The England team kick off their Euro 2012 campaign on Monday against France with the opportunity of helping a country restore a great deal of pride and self-respect.
As unlikely an event as it is, despite England’s lofty status of sixth in the FIFA rankings, bringing home the Henri Delaunay Trophy would provide a much-needed fillip.
Like much of the European recession, unemployment and austerity have left a large part of the population downtrodden with debt. The situation in Britain may not be nearly as bad as many places within the Eurozone, but it is fair to say things could be better.
Usually, it falls to the national obsession with football to help lift the spirits of the English. But as the age of the super-rich player sees the distance between them and the average fan grow larger by the year, and following a season featuring a multitude of unpleasant incidents of racism, violence, corruption, obnoxiousness and tragedy, even the power of the national game is waning.
So for an England team carrying the least expectations upon its shoulders of any side to wear the Three Lions in 30 years or more to return from Poland and Ukraine as European champions would be a monumental event for the country.
The Battle of Hastings was in 1066, and the Great Fire of London was in 1666, but those two historic events pale in to insignificance for many of the English when compared to an event in another year to end in those two digits.
Winning the World Cup in 1966 remains the touchstone for any England fan. The famous song "Three Lions" harks back to that glorious day at Wembley on July 30. When Tony Adams won his first England cap in 1987, a great fuss was made of how he was the first player to be born after Bobby Moore had lifted the trophy to represent the country. The expression “1966 and all that” is in common parlance.
Frankly, it is as saddening as it is nostalgic to keep harking back to an event two generations ago. The single star England have on their shirts to represent their lone tournament triumph acts almost to trivialise it. It is time England had some new heroes to sing songs about.
It would also be good for them to achieve success on foreign soil. England won the World Cup as hosts, while they were also the home team when they reached the semifinals of the 1996 European Championship.
The only other time they reached the last four of a major finals—the 1990 World Cup in Italy—they only won one match in normal time. They beat Egypt and drew with Netherlands and Ireland in their group before overcoming Belgium and Cameroon in extra time and losing to West Germany on penalties.
That last word is enough to cause a split-second shock of panic in many an England fan, as that was also how they bowed out of Euro 96. Winning this summer’s tournament would almost certainly mean they would have defeated their old foe on the way, something that would perhaps finally get that monkey off their back.
The Germans see the Dutch and Italians as much bigger rivals, but bearing witness to a group of drunken England fans singing “Two World Wars and one World Cup” is evidence of how they just won’t let go of the past.
Beating the joint favourites en route to glory—perhaps even in the final itself—would not only be a fantastic footballing achievement, but it would also allow the nation to move on.
Hardly anyone is kidding themselves that such a turn of events is a possibility, and the case against it is compelling. Two years ago, England laboured their way through a turgid four matches at the World Cup, while they did not even qualify for the previous European Championship.
Their manager has only officially been in the job for a month and has taken charge of two matches. His squad selection has left some enraged, but the majority is simply underwhelmed.
As such, hopes for England’s boys abroad, who were at their lowest point since the start of the 1980s, when the team routinely failed to qualify for tournaments, left many in the cold.
What a way to restore faith in the national team it would be to see them win their first European title while being seemingly at their lowest ebb.
If they were to win the competition playing Roy Hodgson’s pragmatic style, then no one can be left in any doubt as to how the English succeed in team sports. The heroes of 1966 were, for the most part, grafters and fighters, with the honourable exceptions of Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton.
The squad that won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 was possibly the least exciting victor in the tournament’s history. Even the cricket team, which won The Ashes in Australia and now tops the world rankings, can hardly be described as a side that does things with swagger.
England fans must learn that this is how they win things. Victory at Euro 2012 by virtue of guts, determination and honest hard labour would dispel any lofty pretensions of trying to get them playing tiki-taka or total football ever again.
The recent celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee were greeted with passion and zeal by millions, but also by apathy and disdain by just as many. The reaction to England playing in a football tournament is much the same, although many people will adopt the opposing attitude that they have concerning a royal anniversary.
If Steven Gerrard lifts the trophy in Kiev on July 1—just weeks after the Jubilee and with the Olympics to come—then most English people will have at least one reason to cheer during their apology of a summer.