We Came, We Saw, But It Didn’t Come Home

Bollocks. It just wasn’t meant to be. Much as we wanted to believe this particular England team could go all the way, they just weren’t quite good enough. There’s no shame in that, of course. This young group of players were given no chance a few weeks ago. But I can’t deny they were second best on the night and we can have few complaints. Well played Croatia. You utter bastards 🙂

Much as I find this current group of players quite likeable, however, I am a bit confused by the national mood. Everyone seems really proud of what we’ve achieved. I don’t quite feel the same way though. In fact I have very mixed feelings. On the one hand it was a brilliant ride, and I think Southgate has put some solid foundations in place for future success. On the other hand we got outplayed by Croatia, a country with a population of just 4 million. That’s smaller than Scotland.

I guess it all comes down to expectations. If you expected England to crash and burn horribly then you’ll be delighted we reached the semis. However, I always expected us to qualify from the group, and when the draw opened up generously (to say the least) I was genuinely hopeful we’d reach the final. A country with England’s wealth and talent pool should be able to beat Colombia, Sweden, and Croatia. In years to come we’ll see this World Cup as a huge opportunity missed. That’s what hurts the most.

I also find it a tad surreal that this team are being treated like heroes. There’s no middle-ground in English football. The teams we send to major finals either make the nation proud (1990, 1996, 2018) or get treated like a national disgrace (pretty much every other year). Isn’t the truth somewhere in between? In my opinion the current team did quite well but no more and no less. Our sporting press and all the supporters seem a bit too emotional and a tad fickle in my humble opinion.

I know there has been talk about exceeding expectations but an argument could be made that this team simply lived up to their world ranking. England are currently 12th in the FIFA table. In this world cup we beat Tunisia (ranked 21st), Panama (55th), and Sweden (24th). We essentially drew with Colombia (16th) and lost to Croatia (20th). It’s a bit irrelevant but Belgium are ranked 3rd for what that’s worth.

Overall, therefore, I feel we needed a bit of a reality check. We all bought into the dream that football was coming home. But in reality all that came home were chickens … to roost. Typically we all got carried away with the hype. Will we never learn? There’s much to admire about our team but they never seriously looked like champions.

England have proved they’re a good team, and that makes a lovely refreshing change, but there’s still substantial room for improvement – especially when one considers the wealth of the premier league and the place football holds in the national consciousness. Cricket would kill for a ounce of the coverage that football gets.

And I guess that’s why, despite getting so close to our first appearance in a world cup final since 1966, that I’m merely disappointed rather than devastated today. When we lost on penalties in 1990 and 1996 I felt like I’d been kicked in the crotch. It took me three or four days to get over it. I was so despondent because I felt we deserved to win those games and were good enough to win the whole tournament. Sadly I don’t think I can say the same about the current squad. The truth is that although Southgate’s team has done well they’re not a champion team … at least not yet.

I also feel less than distraught because this team’s best days are clearly ahead of them. This feels like the beginning not an end. Southgate has created a really solid platform we can build upon. If he can integrate some of our world cup winning youth players over the next few years then we should be formidable by 2022.

What’s more, although I don’t think the current team has many real stars (I thought Kane was very disappointing last night), I do think several of the XI have the potential to become world class in time. Although John Stones was to blame for Croatia’s winner, he has grown in stature this month and might develop into one hell of a player. Ditto Harry Maguire. I also love the look of Marcus Rashford. And if you don’t love everything about Jordan Pickford then you’re dead inside.

Perhaps it’s this sense of optimism that explains the nation’s pride today? Although this team didn’t kill any giants, and frequently struggled to score from open play, one can’t deny its more intangible achievements – particularly the way they’ve brought the country together for a few glorious hours.

Our country has been so divided recently. Our politics is a shit-storm, with a government and opposition that are clearly riddled with divisions and huge ideological differences. The future looks very uncertain – not because the UK isn’t a fantastic country but because the divisions run so deep over Brexit, the future of liberal capitalism, and Corbyn’s socialist alternative. There’s seems little middle-ground here either I’m afraid.

