Men like Greg Dyke use the England football team to justify cultural vandalism. They take its name in vain, distort the dream it represents and reduce its mystique to an anodyne marketing concept. Then they wonder why it has never been more peripheral or divisive.
It would be a gross over-simplification to insist no-one cares, but the nation will hardly stop in its tracks tomorrow when Roy Hodgson announces his extended World Cup squad in the Micawberish traditions of his trade. England doesn’t expect.
There will be a flurry of debate shaped by tribal loyalties, but something special has been lost, probably forever. The days when the national team was a symbol of unity, and players characterised their communities, have gone. The World Cup encourages nostalgia, and this summer’s finals in Brazil will doubtlessly be a compelling diversion, but international football no longer engages emotionally in the way club football seizes the consciousness.
Dyke’s FA Commission was assembled on the pretext that a successful England team is essential for the wider health of the game. It is not; it is merely an agreeable by-product of a far-sighted strategy that places greater importance on adequate facilities and a holistic coaching process.
Football has a broader social significance than a collection of multi-millionaires excelling in a bloated quadrennial tournament which funds self-serving quasi-statesmen like Sepp Blatter. Utilised correctly, and given appropriate government support at grassroots level, the game has untapped potential.
People have seen through the pretence which underpinned Dyke’s report. Empire building and revenue maximisation, undertaken in the name of progress, has spread sedition. The FA chairman appears to have underestimated the impact of his Marie Antoinette moment, when he implied that lesser clubs were, by their nature, easily bought off.
There is a delicious irony in the fact the domination of the Premier League will ultimately kill the FA’s cash cow, the England team. In the short term, the anger generated by Dyke’s condescension is being channelled into a protest movement which advocates the boycott of the so-called farewell friendly against Peru at Wembley on May 30.
The FA lack natural allies. Dyke’s attempt to appease the bigger clubs by espousing the B-team principle has merely allowed Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore, a far more adept politician, to position himself as an unlikely champion of the oppressed.
Supporters of elite clubs are snug and smug in their Gazprom-sponsored comfort blanket. The Champions League anthem, a riff on Handel’s Zadok the Priest, is on a constant tape loop, and they don’t have to worry about the poor. They view Hodgson and his committee-room cohorts as superannuated squatters, who march into their penthouse apartment, break their best china and leave without compensation. They would much prefer their players to rest and avoid injury than represent their country.
The Premier League militates against a successful England team because it is built upon the financial imperative of survival. That leads clubs to stockpile young players like Imelda Marcos hoarded unworn shoes, and to dispense with managers with greater alacrity than Katie Price discards husbands.
The show goes on, to the moronic rhythms of that wretched England band. Sponsors are about to waste millions activating marketing strategies which fail lamentably to sustain the fantasy that football remains the people’s game. There is nothing more transparent, or less convincing, than a football-themed advertisement. The subliminal message of a gormless fan eating a snack bar, while instructing Steven Gerrard on the art of the perfect free-kick – “you matter kid” – is patently absurd.
Gerrard is no less worthy an England captain than Bobby Moore. He does not deserve the mockery to which he has been subjected, following his fateful slip in Liverpool’s pivotal defeat by Chelsea. Yet his personal qualities are being lost because, collectively, England players are associated with arrogance, greed and opportunism.
Sorry, Roy, but we are not All In It Together.
Be careful, Freddie
He has crashed a rally car, fought against a journeyman boxer and cycled across the Amazon basin. He even has his own clothing brand for those with a fuller figure and a fading fashion sense. Yet Freddie Flintoff will forever be defined by cricket.
It is a game of statistics which cannot capture the personality of a player who loved a pie, a pint and a pedalo. He was not merely an all-rounder; he was a life force. His successors in the England team have been browbeaten into becoming corporate clones.
Now, at 36, he is considering a comeback for Lancashire in domestic Twenty20 competition. That’s where darkness descends and the jokes wear thin. Flintoff is in dangerous territory. The physical limitations – a gammy ankle and a bionic knee – are relatively simple to overcome. He will need only to bowl four overs. He will be detailed to hit sixes rather than sprint between the wickets.
It is the mental examination which carries a greater risk. Flintoff, by his own admission, fought depression. He may find vindication in release from the vacuum of celebrity, but he may also fail to live up to his own expectations. Stay safe out there, Fred.
Coventry’s award is crass
The Football League is run by men as crass and incompetent as those further up the food chain who would deny them their birthright. How else are we expected to interpret their extraordinary decision to give Coventry City a “family excellence” award?
They have already failed in their duty of care to supporters by allowing the club’s owners, a Mayfair-based hedge fund, to relocate the club to Northampton. Rewarding those behind the move insults a generation of parents and children who will lose the habit of watching their team.
Sorry is the easiest word
Malky Mackay frees himself to look for work following an abject apology to Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan. Thankfully Tim Sherwood, mesmerisingly off-message before his inevitable sacking by Tottenham, is made of sterner stuff.