Jim White

We’re all in a quandary

Jim White

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Just imagine for a moment that England had not lost their Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia last November and were, in fact, in a training camp, readying themselves for an assault on the finals. Imagine what the levels of expectation would be like in the English press and public alike. After all, Manchester United have just won the Champions League with a team containing six Englishmen, beating Chelsea - a side that started the game with four English-born players - in the final. Surely, everyone would be saying, if such players are good enough to lift the most important club trophy in the world, they will be good enough to go all the way on the international stage. Especially if you add to the Moscow final mix the likes of Steven Gerrard, David James and Theo Walcott. Blimey, that's a team isn't it? England would surely start as favourites. And you can easily conjure it all up: the bookies slashing the odds on an England win, the flags fluttering from the aerial of every taxi cab in town, the beery plans of mass Alpine invasion.

It isn't, of course, going to happen like that. As for a reason, well it would be all too easy to load the blame up on the shoulders of the then-England coach Steve McClaren. One man cannot carry the can for a team failure, even if he had been gifted the resources available to him. Though it is interesting to note that, if you do believe McClaren was culpable, you would not be alone in your assessment: despite being available for work since the late autumn, he is still, six months on, without a management job.

So, instead of whipping themselves up into an unrealistic fervour, only to have their presumptions of superiority pierced by a penalty shoot out in the quarter final, England fans are faced with a quandary: who to support in the Euros. Normally in these circumstances there is another side from the British Isles to get behind. If not the Scots, then at least the Irish. But their qualification was a wretched as England's (though in the case of Scotland's valiant efforts after being drawn in the same group as France and Italy, at least there was valid reason for non-participation). Which leaves everyone in Britain scrabbling for a side to favour.

All of the newspapers are running features right now which purport to help us make the choice but are in fact little more than an excuse to run let's-all-laugh-at-foreigners pieces. Poland - by dint of the fact that it supplies much of the country's workforce - is the current favourite, backed by everyone from the Daily Telegraph to the Guardian. Particularly since they are in the same group as Germany, the eternal boo-boys in English eyes.

But will it really be like that? Will everyone really adopt another country simply because they are not Germany? Surely more likely, club followers will choose a side containing one of their favourites: Liverpool fans supporting the Spain of Fernando Torres, United lovers going for Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, Spurs enthusiasts enjoying getting an early sight of their new signing Luca Modric with Croatia. Or maybe, for those like the English who didn't make it, Euro 2008 will be just about the football, the fun of watching a top-class game, viewed for once not through the prism of favouritism or nationalism, but just for the sake of the beauty of the sport.

No, it will never happen. Will it?

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