If you want guaranteed entertainment, why not go to the circus?

For me, football is about winning

by Rick Johansen

The author and journalist Rob Burley tweets this:

The criticism of Southgate is incomprehensible. He routinely leads us to semi-finals and even made the last Euros final and he’s ended the penalty hoodoo. Of course it would be nice to win one and maybe now’s the time, but whatever happens he’s been a massive success.


Tonight, that criticism was all over social media, the most popular word to describe England’s progression to the semi-finals was ‘shite’, followed closely by ‘shit’.

I try not to let it get to me because, frankly, there are far more important things to worry about in the world. You don’t need to me to say what they are, do you?

We are bombarded with ignorance from people who criticise and even deride Southgate’s selection, his tactics and condemn his supposed negativity. People, by the way, who have never played for a Sunday pub team. People who just think the coach simply says, ‘Play safe all evening and hope for the best’.

We are shite and we are in the semi finals of the Euros, again. We’re shite? How many games, exactly, have England lost in the campaign so far? Don’t give me all that stuff about ‘Well, we haven’t played anyone yet.’ It may not look pretty, but actually football doesn’t often look pretty. To an old hack like me, who was a rubbish player, winning was all that mattered. If I played in a game where we played brilliant attacking football but drew or even lost, I’d be gutted. Grind out a shitty win after being outplayed for 90 minutes? Oh yes. And what would I say to someone who said, ‘You were shit, you were lucky’? I’d say, I did say, ‘Yes, we were shit and yes we were lucky, but we won. Have a look in the Green ‘Un (Bristol’s Monday football paper, RIP). The result will be there.’

England aren’t shit or shite. We’re not exactly firing on all cylinders against mass defending but that’s what happens to the better teams. Nor do I think we’re that brilliant, but our manager, Gareth Southgate, keeps finding a way for us to win.

I despair of some of our entitled so called supporters who think we have a divine right to expect England to demolish Johnny Foreigner, just because we’re England and he’s Johnny Foreigner. We have two world class players: Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham, as well as Trent Alexander Arnold who would, I suggest, be in any other starting XI in this tournament. The rest? Well, high class Premier League players with potential for world class (Saka, Rice, Mainoo, Foden) and other very good players (Stones, Walker. Guehi, Shaw, Pickford). But oddly, for reasons no one really understands, a team that isn’t as good as its individual parts.

We’ve been here before. Our one winning manager Sir Alf Ramsey was hounded out of office some eight years after his triumph. Bobby Robson and Terry Venables are fondly remembered today, but they weren’t at various stages of Italia ’90 and Euro ’96. They too were shit and shite, tactically inept, always picking the wrong players until somehow muddling our way to the semi-finals and losing on penalties to Germany. After both defeats – and how English is this? – they were suddenly great managers who knew all along what they were doing. Noble defeat was just what we wanted after all. I have never, once, come across a player or a manager who contented themselves with a decent performance in defeat. Maybe our attitude explains, at least partly, why we haven’t won anything for 58 years?

We will go through it all on Wednesday night against a Dutch side featuring the best centre half on the planet, Virgil Van Dijk, and Burnley cast off Wout Weghorst, with a bits and pieces team somewhere in between. The game could be attritional, an arm wrestle as they describe a dour rugby union game like yesterday’s contest between New Zealand and England. But maybe, because the Dutch do like to play football, things may just click for one side or the other, or maybe both. Maybe the England goals will flow, Messrs Kane, Bellingham, Foden and Rice will suddenly find their shooting boots? Perhaps everything will sort of click?

Most England fans have, I fear, made up their minds about Gareth Southgate who nonetheless has made reaching the semi-finals of tournaments routine. The ‘time for a change’ brigade, closely aligned with the ‘he’s taken us as far as he can’ lobby, will in all likelihood get what they want. A new manager to criticise for his selection, his lack of tactical nous and his supposedly negative football.

The armchair experts and pub bores, who loathe the idea of possession football and pine for the good old days of Andy Carroll when you needed a neck brace just to follow the ball hurtling through the skies, will get their wish. Who, in their right mind would want Southgate’s job?

I can imagine Rob Burley’s remarks at the top of this blog will have been met by laughter and mockery by those in blinkers and even wearing blindfolds. But I’ll say this: if you want entertainment, then go to the circus or a stage show. If you think being entertained by England is more important than winning, then we have nothing much else to say to each other. To me, winning is everything, as long as one doesn’t have to cheat in order to do so. If we scrape by the Netherlands on penalties and defeat Spain or France in the final thanks to a goal off Harry Kane’s arse, that will do me. Football is still the glory game to me. There’s no glory in losing.

Actually, we aren’t shit or shite and, in terms of our history and the resources available to him, Southgate has been a highly successful manager. More than that, he’s a thoroughly decent and compassionate human being who made playing for England fun again.

Finally, opinions are like arseholes: everybody’s got one. Just looking at social media last night reminded me just how many arseholes there are.

You may also like