Watching the European Championships, much like the World Cup, from a Manchester United fan’s perspective is something we don’t really like to admit that we enjoy. It’s a dirty little secret. It’s like a naughty magazine stash that you don’t want anyone to know about. If you do watch it, you can’t openly support England. It goes against the grain. Like a Liverpudlian supporting United. There is one of those actually. Sat behind me in K Stand for years. Top bloke. Anyway, the stigma attached to watching international football tournaments that England compete in seems to stem largely from a reaction by United fans, to the media’s scapegoating, and the ‘other England fans’ treatment of ‘our’ players when they’re on international duty
From my own personal perspective, I remember Italia 90. Just. I remember Gazza crying and Lineker, Shilton and John Barnes and World In Motion, and it was that year my father started taking me to watch live football. It seemed like the pinnacle, the greatest show on earth, a whole country getting behind a team. We came so close. Can’t wait for the next one. So then there was Euro 92. My overriding memory of that is Lineker being subbed and not breaking Sir Bobby’s record. Also, Denmark winning it, when they weren’t originally in the tournament but ended up going, due to the war in (the former) Yugoslavia.
But Euro 96, now that was a tournament. We’ll skim over USA94. Brazil won. It was hot. Euro 96, Three Lions On A Shirt. The actual belief we could win something. I remember the pure innocence of youth and feeling this was fantastic. Maybe it was because it was hosted in England, and maybe because I got the chance to go to a lot of the games, but that felt wonderful and it hurt when we went out. If only Gazza was taller.
The tide turned in 1998. David Beckham, England’s golden balls, one of the most brilliant footballers ever to wear the shirt, sent-off, disgraced, against Argentina, HE COST US THE GAME! Except, he didn’t. Sent off at 2-2. Game ended 2-2. Let’s look at the penalties first, shall we? But that doesn’t matter. The English press had a target, and boy did they target him. West Ham fans hanging effigies of him, booed at every ground, vilified by the ‘little Englanders’ that follow the national team, we saw it all and as United fans we felt it with him.
But it didn’t stop there. Phil Neville has had the same treatment after a mistake, Wayne Rooney should have gotten it in 2006, when he got himself sent off for stamping all over Carvalho. But no, the press decided Ronaldo was to blame. BECAUSE HE WINKED. Yep. Totally all down to Ronaldo. How dare he!
But this isn’t an exhaustive list. We see our bright lights go and play for England and come back injured, or vilified, or subjected to the England crowd singing ‘stand up if you hate Man U’, whilst the team on the field has 5 or 6 United players. We’re forced to watch the brilliance of Scholes shunted aside while the ‘Match Of The Day’ players like Gerrard and Lampard are selected ahead of them.
So it is hard to admit. That, yes, I like watching international football. It’s easier with the exotic ones, like the Copa America. But I actually DO enjoy watching England. The current squad, while not perfect has got several admirable players in there. Young lads, that I want to do well. Technically gifted footballers we are told England does not produce. This tournament feels different to most of those in recent years. No longer the ‘Golden Generation’ who didn’t achieve their potential. We now have a team of grafters that might actually suit the title of ‘underdog’. So while you’ll never see me dressed as Knight Crusader, or face-painted with the St. George cross, belting out the national anthem for all to see on TV. I might allow myself a silent, internal ‘come on England’, when that anthem is finished.
… Come on England.