Monday, 25 June 2012

England's dreaming ... but why not the rest of us?

Here we are the day after the night before and I'm listening to Gary Lineker on Radio Five Live lamenting another English failure. So it goes. So it always goes. 
I spent this afternoon watching the film One Night in Turin, the documentary about the 1990 World Cup  and it's amazing how familiar some of the echoes between then and now are - most notably in the discussions about England's preference for 4-4-2.
Otherwise, though, everything - football hooliganism, a government in 1990 that was explicitly anti-football, the last time West Germany played in an international competition - has changed. What hasn't changed is that sport and politics go hand and hand.
One Night in Turin is good fun, by the way. It has the advantage of the operatic nature of that World Cup. Not the best in terms of the football but full of great stories. 
You do watch it thinking how did England ever get to that semi-final, of course. Cameroon should have humped them in the quarter final. But then, as I've mentioned before, England were so good in that semi-final, so deserving of going through, you can't help but feel for them at the end of the film. There's some lovely footage of the late Bobby Robson consoling Paul Gascoigne just before the penalty shoot-out, Gazza knowing he won't be playing in the final if England do go through because he'd picked up a second booking. And rather moving footage of Chris Waddle too as he steps up to take a penalty and misses. The camera stays with him, watching as he drifts from disbelief to despair. The fact that West Germany's Lothar Mattheus goes to console him before joining his victorious team-mates speaks well of the German captain.  
It's interesting, though, watching it today particularly. In Scotland this morning the anti-independence campaign was launched probably thankful that England went out last night. This may seem a shallow point but the fact is there is no question that when England play in the World Cup and the Euros the TV coverage is so pro-English that it has an inevitable distancing effect for those of us who are not English. Last night I spent the match moaning that the Republic of Ireland should take back all those caps it gave Mark Lawrenson so boss-eyed was his commentary.
I doubt that's going to change how anyone will vote in a referendum of  course. But it's part of the mood music. And while it's totally understandable that the majority of viewers/listeners/football fans in the UK are English and it's no surprise that the coverage reflects that, it still sometimes feels that the rest of us are stuck on the outside looking through a glass wall. And no one seems to be looking back at us. There is no Scottish or Irish or Welsh equivalent of One Night in Turin. Yes, you might say, that's because none of them have ever reached the semi-final of a World Cup.  I can't argue with that.

But today is the 30th anniversary of Northern Ireland's win over Spain in the 1982 World Cup. If you want to know why that matters to me you can read a piece I wrote in yesterday's Sunday Herald (I'll post it here soon).
It's not an anniversary that has received much coverage elsewhere. Why should it, you might ask again? It was only a group game. That's true. But clearly Northern Ireland is never going to win the World Cup or the Euros. It's conceivable that we might never qualify for the finals again in my lifetime. So it seems like a worthwhile story, especially given the politics in Northern Ireland at the time, just a year after the Hunger Strikes.
The fact is that the football stories we get told for the most part are English stories. Not in books, but on TV and radio and in the newspapers, that tends to be the case.
I wish that wasn't so. I would love to see a documentary about Northern Ireland in Spain in 1982. But then I'd also love to see a documentary that traced German football from the war, or Spanish football. The beautiful game is full of amazing stories. Tell us them all.
I'm happy seeing English stories too, by the way. The fact is England's footballing history over the last 40 years is, in a way, also my history. There's another anniversary coming up tomorrow. It will be 16 years since England were knocked out of Euro '96 by the Germans. On penalties. Four minutes after the last penalty that night my daughter was born.

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