Coping with disappointment — the life of an england fan

Coping With Disappointment — The Life of an England Fan

I have been an England supporter for 22 years now, after being drawn in by the excitement of the World Cup in 1986. Vaguely remembering Lineker’s goals, my dad’s anger as Maradona handing Argentina victory and the disappointment when being made to go to bed after the game are overshadowed by the key fact that I was now an England fan.

Being an England fan is not really all it’s cracked up to be. Apparently, we invented the game so we should be the best at it. Sadly, we have recently been proven with our failure to reach Euro 2008, that this isn’t true. In fact, we were beaten in the qualifiers by a country that is younger than me, and even two years younger than Theo Walcott.

So why are we not that good at soccer, and when will we ever win a major tournament again? These questions are impossible to answer, making the life of an England fan a very uncomfortable and disappointing one. Through my experiences as an England supporter, the traditions and routines seem to be as cyclical and (sadly) eternal as the Ouroboros snake that eats itself.

Will the cycle ever be broken and why hasn’t it happened since 1986. I am an optimist that will always expect a positive result from the England team. However, I do not suffer delusions of grandeur and expect us to win every tournament that we enter. So, when the World Cup arrived in Italy in 1990, all I hoped for was some good performances and a decent run.

Italia ’90 proved to be the best England performance since the World Cup win in 1966. Despite a shaky start with draws against Ireland and the Netherlands, and an unconvincing win against Egypt, England progressed to the knock-out stages. The second round game with Belgium remained goalless for 119 minutes before David Platt volleyed the whole of England into jubilation.

A difficult quarter-final against tournament dark horses Cameroon was met with optimism and apprehension in equal measures. Another Platt goal and two Lineker penalties finally ended the African’s dreams, sending England to a semi-final with arch-rivals West Germany.

The nation’s hopes rested on the team, and their performance would not disappoint. Outplaying West Germany for most of the game, a Lineker goal would take the game to extra time and then penalties. Here, I would learn the horrific realism of being an England fan. German players do not miss penalties and sadly Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle did. The pain would last for six years as we failed miserably at Euro ’92 and failed to even make the World Cup in 1994.

So, Euro 96 arrives in my home country and the nation is gripped in football fever. England flags are everywhere, cars, houses, haircuts and tattoos — the nation believes and the optimism is back after years of depression. With Terry Venables as our coach, Gascoigne and Shearer on the pitch — nothing could go wrong. It was our year.

A slow start, followed by great victories against neighbours Scotland and a 4-1 thrashing of the Netherlands, with a young me in the crowd, saw the country reach fever pitch. Only Spain stood in our way of another semi-final, but we needed two bad refereeing decisions to keep us in the game before Seaman saved the decisive kick in the penalty shoot-out. Semi-final versus Germany — let’s not bring it up again.

It was another penalty shoot-out defeat. And if it wasn’t Gareth Southgate that missed, it would’ve been the next player or the next. Germany never miss penalties so we might as well have just gone home then. It hurt just like it did in 1990, but now I was old enough to stay up and watch the post-match discussions. This made it worse, re-running the moments where Gazza’s boot was inches from winning the game for England.

Penalties seem to be our downfall, so obviously we would practise them regularly before, during and even after the tournaments. We won’t get caught out like that again. We will score every penalty in the next tournament and go on to win it. France ’98 arrives and it’s close enough to feel like we are playing at home. The crowds will be full of English fans and the team will go on to glory.

Group stages were boring, Michael Owen should’ve started the games and Darren Anderton still gets picked. So, second round and we face the Argentinians. Owen and Shearer score, a sign of things to come we hope, but a moment of madness from the most stupid person in the world and we are down to ten men. Beckham, the idiot, kicks out as he lays down, forcing the referee to send him off. We lose on penalties and everyone hates Beckham for a few years.

That is what the nation remembers but an impartial view will clarify what happened. Beckham flicked a leg that brushed the opponent’s leg, forcing him to collapse. Ref sees his big chance to make a name for himself and sends off the golden boy of English football. England were denied a goal by Shearer’s elbow as he clatters keeper as Sol Campbell rises majestically to seal victory for the beleaguered England.

Penalty shoot-out again and we send up Paul Ince and David Batty to take a penalty each. Yeah, Ince and Batty took a penalty in a World Cup shoot-out. I still remember the realisation sweeping over me as these two players that rarely hit the target with a five yard pass would be taking one of the most important kicks in their lives. Ridiculous.

Euro 2000, Phil Neville ruined it. 2002 World Cup, David Seaman caught off his line. And so we move onto the problems with the Portuguese. 2004 and 2006 proved to be just the next tournaments in the long line of bitter disappointments for England fans.

For the first time in many years, England had players that were as good as some as the best in the world. Beckham, Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney are just some of the great players that we had at our disposal. And yet we would still fall short in the big games and leave the nation clutching at ifs and buts.

Euro 2004 would show off the amazing talents of a young Wayne Rooney. Scoring four goals in the group matches, the nation would rest a lot of its hopes on the shoulders of Rooney. As we faced Portugal in the Quarter Finals, everything seemed to suggest we could finally win a major tournament.

This optimism was obviously misplaced and England would again have their hopes shattered in a penalty shoot-out. Owen scored inside three minutes, and England would lead for a long, long time. Rooney limped off with an ankle injury after 26 minutes and took our hopes with him. When John Terry decided to allow Helder Postiga a free header the game was all square.

However, a Sol Campbell header in stoppage time disallowed for absolutely nothing sent the game into extra time. A goal from each team would keep the scores level but Campbell’s header would still grate on England fans’ minds. As usual, England would continue to battle on but when penalties would decide the game, the fans would expect the worst.

Beckham stepped up for the first penalty and sent it high and wide into the crowd, however, we would hang on for several more kicks before finally giving in to fate. So, we called on Darius Vassell to ensure that the status quo would be maintained.

The FIFA World Cup 2006 and England would take a team capable of winning the tournament. Poor performances and a lack of attacking creativity dampened the optimism, but England still possessed a great squad and would beat Ecuador in the second round. Sadly, we would face Portugal again and Rooney would leave the field early again.

Rooney would lose his footing in a challenge with Ricardo Carvalho, before setting a firm foot down on the Portuguese player’s midriff. A red card, and Rooney would take the nation’s hopes with him as he made his way down the tunnel. Penalties would decide our fate again, and again Portugal would obviously win.

After three penalties each, the score was only 1-1 with Lampard, Viana, Gerrard and Petit missing. So, with Portuguese in front we put our faith in Jamie Carragher, a player with three goals in nearly 400 games for Liverpool. Were we shocked when he missed? Of course not, especially as it allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to score the winner.

Football, or soccer as the Americans call it, is known for taking your hopes and dreams and smashing them before your very eyes. The key to being an England supporter is to accept the inevitable penalty shoot-out defeat and move on. We have never won a shoot-out in the FIFA World Cup Finals and are never likely to. It is also fortunate that Sol Campbell has not played for England for a while because the disallowed only add to the false-hope that we have in England.

I have failed to mention the 2008 European Championship qualifying campaign for a reason. This was the first time that no England fan had any faith in our team, due to the selection of Steve McLaren as manager. We failed to qualify and England fans enjoyed watching an international tournament for the first time since USA ’94.

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