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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
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

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on