- 11 Jul 18
As Gareth Southgate's men get ready to lock World Cup horns with Croatia, Stuart Clark reflects on what it's like being a Three Lions fan living in Ireland, the newfound likability of the squad & England not being alone in obsessing over former footballing glories!
I can’t help but notice that many of the celebrity Irish guests and journos fawning over Harry and Meghan last night at the British Embassy welcome party have been baying for England’s World Cup blood on social media ever since we kicked-off our campaign against Tunisia.
West Brit-ery these days, it seems, is selective.
“It really pisses me off that the English media keep banging on about 1966,” complained a Limerick mate of mine, buoyed by the fact that there’s been zero mention of Ray Houghton sticking the ball in the England net by RTÉ since the aforementioned goal was scored in Stuttgart on June 12, 1988. Similarly, Packie Bonner’s Italia ’90 penalty save and Ireland’s USA ’94 smiting of Italy in Giants Stadium have been the subject of Stalinist ‘they never happened’ revisionism by the whole of the Irish media.
Fed up with "It's coming home..." chants? Welcome to my "Olé, olé, olé!" hell.
In other less sarcastic words, what country doesn’t obsessively celebrate its most notable footballing achievement?
Before I’m served with deportation papers, yes, I’m well aware of the vile jingoism bordering on racism that was directed at Colombians last week by The S**, but refuse to have my World Cup buzz ruined by a paper that no self-respecting footie fan would wipe their arse with post-Hillsborough. Ditto the neckless Neanderthals who ‘celebrated’ the Sweden win by stomping all over an ambulance. The £5,000 subsequently crowd sourced by Millwall fans to cover the repairs has received far less coverage, but is more indicative of where the average England fan’s head is at.
I also have a strict ‘switch over’ policy when encountering Ian Wright - who’s thankfully a lot harder to encounter these days since Virgin Media dropped ITV over rights issues. And don’t even get me started on Glen bleedin’ Hoddle…
As the wise Declan Lynch told me when I first arrived in Dublin, “It’s not 800 years of tyranny, but thirty years of Jimmy Hill that's the problem.”
He mightn’t thank me for sharing this, but Declan recalled him and his pals celebrating that solitary World Cup win of ours – did I mention 1966 earlier? – with a kickabout where everyone wanted to be Geoff Hurst.
What happened subsequently – Hill and his cronies believing that all we had to do to bag the Jules Rimet again was turn up at Mexico ’70 – expunged any affinity Irish people might have had with the England football team for a generation, and beyond.
As our brave boys ready themselves for Croatia tonight, I’ve received several “I’m supporting England” messages from Irish friends, one coming with the strict caveat that I don’t breath a word about it because - quote - "I’ll get an unmerciful slagging.”
My lips are sealed, Steve.
While pessimistic in the extreme about us making it to the final – 52 years of hurt would do that to you – I’ve been highly impressed with how the England squad have grown into the World Cup, with the Sweden game the best tournament shift we’ve put in since walloping Holland at Euro ’96.
Jamie Vardy isn't the only Roy Of The Rovers-esque fairy story with Harry Maguire not so long ago failing to get his game at Wigan Athletic, and Jordan Pickford who's conversant with what it's like to be an Alfreton Town player. Then there's Delle Ali who started his professional career as a Milton Keynes Don and Kieran Trippier who spent a loan spell at Barnsley. These are lads that have come up the hard way.
During the week, I tweeted UKIP leader Gerald Batten forbidding him from congratulating an England team, which is the proud product of immigration, multiculturalism, inclusivity and all the other things his mob aren't very fond of.
With John Terry retired, there’s no member of the 23 man squad that you’d like to meet down a dark alley with a length of lead piping and, thanks to the Daily Telegraph sting that cost Big Sam his job, a manager who you wouldn’t mind being stuck with at a party.
Those 30 years of Jimmy Hill, plus the tyranny, means that most of my Irish pals will still be swearing allegiance to the Republika Hrvatska tonight. That's entirely understandable and we shan't fall out over it.
I have to apologise to Bob Dylan for singing “This is the story of the Harry Kane…” whenever our lean, mean goalscoring machines pops one in, but otherwise I’m an unrepentant England fan!