So what did England’s football team achieve? Not a hell of a lot in pure football terms. They had the match by the scruff of the neck last night but couldn’t manage the game and ultimately fell apart. However, they did make the nation forget about its broader problems for a moment. And they temporarily united people who have been clawing each other’s eyes out for the last couple of years.

Come to think of it. That’s one hell of an achievement.

James Morgan

2018-07-12T16:53:19+00:00 July 12th, 2018|football|27 Comments


  1. Kevin July 12, 2018 at 11:36 am - Reply

    James, an average England team, with 1 class player in Kane, although he went missing as the competition progressed.
    Went 1 round further than I expected, due to an easy draw. Croatia deserved their win. No plan B, no creativity in the middle.
    Could have done with a Gazza. Although this England squad ‘may’ improve, can’t see Spain or Germany being that poor in future.
    Also Holland & Italy will be back. So its a missed chance.
    More importantly back to the cricket, even if it is white ball stuff.

    • James Morgan July 12, 2018 at 11:53 am - Reply

      I suggested as much on Twitter last night after the game and got quite a lot of abuse. People seem disproportionately proud of this team’s achievements. Perhaps it’s because the ride was so enjoyable? However, they have certainly restored some pride and given everyone that sense of optimism I described. It’s all bitter-sweet to me. So close and yet my gut tells me we were further away than many think. Mixed feelings. Really should’ve won last night.

  2. Marc Evans July 12, 2018 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    Until football administrators tackle the growing problem of foreign infiltration on our game it is impossible to visualise a day when young talent will be given sufficient opportunity to mature. They need to take a leaf out of cricket’s book and restrict foreign players, as well as owners and managers. Whether Brexit will create a more conducive environment for this is debatable. The premiership is presently a cash cow above a breeding ground for domestic talent, a slave to the sponsors and worldwide TV ratings.
    We have won world and European championships from under 17’s to under 20’s, yet there is no sign these players are going to be brought on by their clubs. In the pursuit of instant success foreign mercenaries are being shoehorned in whilst the youngsters are farmed out on loan to lower division clubs. How can any true English fan support a premiership team nowadays, when you’re just supporting fly by nights with little or no loyalty who are sabotaging the domestic game. Contracts mean nothing to any of them. Most are not particularly talented and do not add much to the game here. It just means other countries have success at our expense, as we provide them with a breeding ground for their talents. Let’s go back to a numerical restriction per club so we can keep the best and dump the rest.
    When Gareth Southgate was first interviewed after his appointment he pointed out that when he was playing there were well over 150 premiership players for any prospective England manager to choose from, now there are fewer than half that. When is this going to end and who really cares?

    • James Morgan July 12, 2018 at 12:32 pm - Reply

      Think you’ve highlighted exactly why I’ve fallen out of love with club football. Many of the players in England’s team were new to me because I simply don’t watch the premiership anymore. International football, however, is a different kettle of fish and I’ll always enjoy it. The world cup is a great event.

      I’m more optimistic about England’s production line because I hear they’ve finally made some long overdue changes to training techniques and facilities at international level. Hopefully this means more players will come through the premiership club ranks. One can only hope that the cream will eventually rise to the top.

      • Marc Evans July 12, 2018 at 5:17 pm - Reply

        Most of the present crew of youngsters have come through the ranks of amateur and semi pro to lower division clubs, not materialized at some premiership academy. The elitist Lilleshall experiment just wrapped youngsters up in cotton wool and protected them from the reality that talent is not enough, producing prima donas like Wilshire. As in any sport you have to produce under pressure to succeed and this bunch don’t seem intimidated by threat of of failure. That to me is the most impressive part of the set up. Stick to a plan because you believe in it, even when things aren’t going well.
        The white ball England cricketers are of the same mind-set and by and large this has worked well. Occasionally we implode, but mostly we win. The power of positive thinking is not just a cliche.
        Southgate has encouraged a club atmosphere amongst his players where getting to know each other off the field is as important to team spirit as comparability on it.

    • Northern Light July 12, 2018 at 2:59 pm - Reply

      “Foreign mercenaries” sounds so terrible, doesn’t it? How about “people who are trying to get the best wages they can out of their talent for playing football and who are prepared to do it outside their own country”
      In these dark times, I do think language is important. “Mercenaries” is such an ugly way to talk about people just trying to make a living, and the implication that they are less “noble” than the English players whose places they supposedly supplant seems a bit like nonsense to me. Show me an English player who’d not jump ship to any club once his agent has waved an improved contract in front of his eyes. They’re only human after all.

