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The England national team is a failed brand

A substandard England team that refuses to die is continuing to blight the international game in its home country.


One of the many things that stand out when watching American Chopper is the way that the father burns with such jealousy, bitterness and hatred of his son that he cannot ever bring himself to compliment him without first insulting him. "Paulie's usually a real lazy waster, but he has put in a good shift today." "Paulie usually pulls these designs out of his ass, but he has come up with something really good here." It's sad, but it's very revealing of the sort of mentality a man can have towards his loved ones.

It's the opposite of a common tactic used to break bad news, whereby the offending information is bookended by two throwaway pieces of good news. "Your hair looks nice today. I'm sorry, but I ran over your wife. Apparently they're building a new Tesco on the Kilburn High Road", for example. English commentators covering the national team have been using the same tactic for years, because like inverse biker dads, they cannot bring themselves to criticise their heroes without first complimenting them. In the trade, this method is known as 'a sh*t sandwich.' And England have served up a pretty gigantic one for their fans to chow down on for the past ten years.

The tactic was on full display against Montenegro last night. "Steven Gerrard's hit that so well, but he's hit it straight at the goalkeeper." "Wayne Rooney can usually pick out those passes, but he's given it away there." And so on. Part of the problem with this is that the English core of much of the Premier League top teams have been storied and narrated as English lions, carrying their teams on their shoulders, and it's a myth that's hauled onto the national stage too, where it plainly doesn't apply. You could say that this relationship is rather like a deluded father cheering on his inadequate son in the school football team from the sidelines, although the reverse is probably more applicable - for every Eastern European minnow England fail to get past, the effect on the Clive Tyldesleys of this world seems somewhat akin to seeing their dad lose a fight.

Then again, the people doing this - commentators, journalists - inhabit a strange, non-partisan world that most football fans do not. To them, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Joe Hart, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Jack Wilshere are heroes for the clubs they love. To the majority of football fans, the ones that don't play for the teams they support are scum - they are pantomime villains, scorers of important goals, with legitimate claims to be overrated, and all have some off-pitch transgression which proves their status as a terrible human being and allows them to be subjected to merciless abuse. Were it one or two players, this would be normal. When it's the entire core of your side, the national team becomes borderline unsupportable.

And that is exactly what has happened to England. It's a fact sort of hushed up, but it cannot be denied that outside all-white council sink estates and middle-class students trying to break an awkward silence with a plumber they have round, it's hard to find anyone under the age of about 35 who honestly cares about the national team. You might not think that matters of nationalism have to try too hard to keep up their brand image, but they do, and England have failed rather drastically.

People often talk about the forgotten mystique of the FA Cup, how it used to be considered as or more important than the league - the national team has suffered the same, formerly followed with equal gusto to your average Joe's club side, now it's an embarrassment, hushed out of sight. Look at the banners that come up at England games and the clubs or towns they're from - Shrewsbury, Darlington, Blyth. It's the epitome of small-time, with some bigger clubs even going as far as outright hostility. Liverpool aren't English, they're Scouse. United fans took to singing 'Argentina' to rile up opposition little Englanders playing against Gabriel Heinze and Carlos Tevez.

The problem is that any English fans wishing to reignite that sense of national pride don't really have anything to cling onto. England is a confused place, a kind of cultural wasteland, whose exceptionalism and supremacy has always taken the form of casual dismissal of what it is not, rather than citing anything it is or was supposed to be. Even those old clichés - of fair play and stoicism - are only ever seen through the veil of contrast towards the skulduggery and excitability that lies over the channel.

The English historian David Starkey, before he moved onto more serious forms of racism, once cited this as proof of English cultural supremacy among the British Isles - while your Scots could be summed up with bagpipes, kilts and liver failure, and the Welsh had valleys and cheese on toast, or whatever, England was not so easily sussed out. Instead it was a more complex, mature society that could not be dismissed simply with a few clichés.

There speaks a man who has rarely travelled outside Britain. Those from those other nations who do will be familiar with the euphoria of explaining to foreign shopkeepers or policemen: "No, I'm not English!" and witnessing the immediately improved service\ceasing of truncheoning that results. Every nation has some sort of stereotype, and people have plainly pigeonholed the English abroad. Intriguingly, that stereotype is probably now most commonly identified with the supporters of the national team - ignorant, arrogant, bald, overweight, romantically-illiterate oafs who don't so much reach for a revolver when they hear the word 'culture' but rather a dictionary.

And really, that's affected England too much over the years. In short, it's a failed brand. The current incarnation has had a touch of the 'oh-god-when-will-this-team-finally-die' about it, like late 00's Chelsea without the trophies. Perhaps the next generation will herald a new beginning, but in reality, they seem to be suffering from the same bombast and hype that sunk the current incarnation. It's not a good look. Maybe if anything the nihilism will do them some good, but only England could make terminal national decline seem so boring. From 'nobody likes us, we don't care', to 'we don't like us, nobody cares.'

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