Despite failures, my faith in England is strong

The Fault in Our Stars is taking the movie world by storm, yet every time it is mentioned all I can think of is my relationship with the England football team.

The chick flick centres on a young couple who fall in love, have beautiful dreams of a perfect life together but are ultimately consigned to an unbearably cruel fate thanks to forces of nature beyond their control.

So, at the age of 41, and having never seen England lift a major trophy, I am wondering if my destiny is also to be denied the one thing I have wished for since I was old enough to start following the national team of my birth.

Supporting any football team involves a hefty slice of emotional investment, with time spent poring over players, tactics and, most importantly, the matches themselves.

Yet, there have been slim pickings for England fans since our solitary World Cup win in 1966, a date that is increasingly becoming a burden instead of something to celebrate.

The first big tournament I can remember was the World Cup in Spain in 1982, when Bryan Robson scored almost immediately against France in our opening match.

It was a moment of pure pleasure and one that I thought had been replicated when Raheem Sterling flashed a shot into the side netting against Italy last week.

Perhaps that is why I let out a loud, guttural roar that seemed to come from a strange, dark place deep inside, and had my neighbour rushing out of her unit to check if I was okay.

It was the release of a lifetime of pent-up frustration, swept along by a euphoric feeling that this really could be our time to succeed. It didn't work out that way, much the same as Steven Gerrard's early strike against the US in South Africa four years ago also led to the usual dead-end.



For the needy, though, these crumbs are all that is required to keep the flickering flame of hope alive. Thread them all together and they can provide evidence that England, on their best day, have the potential to beat anyone. We may not be able to dominate the world scene for years but surely we can string together enough results to win a major tournament?

Yet, despite my nation being able to produce world-class flair players, such as Glenn Hoddle and Paul Gascoigne, I can also recall playing as a schoolboy on wintry pitches where all the emphasis was on effort and tackling hard. Flair was sneered at as a way for soft boys to avoid rough and tumble and that mentality has, for many years, defined us on the international stage.

It has almost become honourable to fail, as long as we are soaked with sweat at the final whistle while the winners trot off to an open-bus parade with the silverware.

This industrious approach - rooted in our notion of a Protestant work ethic - always kept me believing that one day the hard work would pay off.

However, as time has passed, it is obvious the lack of creativity has hurt us.

Without silk to accompany our steel, we have been forced to bow down to more advanced techniques and tactics.

Thankfully, this is not an unsolvable problem, and there are signs that England are slowly changing tack to a more intelligent approach. Although winning this World Cup is still possible, the eventual length of the wait is not important.

My faith will continue unbroken, because if we fans do not believe in the prospect of victory, then how can we expect the team to believe in themselves enough to achieve it?

This article was first published on June 19, 2014.
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