      • Marc Evans July 12, 2018 at 5:26 pm - Reply

        I’m not blaming the players. Good luck to them chasing the money and furthering their careers in the premiership shop window. After all you are only one injury away from oblivion in most sports, so milk it while you can. It’s the crappy administrators who only see the dollar signs that are the curse of the game.
        However mercenaries they are, as many jump ship and change clubs when things aren’t going well. There’s no loyalty or real communion with the fans. Most of them are just passing through.
        English players statistically don’t display the same desire to move clubs constantly.

        • Northern Light July 13, 2018 at 9:10 am - Reply

          You’re not blaming the players, and yet “mercenaries they are, as many jump ship and change clubs when things aren’t going well. There’s no loyalty or real communion with the fans. Most of them are just passing through.”

          As for the idea that English players are different, I’d be interested in the statistics that you say back this up. Even if they exist (which I doubt) I’d be tempted to put it down more to inertia, fear of going abroad and the fact that the highest wages tend to be paid in Premier League anyway.

          I’ll repeat, I’m wary of the loose use of language suggesting that “foreigners” are morally or otherwise inferior to “English players” simply by dint of being foreign. It’s the kind of mindset promoted by many of the more unpleasant members of our society.

          • Marc Evans July 13, 2018 at 11:56 am - Reply

            You’re not getting my point. Stop with racial prejudice angle and open your eyes to what’s actually going on and not dismiss views that don’t coincide with your own.
            It’s easy to check on professional soccer players movements. Just Google clubs and check on longevity of player service and the reason for them leaving. Many English players are pushed out of their clubs through lack of opportunity. Why do you suppose that is?
            The point I’m making is that a welter of mediocre foreign imports are killing the domestic game. The best are great for the game here and should be encouraged. I’d love to see Messi and Neymar plying their trade here. However even the championship teams are full of these 2nd rafters. They’re here because foreign managers and scouts know them and most are cheaper than spending the time bringing on local talent with less guarantee of instant success. Soccer is our national game and we are getting increasingly swallowed up by these mercenaries. Not just players, but owners who like to play the big noise on the world stage for a while and managers with often dubious pedigree and little knowledge of or concern for that club, apart from using it as a short term career progression, as it’s good for the CV to have premiership credentials. Look at the oscene turnover of managers in the quest for instant success and it’s happened comparatively recently. If they’re that good why do they get discarded so readily?
            Many managers and players don’t seem to be able to speak clear English, even when they’ve been here a while. Listen to press conferences. Some need translators to communicate with other players. How ludicrous is that in a team sport. You go to Italy, Spain, France or Germany and no one is going to speak to you in English on the training ground, all the communication is in the local language, so you have to lean it fast.
            This present England team has had its success here because it’s not been tested by a good team. Even against Tunisia we were lucky and Columbia could have gone either way. There is no real light on the horizon with emerging world class talent. Where’s the next Rooney, and would he be given the opportunity if he were around? Our best players are reluctant to play abroad because they know that puts their national selection in jeopardy as it’s inconvenient to send scouts out to watch them on a regular basis. Southgate has already made this public should any of his squad choose that option. .
            There’s not another country in the world with anything like the preponderance of non home eligible players sabotaging the progress of the national team. I’m English and want a successful national team, there’s nothing racist in that. There’s no evidence any of the imports give a monkeys about us, we’re just a transient opportunity to better themselves which there’s nothing wrong with and they quite rightly support their own national teams anyway.
            All I am saying is we clearly need restrictions in this area if we are to produce a successful national team for our national sport.

