Right, let’s get one thing clear straight off the bat so we all know where we stand. I am English, but I would not call myself a supporter of the England football team. With the 2014 World Cup just around the corner, now seems as good a time as any to delve into my own psyche and try and work out exactly why that is.
I never make a secret of the fact I’m not an England fan. There’ll regularly be a conversation at work or in my office ahead of an international fixture that’ll go along the lines of:
“Are you watching the game tonight, Richard?”
“Probably not, I don’t really do England”.
What happens next varies. I’m either talking to another non-supporter or I get taken to task. “It’s your country and you love football, how can you not support your national team?” is along the lines of the questioning I endure. The thing is, I know it’s a fair question. I spend as much of my time as I can watching football. I follow Manchester City around the country and, as much as possible, around Europe. There are few things I’d rather do with my time than watch a game of football and when it comes to City, I’m as passionate as anybody. So why is it that, on the biggest stage, I don’t support my country?
Well…I’ve never fully worked it out, but there are two things I want to put to bed immediately. The first assumption I encounter is that I don’t support England because they’re just not very good. That’s nonsense. I’m 25 years of age, which means despite the trophy-laden era City are currently living through, most of my memories are still of the Blues being cups-for-cock-up’s specialists. Like anybody who loves their club though, I never gave up on them. I never stopped supporting them – you can’t, can you? It’s in your blood.
True, England do bore me to tears when I watch them, but then do did Stuart Pearce’s City side. I still turned up every week knowing I probably wasn’t going to enjoy watching my team, but doing it anyway. So it’s not that. I can safely say that lack of quality in the team I follow does not diminish my desire to watch them. Okay? Okay.
The second assumption that drives me mad is that if I don’t support England, then I must hate them and want them to lose. That’s quite a leap to make, isn’t it? There are lots of teams that I don’t support whose fortunes don’t affect me either way. Let’s try an example to highlight the point. I’ll assume if you’re reading this that the chances are you’re a City fan. So let’s pick a team at random and see how you feel about them. For the sake of argument, let’s choose Kidderminster Harriers – you don’t support them, right? Does that instantly mean you hate them? No – of course it doesn’t. That’s what my relationship with England is. Not being a fan doesn’t mean I am desperate to see them lose. I don’t burn the flag of St. George or boo the national anthem when they play. It’s just a team I am dispassionate about. Is that so hard to grasp?
I’ve pondered this often, and there are two key reason’s I come back to for my lack of interest in the national team. First is the infrequency of their games. Even just saying that, I’m aware that it sounds pretty weak but I think it bears weight. Every day, I get involved in conversations about City. It’s been that way forever, long before I turned 10 and got my first season ticket to watch them in the third tier. They make me happy, they make me sad, they exhilarate me, they frustrate me but I’m never uninterested.
England just about make it into double figures for games played in a year – there’s no chance to engage when they play so little. To me, there’s no chance to build an emotional connection with a team that play so infrequently. There’s also the fact that so many of their games are over-hyped friendlies with no real meaning, it just all makes it so hard to care.
The second big reason is the players themselves. I spend full season disliking many of the players who represent England – how can I cheer them on when they get together? What could ever make me wish Wayne Rooney well in his career? He’s talented, but his approach to the game is one that rankles. He harasses referees and generally shows himself to be, in my opinion, not a great guy. I take no pleasure from watching him succeed because I can’t stand his approach. Though not part of the set-up anymore, plenty of other players have had this effect over the years. John Terry springs immediately to mind.
I get a little annoyed with myself sometimes about all of this. I wish I could force myself to be an England supporter because I do have experience of it. The first World Cup I have any recollection of was in 1998 and I loved it, every single second of it, though I was crushed when David Batty’s missed penalty against Argentina sent England packing. I was disappointed too in 2002 when Ronaldinho’s free-kick caught out David Seaman to end England’s hopes at the quarter-final stage. I think how little it meant to me only started to sink in after the penalty shoot-out exit in Euro 2004. It didn’t hurt; if you love a team, it hurts when they lose. Since then, no England failure has caused me any hurt.
I still adore international tournaments. I can’t wait for the World Cup in Brazil. I’ll watch every minute that I can, I’ll certainly make time to watch England but I won’t be a hypocrite and jump on the bandwagon for the big tournament. That’s another accusation I get actually, “You say you’re not a fan but it’ll change for the World Cup”. It won’t. If England are successful then I’ll be delighted for those that put the time and effort into supporting them all of the time, I wouldn’t glory-hunt and enjoy it for myself though.
In a club-versus-country debate, I’ll always side with my club. Or any other, actually. Club football is the heart of the game. It’s great to see a nation get behind it’s team and a whole country be excited for a major championship, it really is, but that isn’t your day-today football.
I’ll enjoy the World Cup, it’ll make for a great summer and I’m sure it will be a wonderful tournament. If you’re an England fan I hope you enjoy watching your team and good luck to you. Just please don’t expect me to be putting any bunting up in a hurry.
written by Richard Burns