The old chestnut of club versus country and the fuss surrounding Jamie’s return to the England fold is being milked in the media and what little I have been bothered to read about seems to be conjecture about whether our number 23 will get stick from the fans in South Africa. This is due to his treachery in having the affrontary to retire from the international scene in the first place and then secondly, horror of all horrors, deciding to return. Likened to something akin to selling state secrets to the Russians and then being pardoned without trial, I find the whole episode, to say the least, bemusing but see a picture emerging of everything falling place nicely for the prospect of him becoming the scapegoat for any failings later in the tournament.
Anyway if you were wondering about the title of this article, well that was the choice of television viewing one night last week as I slumped in the chair and scanned the channels. England versus Mexico at Wembley or Clooney versus Garcia at Las Vegas ? Well, no contest as far as I am concerned. Did I care if England beat Mexico? Er no, but did I want to see Clooney to get the result? Most definitely, so despite the inclusion of Glenn, Stevie and presumably Jamie at some stage, I chose Clooney getting the money and the girl instead.
I understand that “we” won the match 3-1 and Glen scored a cracker but the result is irrelevant to me and probably a lot of others too. You see this attitude that we are not English, we are Scouse has in fact been in place for decades and long before the side show of this current “Engurland” set up with it’s brass bands, W.A.Gs , flags and TV pubs. I first noticed this anti – England feeling developing at Liverpool first hand in the 1960’s in the days when the England team was something of a closed shop with a London based Winterbottom / Ramsey aristocracy in place. In short, it seemed if you were any great shakes as a footballer and played for the likes of Spurs or the ‘Ammers you were as good as guaranteed an England call up, whereas the “norvern” based players had a really tough time to be picked.
There was ongoing resentment at the lack of recognition in some of Bill Shankly’s team and although Cally featured regularly in the squad, the omission of Peter Thompson caused amazement on the Kop. Particularly when most of us saw him as the nearest we had to a Garrincha or a Jairzinho, who were the fabled wingers in the crack Brazilian teams of that era, led, of course, by the incomparable Pele. By virtue of his goal scoring record, Sir Alf Ramsey had no choice but to include Roger Hunt although he was never accepted by a Wembley crowd that was populated almost exclusively by cockneys. The misconception that he kept “crowd favourite” Jimmy Greaves out of the world cup winning team remains to this day, despite the fact that it was, in fact, Geoff Hurst who displaced a previously injured Greaves. The subsequent awarding of the O.B.E. to just the captain Bobby Moore for lifting the Jules Rimet trophy went down like a lead balloon in all parts of the country outside of the capital. At Anfield, the chant of “Bobby Moore, O.B.E. other buggers energy“ somehow perfectly captured the mood and perceived injustice in rewarding it to the cockney golden boy when all had played their part. Accordingly, “Sir” Roger Hunt was knighted, if only on the Kop.
So the seeds of discontent were very firmly planted some 40 odd years ago and that dispassionate view of not just England, but indeed international football has flourished at Liverpool ever since. Our big players showed scant regard for the international scene and the likes of Jocky, Nico, Kenny and Souey would regularly skip Scotland games if the travelling in midweek affected our preparation for the game on the Saturday. Whereas the likes of Ronnie Whelan, John Aldridge and Ray Houghton seemed to treat Irish games as some sort of jolly. The disproportionately low number of English players in our teams at the time also saw to further diminish the relevance of the “three lions” as far as we were concerned and those who did wear the national shirt, invariably had a hard time from the cockneys. Phil Neal, for example, was a regular target, purely as a result of our club success and their singing of “if Neal can play for England, so can I “ served only to further cement the anti – England culture on the red half of Merseyside.