            • Northern Light July 13, 2018 at 6:41 pm - Reply

              I believe I completely understood you. There were two strands to your argument. The first is that you think there should be restrictions on the number of non-English players allowed to represent football clubs in the English League. This is a valid and arguable point of view, and might be more likely to happen in a post-Brexit UK, although there will always be difficulties regulating employment contracts between individuals and what are, essentially, the large private/corporate entities that many football clubs have become.
              But the other strand of your argument was undeniably that “foreign” players come here purely for money, don’t care about fans or clubs and feel no communion with the fans, whereas English players stay with clubs much longer and show true loyalty to their teams and supporters. I call this patent rubbish, and don’t believe any English player would care one whit about his or her current club or fans if somebody offered them more money to go elsewhere. The fact that more English players do not leave these shores and try the trick the other way round is purely down to the ridiculous amount of money sloshing around the English game and the equally nonsensical hold that SKY TV and its money has on the top teams over here.
              The problem is the Premier League, the stupid money it generates and wages it offers, the cliff-face of disaster represented by relegation and the concentrating of power, resources and talent in fewer and fewer hands. Much the same is starting to happen in cricket, which makes me very sad but seems to be the way of the world. I simply don’t agree though that English footballers are by definition morally superior to foreign ones. And that’s something you definitely imply very strongly in your post.

              • Marc Evans July 14, 2018 at 1:43 am

                You’re still not getting this.
                That English players don’t care about their club is patent nonsense, as many either have played or still play for and support the club they grew up with as a boy, which is how many came into the game in the first place, scouted by their local team. Most of them still associate, though famiy and friends with those original roots. Take Rooney when he left Man Utd. Money-wise the world was his oyster, he could have earned much more in China or the USA, yet he chose his boyhood club Everton. If Allerdyce had shown more faith in him he’d still be there. No foriegn player has those roots so how can they have the same relationship with club or fans. They don’t live amongst them as they have a goldfish bowl existence. Like itinerant journeymen they ply their trade from club to club making their living. As I’ve repeatedly said there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the effect it has on our national team that is harmful and preventable through restrictions.
                We need to get rid of the PC nonsense that inflicts itself on our society and calls itself ‘human rights’ to give itself righteous overtones. Other countries don’t seem to have an issue with restrictions, so why do we? It’s not anti anybody, it’s merely protecting our interests, which is our human right. Why should we provide others with opportunities at our expense. Sport is a competitive business, not an altruistic one.

              • Marc Evans July 15, 2018 at 10:14 am

                Just a postscript to put this whole issue to bed before it becomes a bore.
                I don’t know where you get your idea that anywhere in my blog I’ve implied any moral high ground for anyone, as I’ve always countered the word ‘mercenary’ with a a ‘there’s nothing wrong with that’ type phrase. It’s not a loose term, it’s easily definable as ‘someone motivated primarily by personal gain’. A simple definition that sums up the players attitude perfectly. As you point out if roles were reversed there’s no evidence English players would behave any differently, it’s human nature to want the best for yourself. This has always been my implication. I meant no offence by using the word and stand by it, as its consequences frustrate and annoy me hugely. I’ve always emphasised it’s the administrators who are responsible for allowing this state of affairs to continue.
                It will not right itself on its own as the Premiership and even the championship are now televised world wide and millions of kids all over the world grow up with it and want to play in them. It’s a dream for them just like it is for kids over here. But kids over here should get priority as it’s them and their families who go to watch it and provide the core support and gate money to pay the players. The premiership would be so much more interesting competitively if imports were restricted. Go back to the 1980’s, where only 4 players not eligible for the home countries were allowed to be fielded at any one time. This would mean the likes of Man City and Chelsea could not just buy a instant team yet would still allow the best players to play here and would considerably level the playing field for the rest who currently are not at the races because they don’t have huge investment from dodgy businessmen and shieks playing the big ‘I am’.

  3. oreston July 12, 2018 at 12:33 pm - Reply

    Southgate is a personable, and clearly quite capable, manager. The team (aided by a favourable draw with a strategically important loss to Belgium in the final group game) went about as far as they could reasonably have expected to and unlike their predecessors didn’t come over like a bunch of disinterested prima donnas. They actually won friends for their character and what they did manage to achieve on the pitch. Job done insofar as it could have been.
    In a way Croatia did us a kindness as I don’t think the final would’ve been a happy experience for this England team. Can you imagine what France might’ve done to them? As it stands, I’m not very hopeful about the third place play off either.
    So yes, good progress made from the very low base of 2016 – but let’s not get carried away. Great that we’re becoming free kick supremos (Tripper’s goal last night was excellent) but finishing skills in open play are a huge Achilles heel. For that reason, if Kane does win the Golden Boot on the basis of penalty kicks and routing Panama, sadly I don’t think he’ll be the most convincing winner ever. Still, we could still be lumbered with Wayne ” one tap-in in three World Cups” Rooney so I guess I shouldn’t be too critical.

