A journey of pain: Watching England struggle, Part 2

Date published: Tuesday 31st May 2016 11:03

England: Look on after defeat to Portugal in 2004

Dave Tindall recalls more previous tournaments following England and hopes the cycle of hope and disappointment won’t repeat yet again at Euro 2016.

In part one of this feature, Dave recalled his experiences of the 1982 World Cup through to the 1998 tournament in France. There were a few fleeting moments of joy during that period, but it’s not been great since the turn of the Millennium….

2000 European Championships

England’s fate was sealed from the penalty spot yet again but at least in a different manner. This was the tournament where we finally beat those pesky Germans and yet we still got knocked out in the group phase.

I watched the first game over breakfast in an Irish pub in San Francisco (these were the days before kids so I had still had money). Once more, everything looked rosy when Paul Scholes and Steve McManaman put us 2-0 up from Beckham crosses inside 20 minutes, but a Figo-inspired Portugal weren’t having it and fought back to beat us 3-2.

I never saw the Germany game so had to ask a bloke in an England shirt at Las Vegas airport. “1-0 Shearer,” he said succinctly. Get in! Time to celebrate on those blackjack tables. I was back in England for the final game against Romania. A draw would have done and we were on course when Alan Shearer and Michael Owen put us 2-1 up at the break. They equalised, but time was running out. Then, with a minute to go, bloody Phil Neville gave away a penalty and we crashed out.

2002 World Cup

Hopes were high ahead of this World Cup under new Swedish boffin coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.

On a memorable night in Munich, we’d hammered Germany 5-1 with five goals from Liverpool players (Owen hat-trick, Gerrard and Heskey) in the qualifiers. This, we were told, was our ‘golden generation’ even though ‘golden generations’ never actually win things. I know ours don’t and so it proved.

The time difference in Japan and Korea meant often watching games whilst eating cornflakes. What a way to the start the day. England opened with a 1-1 draw against Sweden in the ‘Sven derby’, but that was surely a good omen (think 1-1 draw with Republic of Ireland in 1990 and 1-1 draw with Switzerland in 1996). And it did get better. We beat Argentina! Owen went over in the box and a half-fit Beckham slammed home the penalty to gain some sort of revenge for 1986.

We played out a 0-0 draw with Nigeria to advance to the last 16 and then made short shrift of Denmark 3-0 in Niigata. Japan loves English culture – I went to Tokyo once and saw a t-shirt with ‘Dudley Zoo’ written on the front of it (I didn’t have the heart to tell them it wasn’t considered one of the cooler places to hang out) – so all this seemed like a far cry from the days when our dull football and boorish fans made us vastly unpopular.

Unfortunately, we then ran into eventual winners Brazil. Owen had us dreaming with an early goal but then Ronaldinho had other ideas. He brilliantly set up Rivaldo to stroke in an equaliser and then his free-kick from miles out sailed over the seemingly ever-dependable David Seaman. There are times when, as an England fan, you feel we’re cursed. This was one of them.

2004 European Championships

In my final tournament before children, I watched a fair bit of this World Cup in New York. But, again, I was left to stomp off muttering after watching England lose on penalties to Portugal in front of a massive TV in Times Square.

To get to that point, we’d overcome a traumatic 2-1 opening loss to France (both their goals came in added time, the second after Steven Gerrard’s back-pass had unerringly picked out Thierry Henry) by blasting Switzerland 3-0 and Croatia 4-2.

Like Gazza in 1990 and Michael Owen in 1998, we had a shiny new young hero. Wayne Rooney blasted in four goals in those two games. It was weird. Not only did the teenage Scouser know how to finish, he also had an effortless first touch. Very un-English like.

This was a Gazza for the new generation but, unfortunately, he emulated our previous God in the wrong way – getting injured and watching us lose on penalties. England were seven minutes way from beating Portugal in the quarter-finals so we could have avoided those blessed spot-kicks. We didn’t. Beckham skied the first over the bar and Darius Vassell (yes, really) missed the last and, to cap it all, Greece went and won the tournament. If they can win one of these big tournaments, why can’t we? Sigh.

2006 World Cup

Rolling back the years and pretending I was collecting them for my new-born son, I got into the spirit of this one early by completing my first Panini sticker album since 1990. Admittedly, Tindall Jr did projectile vomit over Joe Cole at one point, but thankfully I had seven spares.

There was nothing to be sick about in the group stage as England edged out Paraguay and Trinidad & Tobago before drawing 2-2 with Sweden to advance as winners. Beckham’s free-kick was enough to see off Ecuador in the last 16 and Portugal looked beatable opponents in the quarter-finals. But nothing ever goes to plan with England, does it?

Rooney got himself sent off for a stamp (his Man Utd teammate Cristiano Ronaldo winking to the bench to show that their evil plan to wind Rooney up had worked) and after 120 minutes without a goal it went to penalties. As England fans we can try and fool ourselves about the law of averages, but deep down we know our fate has already been sealed when it gets to this stage. It’s as if the players know too.

With the weight of botched shootout history on their shoulders, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carrager (what was he doing taking one?) all missed and Dr Evil (Ronaldo) blasted home his to bring down the guillotine on England’s hopes yet again. This was getting tiresomely frustrating.

2008 World Cup – Didn’t qualify thanks to the Wally with the Brolly

Oh for…

2010 European Championships

I watched England’s opener in Ibiza. I had a daughter now so this was from the serene location of a hotel room in the Old Town rather than whilst doing a conga along the streets of San Antonio and being groped by a hen party.

To be frank, there was nothing to get giddy about anyway as the hope and excitement of Steven Gerrard’s early opener vanished after Rob Green let in a shot from Clint Dempsey that my now four-year-old boy could have saved.

