A set of ageing players almost all guaranteed a start if fit, a London home, a white shirt, a famous heartbreaking defeat, the failure to make much of an impact on the big stage. If England were a Premier League club, they’d be Fulham, and that’s before we even mention Roy Hodgson.
The Three Lions’ manager positively glowed when, as a pundit on Match Of The Day last weekend, he saw host Gary Lineker introduce highlights from the Craven Cottage club’s low-key, somewhat fortuitous 1-0 win over Stoke City courtesy of a late goal from Darren “13 England caps” Bent.
Perhaps secretly Hodgson still wishes he was in the homely surroundings of the Cottage, where overachieving amounts to a top 14 finish and a good cup run, and supporters don’t get as angry with morale-sapping performances and defeats as they did at Inter Milan, Liverpool and indeed England.
For that is probably the key difference in this comparison.
England might be the Fulham of the international game―always lurking, occasionally upsetting the top sides with a scrappy win, a bit old-fashioned―but Fulham supporters don’t necessarily expect to win every game. England’s do, or at least they used to.
During his tenure with the national side Hodgson has successfully managed to build up fairly average opponents to the status of world-beaters, so that when England manage a decent result against them it is hailed as miraculous.
None more so was this evident than in the goalless draw in the Ukraine last month, when the visitors turned up intent on achieving nothing more than a 0-0 and got what Hodgson wanted.
Yet Ukraine weren’t actually that good, something which seemed lost on Hodgson at the time, as reported by the BBC, and could well be so again ahead of the forthcoming home matches against Montenegro and Poland that the Three Lions will have to win to secure qualification for next year’s World Cup in Brazil.
England should beat those two teams at home, of course they should, so can Hodgson and his squad spare us the spectacle of their players elevating the opposition to the status of the world’s best please? "Montenegro will be similar to Brazil," said Jack Wilshere in between his lectures on nationality, as reported by The Guardian. Oh well, that didn’t last long.
Perhaps Hodgson’s skill at dampening expectations was honed at Fulham, but at least there the approach held some merit.
The south-west Londoners’ glorious and frequently logic-defying run to the 2010 Europa League final―where they suffered a heroic loss to an extra-time winner from Atletico Madrid’s Diego Forlan that could only have been more English had it been in a penalty shootout―was a superb achievement and is rightly lauded as one of the best European feats by a British club, but what have they done since?
Like England following their 1966 World Cup success, the Cottagers have failed to build on that high point, and these days find themselves on the outside looking in when the prizes are dished out.
Of course the money put into the club by Mohamed Al-Fayed and more recently Shahid Khan is nothing compared to the rest of the riches flowing through the Premier League, or indeed the millions that the FA has lavished on the England team over several barren years, but it is what you do with that money that counts.
The lack of youngsters making their way from Fulham’s youth ranks and into their first team suggests that enough cash isn’t being spent there, and the same can be said of the bi-annual calls for a revamp of English youth football whenever England exit a major tournament.
That’ll happen again next summer providing Hodgson’s men navigate the two modest tasks ahead of them in the next few days and qualify for Brazil, where they’ll once again be able to face the elite without ever really troubling them.
A bit like Fulham do most weeks, in fact.