Martin Swain: I just want England to make us proud again

Sport | Published:

England fans do not expect their team to win this World Cup.

A good proportion will not hold high hopes of Roy Hodgson's outfit even qualifying from a difficult group.

But please, please, please...can we finally have a performance by an England team at a major tournament worthy of our domestic game's prominent standing on the world stage?

That is what the 10,000 or more fans now arriving in Brazil, a portion of whom will have somehow made their way to the remote Amazonian location for tonight's opening contest against Italy, will be demanding.

No-one can seriously expect an outright triumph, but it would be refreshing to see England at last punch the weight of its prestige to deliver a whole that at the very minimum is the sum of its parts.

What should have been a journey through the Noughties rich with excitement for England fans became a tedious story of under-achievement brought about by strangely plodding, one-paced performances.

Despite a collection of talent the current England coach would covet – perm any two or three from Messrs Beckham, Terry, Ferdinand, Scholes, Owen, Neville and Coles A and J – what should have been a memorable Three Lions decade never materialised.

Indeed, the last outstanding World Cup finals performance pre-dates that era of disappointment.

England were brilliant on that famous night in St Etienne in 1998 when they matched and so nearly conquered a prime Argentina side despite playing the majority of the game with 10 men.


But even as the gloating Argentinians taunted the crestfallen English team with gestures when the two coaches drew side by side on exiting the stadium, it was still a game which promised much for the future.

France 98 had been captivated by the game and everyone in world football sat back and waited for the English triumphs which never came.

It is difficult to recall a performance anywhere near that level since despite the players at the disposal of Messrs Keegan, Eriksson, McClaren and Capello.

That is a shameful indictment of our international team and those who organise it, from the managers, through the FA and finally to the players themselves.


Having flunked badly with a cast of footballers who were proven at the higher end of the club game, perhaps we can over-achieve with a much more shallow pool of talent.

That is the hope and it is a hope that is justified. The retirement of the celebrity pack has cleansed the dressing room of cliques and agents more interested in their client's image rights than their nation's footballing success.

The old clash of agendas, which led to England players resenting and fearing the criticism that didn't come their way at club level, has been banished.

With a more unassuming group, woven around three proven team men and 'golden generation' survivors Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney, pictured left, there is a sense of the collective once more supplanting individual concerns and egos.

Much has been made of the lesser expectation lightening the luggage for Hodgson's squad on the journey out to Rio via Miami. And that, too, is a welcome new factor in the team's preparations.

Tonight's game is a freakish occasion because of the extraordinary conditions in which it will be played, aggravated still further by a ridiculously inadequate pitch.

It will be no venue or setting for anyone to unleash anything other than a determination not to lose. But beyond that come two fixtures, against Uruguay and Costa Rica, which give England the chance to register an imprint at the World Cup which will make the nation proud again.

That's all we ask. Is it too much? I don't think so.

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