  4. StephenFH July 12, 2018 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    In the interviews that I saw Gareth Southgate gave good and reasonable answers to the questions put to him, pretty much without any trace of management speak, which helped set the tone of the coverage and the general mood. The ECB could help itself by taking note, ditto the cricketers from the conduct of the footballers. Last night they were beaten by a stronger team, but overall England found a goalkeeper and a defender who can take free kicks. The lost penalties baggage should help the manager in the future when he gets home.

  5. Andy July 12, 2018 at 12:51 pm - Reply

    Sorry James but I think you’re being a bit disingenuous. Maybe it’s an age thing as someone somewhat older than you, not old enough to remember the boys of 66 but having to live through 8 years of non qualification during 74 and 78. Glorious defeat in 1990 and the perennial under achievers of the Golden Generation, then a further 8 years of doom and gloom.

    What I love so much about this group of players is they have not only over achieved, but have united the country in getting behind Spurs players, Liverpool, Man Utd etc. Hell I’d have even cleaned Danny Welbecks boots for a month if he’d come on scored.

    Please don’t insult us with the size of Croatia, what does that matter when they have players playing for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus. Stick to cricket mate!

    • James Morgan July 12, 2018 at 2:21 pm - Reply

      Croatia are a good team but they were “there for the taking” to quote one of the TV pundits. My general point is that England have huge resources, a big population, and every advantage going for them. Losing to a team ranked 20th in the World (a team who we beat 5-1 as recently as 2009, which is still Croatia’s record defeat by the way) shouldn’t really be something we’re proud of. I don’t think many countries with England’s resources would be proud of losing in the semis when they had control of the game at half time and a brilliant route to the final.

      I don’t claim to know everything about football, and fully appreciate that it’s not my specialist subject (!), but I do think people have let the emotion affect their thinking a little. It’s great to restore some pride, and see a young team playing their hearts out, but the bar has to be set pretty low if we’re delighted with elimination in the semis to a team ranked below us (a team that needed extra time to beat Denmark). What’s more, let’s not forget that our team have players at big clubs too: Man Utd, Liverpool, Man City, Tottenham etc. It’s not like we were underdogs. We were expected to win but didn’t. That’s why I don’t get the ‘so proud’ angle. This world cup was a pleasant surprise but I think pride is going too far.

      • Northern Light July 12, 2018 at 3:02 pm - Reply

        2009 was 9 years ago. That’s not particularly recent! Any survivors from either side on show?

        • James Morgan July 12, 2018 at 3:13 pm - Reply

          No but part of the dialogue is that England have made great progress and the current lot are so much better than the golden generation. This result says otherwise.

          I just think the line between success and failure is very fine indeed. The golden generation drew eventual champions Brazil in the round of 16, then lost in the QFs on penalties, and then drew Germany in the round of 16. That’s really bad luck. Yet they’re portrayed as failures who didn’t show passion for the shirt! It all seems a bit unfair if you ask me.

          I think it’s fair to say that the golden generation had some cliques that hurt their chances but I can’t buy into the narrative that they didn’t care. The likes of Beckham, Gerrard and Lampard were all solid pros who cared a great deal. The current side seems refreshing, and that’s great, but some of the stuff I’ve read comparing this generation and the last is well over the top imho.

  6. oreston July 12, 2018 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Meanwhile on Planet Cricket it seems England are playing an ODI today. Who knew??!!

