget Gaddafi’s son somehow making the Libya side (and oddly the squad at Sampadoria), forget Kevin-Prince Boateng. We might just have found a use for our Royal Family, just not Fergie in charge of the sponsorship deals please.