Kevin Garside: Oh for some flair like Frank's to fire up dull England

The Last Word: Hodgson’s brief is to deliver us from the golden age that never was

Function over fun? Caution above excitement? James Milner before Frank Worthington? Questions that reach into the heart of Roy Hodgson's England malaise. What kind of experience does Hodgson want England football viewing to be? He cannot be satisfied with the grey palate of Warsaw. If he is, then the age of irrelevance might soon be upon the national side.

This last weekend the Premier League took us once more down Thunder Road. Tomorrow the Champions League rolls out across the Continent the finest collection of footballers on earth. Even in the group stages there is sufficient top-end action to quicken the pulse. Meanwhile, England serve up dish after insipid dish of appetite suppressants, crystallised in the moribund selection of Milner as a wide player on the right. This is a classic expression of insecurity, a choice governed by the desire to stifle the opposition, not carve them in two.

Milner is a willing soul full of industry and toil, but he has neither pace nor trickery. He cannot go past a man nor dissemble with a dip of the shoulder. The odd drag-back or back-heel should not blind us to the broad sweep of offensive mediocrity delivered. The fault is not his but Hodgson's for asking him to plod out of position as insurance against a full-back vulnerable in defence. Poland, like Ukraine at Wembley, were not world-beaters but competent footballers imbued with a sense of purpose and drive. They attacked with the kind of pace and precision England could not muster. The demand was for speed and ambition, for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to start, or even Adam Johnson, whose instinct is to take the opposition on with menaces.

A bit like Worthington. Fabulous Frank played with his socks around his ankles, an affectation that was an act of separation. He wanted us to know that he was different, not your ordinary footballer. He fancied himself as a bit of a lad. His autobiography, entitled One Hump or Two?, pictured him dropping sugar into his tea, a rather naff double entendre redolent of alpha male flourishes in the Seventies. Well, it was the epoch of Bodie and Doyle and The Sweeney.

Worthington made his England debut in 1974 as a substitute for Stanley Bowles, another style refugee distrusted by the footballing establishment. This was the all too brief Joe Mercer period, a desperately short, seven-match antidote to the staid fodder that would come to characterise the post-Ramsey era and beyond. The football landscape after World Cup qualifying elimination in 1973-74 was a grim vista. Sir Alf paid for England's failure with his job. In the interim before the arrival of the dire Don Revie, the FA invited Mercer into the breach. The parallels with Hodgson hum with similarities.

The great age of the Bobbies and the Jimmies, the Nobbies and the Jacks was over. The utilitarians were about to take over the asylum with their long balls and route one dogma. Except Mercer did not see the game that way. He liked players with flair and panache. He understood football was a 90-minute reprieve from the the last knockings of the industrial mire detaining the English working class. Football was a game to be enjoyed, a hedonistic leap into the weekend. And under him England were a revelation.

Worthington, a footballing artiste, symbolised the anti-lump-it movement. He liked the ball at his feet. He embellished the afternoon with moustachioed feints and flicks. In throwing him an England shirt Mercer was making a huge and important statement about how the game should be played, about the role of football in the community. The message was hammered home with the selection of Leicester's flying No 7 Keith Weller, who under Mercer belatedly gained the only four caps of his career, and Trevor Brooking, a young playmaker from West Ham.

Hodgson does not have a World Cup-winning manager against whom to measure himself. His brief is to deliver us from the golden age that never was. David Beckham has gone, Rio Ferdinand has been discarded, John Terry is in self-imposed exile, Gary Neville in the dugout, Michael Owen in Stoke. Of the golden generation only Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole remain, but with no sense of ever fulfilling the international hope of their youth.

Hodgson is thus charged with developing a new vision for English football, one that reclaims our heritage as the sport's mother country, and returns us to the forefront of the game. It is a daunting challenge given the diminishing resources, but not insurmountable, provided Hodgson cuts the cord anchoring the national side to its recent past. England cannot block and tackle their way to glory. Through that beautiful window opened by Mercer the England supporter glimpsed a team free of the restraint that has come to cripple expression for much of the 38 years since. They went off at a gallop, losing only once, in Scotland. S*** happens.

The football was cut according to the Saturday template of lore, full of positive expression, devoid of the impulse to play a defensive midfielder in a part of the pitch reserved for game-breakers. We have had four decades of that, Roy. It is time to give it, and Milner, a rest.

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower