• Philip Bryer

Graham Taylor's a Goldfish


History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce – Karl Marx.

A triumph of hope over experience – Samuel Johnson.

Can we not knock it? – Graham Taylor.

Fear naught, we have not gathered around this virtual campfire to speak of louse-bearded old commie nutjobs or second marriages, we’re here to talk about football. Although to qualify that, and hopefully to drag back those sensible types who think I’ve just given them the ready, set, and greenlight to head quick-smart in a hillwards direction, we are going to consider the England football team, and, more accurately, those poor deluded saps who they keep letting down.

I don’t much care for the football nowadays, and even when I did, I remember being in the pub and watching the World Cup on the TV, now crucially this is pre-Gazza, but less than half of the assembled were paying any mind at all to what was playing out on what we’d see now as the laughably tiny set high up in the corner behind the bar. To be honest, going to the pub to watch the game has never been quite my thing. I could never get into the concept of people shouting at the television in the hope of influencing events on a pitch hundreds of miles away.

In fact, should I find there’s a game on now when I call into the local I use when changing trains it sometimes takes a bit of an effort not to turn tail and walk right back out again. I walked through the swinging doors when England were playing France in the European championships of 2012. I sought the quietest corner and, mindful of the risk presented by not watching the match, I bravely left The Times in my bag and watched the match. ‘Corner,’ someone shouted, ‘We’ve got a corner, c’mon Stevie G, C'MON you’re the man’. Well, you don’t need me to tell you that within seconds, Stevie G was no longer the man. Indeed, the viewing fan’s revised opinion was along the lines of Stevie G not being of much use after all, being paid far too much in the way of wages every week, and apparently in need of the ministrations of a passing gynaecologist.

My first thought a few years ago when I heard that Roy Hodgson had got the job of England manager, was, “Oh, you poor man.” With a honeymoon period even shorter than that of Cher and Gregg Allman, and without friends in the press, Roy’s tenure might have been a short one, and as we’re in the midst of another European Championships, there are rumblings to be heard about blindfolds and last cigarettes.

But as Alf Ramsey so wisely put it, ‘The manager gets too much of the credit and too much of the blame’. OK, so he might have been careful not to say such a thing when he won the World Cup and before he was sacked, but even so, great wisdom from the manager of England who, let’s never forget, on arrival for the shitstorm that was the annual England/Scotland international was greeted at Prestwick airport with the words ‘Welcome to Scotland Sir Alf’, and replied, ‘You must be effing joking’.

I was there recently, heading home and changing trains and crossing the road from the station to spend half-an-hour in the boozer with a pint of ale when I realise the football’s on. To be clear, it had just finished. Seventeen stone bruisers all called Rooney or Kane are outside with replica shirts and fags on, and the excuses were being wheeled out in the post-match interviews with the players– difficult place to play, no easy games these days, the pitch was wet, I lost my earrings, oh you’ll have to excuse me I’ve got a hair appointment.

The Irish landlord, a lovely, stand-up feller called Con, Cornelius actually, he’s busying himself behind the bar, and a despairing type who’s been in for the football tries to engage him in the post mortem of a dreary draw, the likes of which some us have a lifetime’s weary experience of, ‘typical England performance…ya-da ya-da ya-da, why didn’t he bring me on?’ etc. Con bustled away, ‘Ah well, never mind,’ he said, winking at me, ‘Better luck next time, eh?’

The FA might manage the country's unrealistic expectations much better with a mission statement like that. Or this one:

#EuropeanFootballChampionships #EnglandFootballTeam #Gazza #WorldCup #StevieG #RoyHodgson #Cher #GreggAllman #AlfRamsey #Scotland #Prestwick #Rooney #Kane #FA #FootballAssociation

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