A grim 0-0 draw with Algeria did little to lift the mood and although we scraped through to the group stage via a 1-0 won over Slovenia, Jermain Defoe getting the goal, it all felt very flat.

It was left to Germany to put England out of their misery and they did so in style by thumping us 4-1 in Bloemfontein. Yes, Frank Lampard’s shot was miles over the line (there was no goal-line technology in those days) and, although that would have made it 2-2 after we’d been 2-0 down, it only masked the fact that we’d been completely outplayed.

It felt less of an injustice that Maradona’s Hand of God goal and I recall that my overriding emotions at the end were disappointment and anger. I genuinely felt I was through with supporting England again. This felt like a real low point. Same old, same old. Spain were once written off as underachievers, but they’d now won Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010. We couldn’t even get to a bloody semi-final anymore.

2012 European Championships

Some things never change is a phrase that has plenty of resonance for an England supporter. So, just as in Spain 30 years earlier, we bowed out of this one without actually losing a game. However, the real feeling of groundhog day in 2012 was due to yet another exit on penalties. I was beginning to lose count.

In the group stage we’d drawn 1-1 with France, come from 2-1 down to beat Sweden 3-2 thanks to Danny Welbeck’s late winner and then sealed top spot via a Wayne Rooney header against Ukraine. It felt something could be building, but at the Euros (a 16-team format then compared to 32 at a World Cup), the so-called easy games end there.

So, it was straight into battle against a European powerhouse, Italy. They had Buffon, Pirlo and a promising young chap called Balotelli, but it didn’t seem like a vintage crop of Italians. It was time for England to step up and make their first semi-finals at a major tournament since 1996. Didn’t happen.

To even get to the penalty shootout was a backs-to-the-wall job from Roy Hodgson’s men. Piro completed 131 passes; our highest was Ashley Cole with 44. Not that it meant Cole had got his eye in.

In the shootout, Ashley Young hit the bar and then Cole had his shot saved by Buffon and ‘Game Over’ scrolled down our screens again. Add 2012 to 2006, 2004, 1998, 1996 and 1990. I’d now witnessed six England exits on penalties. A joke. And that joke wasn’t funny anymore. I’d stick to club football from now.

2014 World Cup

Or would I? After Liverpool’s heartbreaking late Premier League collapse, a World Cup in Brazil seemed like the perfect cure. I’d been mesmerised by the Brazil of Zico, Eder and Socrates in 1982 and had read and watched everything I possibly could about their magical 1970 team. A World Cup in Brazil. Yes, this felt right.

And what a mouthwatering start – a showdown with Italy in the Amazon jungle. They scored first,but when Daniel Sturridge converted Raheem Sterling’s cross for the equaliser I thought this was our moment. Wrong. These were the days when Mario Balotelli still looked interested and he peeled away to head in an excellent winner.

The same story unfolded against Uruguay. Wayne Rooney put us level, but Luis Suarez, back from knee surgery, smashed in the winner after he’d earlier headed them in front. And when Costa Rica beat Italy that was that for England. Undone by Liverpool strikers past and present with a former Anfield manager (the worst in my lifetime) in charge.

Our first group exit since 1958 and this after just two matches. I suppose we didn’t lose 7-1 to Germany in the last four – “the most embarrassing semi since I watched Brokeback Mountain with my dad”, as someone said on Twitter. Apparently we then drew 0-0 with Costa Rica in our final group game. I have no recollection of it. I’d sort of gone into a state beyond disappointment now when it came to England.

And so to the 2016 Euros….

I really should have given up on England after all this heartache but, quite simply, I can’t.

Although my interest in qualifying campaigns can wane horribly, I absolutely love tournament football. I’ll try not to miss a game in the finals whether England are there or not but, of course, it has a completely different dimension when they are.

I can hear the excuses now if we suffer more failure in France this summer. You know the drill… a lack of quality coaching, a lack of investment in grassroots football, too many foreigners in the Premier League, the lack of a winter break, all our players being knackered.

There’s validity in all of them, but just imagine if we’d been good at spot-kicks down the years. Would we be digging for all those excuses then?

Even if we’d been eliminated in the very next game after winning those shootouts, we’d have made the final of the 1990 World Cup and Euro 96, reached the World Cup quarters in 1998, the semis of Euro 2004, the semis of the 2006 World Cup and the semis of Euro 2012.

Then would we look so bad?

I know that didn’t happen. I know it’s ifs, buts and maybes. I know the one about my auntie being my uncle but for a certain part of the anatomy.

But just glossing over all this history and saying England are rubbish is too simplistic.

In my mind, we’ve underachieved, had luck go against us more times than we’ve been on the right end of it and been weighed down by past failures (certainly when it comes to penalties).

I won’t thrown the towel in though and here’s why.

Saying a big performance by England at a major tournament brings everyone together sounds like a horrid and lame cliché.

But it does. It genuinely does.

And I’m not saying this as some blindly patriotic, red-and-white flag waving numpty.

If you’re old enough to remember World Cup 1990 and Euro 1996, flash your minds back and tell me that there wasn’t something magic in the air.

Stuff like Royal Weddings, elections or historical dates on the calendar can’t change the mood of the country on such a nationwide scale anymore.

Despite all the past disappointments, England’s football team can.

That’s powerful dudes.

Shed the bearded hipster cynicism, have some belief and remember that lifetime memories may be carved this summer.

They probably won’t and I’ll have a very different take on all this in the aftermath of a last 16 penalty exit but no-one will ever tell me that having hope is a bad thing. Even when it comes to England’s football team.

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