The current scenario, then, of criticising our clubs players on international duty is not a new phenomena and the treatment of Johnny Barnes in the 1980s and latterly Crouchy did little to improve our aspect. It is perceived as legitimate by the ultra critical England fans that they have, somehow, earned the right to lambast our players when they wear the national shirt. My past anger at this attitude has now turned to practically a total disinterest of international football in general and England in particular. The latest example being Glen Johnson of course, who was seen as the natural successor to Gary Neville until the day he signed for us then suddenly everyone began questioning his “defensive” qualities. I understand the lad gave a man of the match performance against Mexico, scored a goal that the Brazilians would have been proud of and yet still got scant praise, so nothing new there then.
I just can’t get interested and most of all what turns me off is the “panel” talking bollocks so if I bother at all, I usually switch on just in time for the kick off but only to see how the Liverpool lads are doing and if its not much of a game, then I switch over any way. One of the last England games that I did watch right the way through was the one, I think, in Liechtenstein when the team were booed off at half time and Stevie scored twice in the second half. The fans reaction to the display was disgraceful, the younger players looked afraid to receive the ball and McClaren was hounded by the press. No wonder there can be so much indifference to the whole situation. The England fans, for me, get the team they deserve. Most of them seem to follow teams like Swindon and Gillingham on some sort of auxiliary basis and then switch allegiance when it suits – that is as long as England are winning, of course.
So we have got to the stage where I see internationals as nothing more than an insignificant nuisance and an interruption to more important club fixtures and especially this charade where they play a different eleven in each half. What does that achieve? Equally as ridiculous, didn’t Dirk and Ryan travel to Australia with Holland during last season just to play a friendly? What a waste of time and energy? The major issue of course remains the potential for injuries and while we are all cursing the recent record of Fernando regularly returning from international duty crocked, most on here will not perhaps be aware that Jamie Redknapp’s career was extensively blighted by injuries that occurred playing “for fuckin’ England” as we used to call them.
Now I am pretty certain that footballers genuinely want to play for their country, but whether they take the view of the likes of Glen Hoddle that it is the greatest honour in the game is perhaps debatable. Away from the media and off the record, it would be interesting to acquire their honest perspective. Certainly patriotism seems to be alive and well in other parts of the world and I recall the invasion of Jocks to Anfield in the seventies for a world cup qualifier against Wales. Drinking with them in town before the game, they were amazed at how indifferent we were to England compared with the fanaticism they displayed for their country. That same patriotism is also displayed by the captain of Argentina, for example, as Javier has no problems clocking up thousands of air miles travelling back to South America to represent his country. Great for him maybe, but no good for us, as that invariably means he is still jet lagged for our next club fixture and misses the game at the weekend.
United fans that I know have the same issues and are also not be best pleased with the treatment of their players on England duty with Rooney regularly playing with injuries or picking them up. It is also a fair bet that the booing of Lampard , Terry & Cole at Wembley is not well received at Stamford Bridge and if he had received that sort of treatment, then perhaps Mr Hoddle might alter his perspective too. One notable subscriber to the Hoddle school of thought of course is Michael Owen and up at St James Park, a couple of Geordie lads I know changed their attitude towards England dramatically in the light of his injury plagued time up there, especially with his continued & over-riding preference to get fit & represent his country at the expense of his employers. It was something I warned them to expect before they signed him and again it seemed to me that last year’s charade at Old Trafford was based, similarly, on getting into Capello’s plans and looking after his own interests rather than his new club’s. Consequently it is widely accepted that his perspective of the club versus country debate, along with the manner of his leaving of course, severely affected the esteem most of us have for the lad despite his goal scoring record.
So at a time of wall to wall football coverage with the tournament coming up, it remains to be seen if my take on international football is still prevalent amongst the “satellite generation” of our fans. It remains though, a view expressed by practically every local Liverpool fan that I have ever met and one endorsed regularly by contributors on LFCTV and Les Lawson in particular.
Next year is an absolutely pivotal one for us and a third injury plagued season for our big names would be disastrous. The sight then, of a half fit Fernando struggling to make Spain’s first game fills me with so much pessimism it is not true at time when, as far as I am concerned, he and all others should be on the beach getting rested ready for next season and not playing through pain in the dehydrating heat of South Africa.
Patriotic times to be a red or Oceans 13?