  7. Jackie Litherland July 12, 2018 at 2:00 pm - Reply

    I had begun to hate football, the cheating, diving deliberately attacking and hurting targeted players. Still loved to watch football matches by children who were keen on passing etc and going for goal rather than the opponent. How refreshing. This England team seemed young adult versions of them. Their passing was their priority. Very impressive how many times they got the ball in the box. What they lacked was a striker to put the ball away without hesitation. That’s what strikers do. No doubt Southgate is aware of that. Plenty of opportunities but also hesitation at the vital moment. But the team played beautifully from the first match. It made me love our team again and football at that level. What was coming home wasn’t the cup but football. No wonder the nation is proud. I enjoyed every game. The semi was never lost until the whistle. It really was a humdinger from end to end. I’ve watched England fade away in the past and been humiliated. We went down fighting. There really is a difference in how you lose a game. We really pushed Croatia who has a stable of top internationals. This idea that winning is everything gives license to dirty tricks. Let’s get back to enjoyment of the game itself. Or we may lose the sport.

  8. James Morgan July 12, 2018 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    Just a bit more food for thought. Please don’t shoot the messenger. I’m not trying to put the current team down, I’m just trying to illustrate how perspectives are sometimes a tad bizarre:

  9. Simon H July 12, 2018 at 3:28 pm - Reply

    The hubris of the half-time punditry (“win this 3-0”, “much the better team” etc) from Neville and Dixon stuck in the craw. Did it never occur to them that Croatia might reorganise and get better? They seemed primed to cheerlead rather than analyse.

    It was weird how England, as the younger team and having played fewer minutes in the tournament, seemed to tire so much more than Croatia.

    I’m not convinced about this “young team, better chances ahead” narrative. It reminds me of the same argument about the cricket team after the T20 Final. Maybe that was their best chance? This England team could improve but others could improve more and the players get stifled by a mixture of familiarity, over-work, injuries and inflating egos.

    Delighted for Luka Modric who’s been one of the classiest acts it’s been my pleasure to watch on a football pitch. But France will win the Final.

  10. Vashtar July 12, 2018 at 4:33 pm - Reply

    Totally agree as regards 1990 and 1996 played very well against top teams and went out on pens. This was good while it lasted but this lot are no where near good to win the World Cup. Croatia deserved to win, although i hope France beat them because their, Croatias fouling and their rather churlish post match comments about England have rather soured my opinion of them.

  11. Doug M July 12, 2018 at 8:42 pm - Reply

    Not a football watcher, but they did ok compared to teams in more recent years: young side, no baggage and a good personable manager. It works, in cricket terms Surrey have 4/5 players aged 19/20. Currently top of Div 1.
    In this country though we bottle it when it comes to the big gane, happens nearly every time. Something to do with the national sych perhsps?

  12. JC July 12, 2018 at 9:18 pm - Reply

    Totally agree with your sentiments – I’m not sure what the England side actually achieved in reality to be lauded as heroes. I have likened it to a mid table Premiership side getting to the FA Cup semi final having not actually played any one from the Premiership until being beaten by another mid table prem side in the semi – I’m not sure anyone supporters of that side would be giving them heroes welcomes.
    We got out of the easiest group (in 2nd place) – beat a Colombia side, missing their star player, on pens – beat another bog average side in Sweden, who even Germany managed to beat and then lost 2-1 to Croatia with only one shot on target !

    In other news, seeing as the Premier League supplied about 60% of the semi finalists starting 11’s I’m not too sure that the soon to be “winter break” is actually needed

  13. Comte July 13, 2018 at 6:55 am - Reply

    I don’t follow football very much but I can recognise hype when I see it. I think the hype was absorbed by much of the population in order to try an escape the endless Brexit bollox.
    But the truth is that England was an unexceptional team which has a pretty favourable draw. Some guys caught my eye – Trippier and Pickard for example, and Kane seems a decent guy.
    Given that I generally detest football managers, I found Southgate to be a welcome breath of fresh air, free from the usual bollox talk and speaking calmly and honestly. If he remains manager (and why shouldn’t he) he’ll probably do well.
    But heroes? No sir. Heroes are the guys involved in the Thai cave rescue.
    By the way, our cricketers were pretty dire yesterday.

  14. Simon H July 14, 2018 at 9:49 am - Reply

    First Test in SL since the al-Jazeera programme with match-fixing allegations included accusations of pitch-doctoring in SL (and specifically in Galle) – and the visiting team can’t make 200 runs in the match in Galle.

    Still, I’m sure the ICC are on the case….

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