Football, Futbol , Futebol: Travels Around a few Football stadia in Buenos Aires , Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro. February 2009. By Paul Whitaker.
“Two English football supporters, twelve days, three South American countries, seven football matches, eleven stadiums and one Diego Maradona tour”.
Walking up Wembley Way with my mate and fellow England supporter Glenn Hinch, prior to the 2007 European championship qualifier match between England and Estonia, I did not know this would be my last England match attended as a supporter. After 15 years following ‘Ingerland’ to two World Cups, two European championships, Athens, Baku, Glasgow, Warsaw and many more European cities between, I was to sit through just another 60 minutes before coming to the conclusion that my match day experience on and off the pitch with England, was no longer an enjoyable one.
At first I thought I was just going through a sort of football-supporting mid-life crisis that seemed to afflict each generation of my family. My grandfather had apparently bemoaned England getting a footballing lesson from Puskas’ Hungary in 1953 and my father still gets misty eyed over Gunter Netzer’s Germany or Johan Cruyff’s Holland, rather than Kevin Keegan’s England in the 1970s. I thought the late, great Bobby Robson had the best teams and chances to reach a World Cup final, but was thwarted by the Argentinians and Germans in 1986 and 1990 respectively. OK, perhaps that was just misplaced nostalgia, but I was struggling to understand why English football had not moved on since Italia’90. Whilst German, French and Italian supporters had all watched their national teams lift the World Cup in recent years, I was watching the England team of 2007 put in yet another ‘laboured’ performance, this time against a poor Estonia team. We had the full repertoire of English fallibility on display, including poor movement off the ball, losing concentration in defence and my particular favourite, an inability to retain possession of the ball.
Now, bear in mind it was 15 years since the formation of the Premier League (best league in the world so Sky keep telling me!’), whose central aim was improve the technical skills of home grown players and so help the England national team compete more effectively against the French, Germans, Dutch and Italians. Yet, at a time when there has never been so much money in the English game, the pool of technically competent players, eligible to wear an England shirt, was actually diminishing and England seemed destined to continue being tournament quarter-finalists, at best. If that was not depressing enough, the 2007 ‘Golden Generation’ of players were showing that their loyalties were to the Premier League (best league in the world, remember) and club football, rather than the FA and England. They seemed as motivated to play in an England shirt as I was to part with £30 for a cheap seat in the upper tier “just for Estonia”, £5 for a match programme, £5 pound for a pint and £4.50 for a pie. Continue reading