Why English football fans are taking a calm approach to the World Cup

We've been burnt too many times in the past by unrealistic hopes, says Simon Kelner

If the definition of insanity, as Einstein first contended, is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result, then, as a nation, we are a model of it when World Cups come around. Ever since I can remember – specifically 1966 when I was at primary school – we English have approached the tournament with varying degrees of hope, expectation and even entitlement. Each time, the outcome has been the same. The methods by which we secured failure may have been different, but, time and again, our national representatives have come home with nothing more than a suntan, a hangover and a few signed shirts.

Occasionally – notably 1970 and 1990 – our hopes have been well-founded. We had a number of world-class players, an experienced manager and a highly competitive domestic league populated almost exclusively by home-grown players. Other times, we have been buoyed by nothing other than a reliance on one or two superstars and a belief that, as the country that gave the world this beautiful game, sooner or later we were bound to resume our position of global pre-eminence. Every four years, the nation's approach to the World Cup became an exercise of hope over experience, a triumph of hype over realism.

And so we come to the 2014 tournament, which begins next week. Yes, next week. This may actually have passed you by, because this time around, the cities, towns and villages of England are not bedecked in St George flags, shops are not festooned in red and white bunting, and the media have generally desisted from whipping us up into a state of hysteria. There is an altogether calmer approach to this World Cup.

Maybe we have learnt from history. We have finally come to terms with tempering our expectations. We have looked at the squad assembled by Roy Hodgson, the most undemonstrative of managers, and realised that, truthfully, we don't stand a chance. The Premier League has given us the opportunity to see the world's best players every week and now we can conclude that we really don't match up. We hope that this is the moment for Wayne Rooney to show the world what he can do. But haven't we been there before? Best not to rely on that.

Maybe the reason we don't seem that bothered about this World Cup is because, as a country, we're doing rather well in other, possibly more meaningful, spheres. Every day, we're told how much better our economy is performing than our peers' economies in Europe. Growth is exceeding targets. We are a poster child for post-recession recovery. We have craved sporting success to divert us from the misery of our daily lives, but is it the case that we don't have that need any longer? Surely not. Are people in London too busy watching house prices rise to take notice of the World Cup? It cannot be so.

No, I think we're just playing a canny game. World Cup? Who cares? We will go into next week with an unfamiliar mixture of insouciance and resignation. Our national team will not be burdened by our expectation. Hubris hasn't made the squad. And maybe, just maybe, that's our secret weapon.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue