Watching the dispirited, sad, frankly pathetic display the English team put on against Algeria, I couldn't help but wonder what we can learn about this nation that once ruled the world. Over and over again they looked like over-privileged, over-priced, over-pampered aristocrats, with all the skill in the world, and absolutely no heart. It was like they never met each other. How do we explain how a team with some of the greatest players in the world, from a country that actually invented the game, could be so horrible?
A) It's a very bad idea to sleep with your teammates wives and girlfriends. Unless they ask you to of course. In which case you'd probably be playing for Brazil, not England. But that's exactly what John Terry, the crucial central defender of England, did to one of his teammates. He slept with one of his teammate's girlfriends. Definitely without consulting him first. And John Terry was the captain of the team. Gives the phrase, "leading by example" of whole new twist.
B) Italian and English apparently mix like tortellini and bangers & mash. When England hired Fabio Capello, the world-famous Italian coach, someone should've thought of how incompatible styles of these two countries truly are. The Italians lay back, they invite you to attack, and when you have exposed your underbelly, they slice you up with their stylish, handcrafted stiletto. The English are all hustle and bustle, harrying, nipping at your heels, wearing you down until you can't take it anymore. Then they bludgeon you over the head until you bleed to death. Perhaps this would explain why Fabio Capello is being burned in effigy all over England.
C) When put under pressure, when things go bad, England panic with high anxiety, and their sphincters become so tight they strangle on their own bile. After they scored their first goal against USA, with Steven Gerrard calmly slotting home the simplest of goals, America didn't panic. They buckled down and work harder. Contrast that to what happened when England was put under it even the slightest pressure by the Americans. They produced a shocking goalkeeping error, the Great Green Gaffe, as a country was undone by play a schoolboy could have made. Against Algeria, they twitched and quivered as the Northern Africans ran at them with vim, verve and vigor.
D) The English hate themselves. Part of this no doubt results from having been colonizing, imperialist exploiters who pillaged the world so the queen could fill her coffers with riches. Part of it no doubt comes from an inbred, aristocratic, class-based society, in which the good of the few is always placed above the good of the many. Part of it no doubt comes from the nagging self-doubt that comes from once ruling the world, and evolving into a snarky, celebrity/royalty obsessed, lapdog of America. If you don't believe me, listen to the way the England supporters, many of whom traveled thousands of miles, got dressed in absolutely ludicrous costumes, some using up their life savings just to be there, brutally attacked their own team when the chips were down, and when the team needed support the most.
I was not at the stadium in South Africa for the England-Algeria game. But I wanted to get a feel for what it was like to actually be there when this international sporting fiasco/catastrophes/calamity came down. So I turned to our men in South Africa, the intrepid Collin Powers.
DHS: So, tell me what it was like in the Stadium as the English ship went down against lowly Algeria.
CP: I suppose Wayne Rooney's passing comments as he left the pitch have only magnified what was already a bizarrely tense relationship between team and nation.
DHS: I saw that, he said something like, "It's nice to see your own fans booing
you... we've got loyal supporters."
CP: Exactly. Before the game, there were thousands of Brits in Cape Town, stampeding the most popular watering holes down at the marina and up on Long Street before even the sun had properly woken up and stretched its legs. Some dressed as crusaders, a few painted head to toe, little kids and old men alike with St. George's Cross etched on their faces. Most were friendly enough in their sparring with the outnumbered Algerians. The highest intensity displays of xenophobia were aroused only when a few Germans innocently stumbled into the crowd, where they were immediately welcomed with songs glorifying the English Royal Air Force's World War II escapades against the marauding Nazi forces.
DHS: There's nothing that incites an Englishman like the sight of a German.
CP: Absolutely. The problem was that a dangerous amount of booze was downed in the 7-10 hour window that the 8:30 kick-off allowed. The skinny, pre-pubescent physiques of some of the shirtless patrons shooting back pints seemed like it might be problematic, but shit, it is the World Cup. As match time approached, the frequency of f-bombs, c-bombs (if you don't know what a c-bomb is, it is a very frowned upon synonym for the vagina in the US of A), f'ing c-bombs, and the relatively harmless 'bastaaads' the English so love made a noticeable increase.
DHS: I always find it strange how these sex/female anatomy words are flung about in anger as the booze gets flung down throats.
CP: No question. Sitting in a section of English fans, the smell of beer was so dense you it was like you could grab it, bottle it, cut through it with a machete; like you were marinating in it. The place was brutally loud, the singing of 'God Save the Queen' immense. They were ready for blood, and a vintage Frank Lampard rip from 25 out in the first few minutes since them into riotous euphoria.
DHS: And then it all started to going terribly wrong, didn't it?
CP: It did. As England struggled to find a rhythm in the early minutes, struggled to hold possession against the quick and inspired Algerians, the mood in the stands shifted sharply. Impatience was first manifested in the grumbling building from all corners of the stadium. This anxiety fused with the already strangely unconfident play of the team, growing and growing with each stifled attack and listless loss of the ball.
DHS: Yes, the disgust of the English fans seemed to suck the team further and further down into a hellish quagmire of insecurity and ineptitude.
CP: The English fans were raging. Screaming at the top of their lungs, 'GET F*CKING HESKEY OFF THE F*CKING PITCH.' 'WHAT THE F*CK ARE THEY DOING?' 'TAKE F*CKING ROONEY OFF, THE F*CKING C*UNT IS USELESS.' 'LAMPARD IS COMPLETE SH*TE. I CAN'T BELIEVE I PAID ALL THIS MONEY TO COME AND WATCH THIS SH*TE C*NT.'
DHS: Seems an odd way to try to inspire your team to new heights.
CP: Semper Fides it was not. By the twentieth minute, you could see the pressure weighing down on the English players, gesturing at one another in disbelief, shouting, and throwing up arms in bewilderment as yet another simple pass didn't connect. When the players did leave the field for the fifteen minute interlude, they were sent off with a loud chorus of brutal boos. Heads were hanging, body-language negative and defeatist.
On the other end, the Algerian players were swarming about, encouraging one another with thumbs up and congratulations on big tackles and incisive balls into the English defense. The Algerian cohesion on both sides of the ball far surpassed anything seen from England, and had they shown a bit more composure in the front third, they might have stolen a victory.
DHS: Yes, I thought they played a fantastic game.
CP: Furthermore, their fans felt the momentum native to the hard-fighting underdog and helped push their team on to what was a fair result at the very least.
DHS: I actually thought they were going to get the three points, I think you could argue that they deserve them.
CP: Agreed. For the much maligned, rancorous British fan, I must say, their team did play the match in a Percocet-esque (perhaps even oxycodonian) coma state. There was a fundamental lack of urgency to all their movements, whether in making the appropriate runs for crosses or fetching the ball for a throw-in. The whole effort was apathetic. It looked like the burdensome emotional strain of carrying an entire nation's sensationalistic expectations/venomous pessimism has left them a disheveled bunch.
DHS: Yes, their self-hatred was palpable
CP: It does seem like the sun has set on the British Empire.
DHS: Thanks, my man.
And that's our man in South Africa, Colin Powers, telling it like it is at World Cup 2010.
David Henry Sterry is, with Bay Area literary legend Alan Black, co-author of The Glorious World Cup: A Fanatics Guide, for those who like their soccer with a side of kick ass.