‘Embarrassing’, ‘humiliating’, ‘the worst defeat in our history’. In some contexts- perhaps. But that is not the way I feel this about last night. I actually feel quite different this morning. Or perhaps indifferent. But I do feel angry, and it’s not just towards a spineless display by footballing countrymen who play at the highest level. It’s towards, as usual, the sense of superiority that defines the nationalistic attitudes of some within England.
As the match evolved last night, above and beyond the frustration that was felt about our players being unable to penetrate the defensive wall that the Icelandic defence became, I was distracted by a piece of commentary that compared the game to the San Marino match of 1993 where England went 1-0 behind in the first few seconds of the tie- coming back to eventually win 7-1. It took time, was the suggestion. One gets the impression that we would have needed a lot more than another half an hour this time. Another match perhaps. It was even suggested that Iceland were now firmly stuck in their half for the duration. Yet they were the ones who came closest to scoring in the second half.
Clive Tyldesley’s comparison of this match merely summarised the sense of entitlement that many feel, and Europeans justifiably mock. Here was an Iceland team that had seen off the challenges of Hungary, Austria and Portugal in the previous group stages. They have beaten the Netherlands home and away in qualifying, got the better of the Turks over two legs, and equalled the Czechs. A group England would have found a challenge. But, no. Were they minnows, cannon fodder, and an easy passport to our rightful place in the Quarter Finals ? Were they were a necessary inconvenience to our rightful passage ? How awful that they had the gall to beat us. Absurd, haughty, language and ideology.
It’s time, in the light of all that has happened recently, to think of ourselves with a little more sober judgement. It’s time to stop assuming that distant history gives right to an elite status in the present age. Whether this is on a sporting stage or a cultural one. For me, last night was a summary of much of the happenings of the previous week. There was an assumption that somehow it was our divine right to proceed on our own terms and with preferable accommodation from others, and now we face uncertainty and soul searching. I’m a very patriotic Englishman, my chest was pumping with pride at the recent Rugby Union series win in Australia. But my love for my own country doesn’t invoke an elitist attitude towards others, whether ‘smaller’ or not. Once we stop becoming drunk on the instilled heroics and muscle flexing of the distant past then we might be able to pave a better way.