The World Cup draw this afternoon is a moment that should instil pride in us all, as we contemplate England’s battles ahead. For example I remember, as the draw began for the 2006 tournament, that I called my son, aged nine, to watch it. “What’s the point”, he said, “Even if we get drawn against Easter Island we’d lose to their statues.” So he stayed on his XBox, and I doubt I have ever been more truly proud.
This time it will be harder to avoid. Every TV and radio channel is reminding us, “We’ll be there LIVE from six in the morning to cover the build-up in slow motion, with special cameras wedged between the arse cheeks of every team’s manager so you can gauge the reaction of Roy Hodgson’s sphincter as he learns which non-seeded country England will be facing in the group stage.”
John Simpson will report on the implications of the draw on the war in Syria; on BBC4 Brian Cox will explain the impact on comets if Ghana, Spain and Belgium are all in a group of death; and Holly Willoughby will interview Nigel Farage on his complaint that England shouldn’t be classified as a European team, as by the time of the first game our side will be forced to include 80,000 Bulgarians.
All day commentators will inform us “The tension is overwhelming here. I’ve seen footage of the Normandy Landings, but I’ve never come across anything as dramatic as these moments, just six and a quarter hours until the start of the draw.”
Yesterday Metro reported “England are handed nightmare of Spain and Ivory Coast in draw rehearsal.” It shows what a resilient nation we are that we kept going at all, but with typical pluck our essential services continued to operate and some people even laughed the nightmare off with gallows humour, as we did during the Blitz.
But it might be this attitude that means we’ll never be any good, no matter who we get drawn against. Because World Cups bring out the worst in England, looking backwards to when we won wars and ruled the world, and the fans chant “No surrender, no surrender, no surrender to the IRA” despite it being 15 years since the end of the conflict with the IRA. There are probably sections of the crowd that sing, “No concessions, no concessions, at the treaty after Agincourt.”
This is why a pub during an England match in the World Cup is rarely joyous, even if we win. It’s tense and full of people snarling, “You’re USELESS Lampard”, with an underlying sentiment of “We used to control 80 per cent of global iron-ore production and now we can’t even beat poxy Slovenia.”
Maybe this is true of every nation that once had an empire, and Mongolian phone-ins are packed with callers shouting, “We’ve got to SACK THE MANAGER Robbie, we used to rule Asia Minor, now we can’t even get out of our qualifying group, we’ve got to bring back the horde system, Robbie, that’s how we won in 1186.”
Sometimes it feels we’re almost cured from the idea that if natural order prevailed we’d win everything, but then we beat Guatemala in a friendly and it starts again, with headlines like “England have won the World Cup. The FA have asked when they can pick up the trophy but rancid Fifa officials insist England must complete the formality of playing their matches, the dirty foreign snakes.”
We’ve barely won a single match against a major team in a knock-out stage in 40 years, so it hardly matters who we get drawn against. It’s possible the system is so complicated that one of our opponents is drawn in three different groups, and has to play us at the same time as playing Argentina and racing in the Italian Grand Prix.
Our second opponent could be a group of ex-miners from Barnsley, who entered the South Yorkshire annual brass band competition at Rotherham Town Hall but seem to have slipped into World cup Group F instead, replacing Italy.
And the third team is the mountain people of Guangong, a disputed territory of Nepal, whose religion forbids them from kicking a ball and who respond to a referee’s whistle by crawling along the floor blindfold and hunting for grubs.
And we’ll still scrape a draw in the first match, draw the second, beat the mountain people 1-0 with a dodgy penalty, then go through to lose to Susannah Reid from Strictly Come Dancing.
Then will come the calls to destroy the team in a series of controlled explosions, and for Roy Hodgson to be stapled to the inside of a nuclear reactor. And then the whole process will start again.
So next time the manager must be chosen with a different method, selected at random off the electoral roll as it is with jury service. Everyone can have a go for two weeks, so we get headlines like “Mrs Whittaker from Maidstone is CLUELESS. Why are we paying this idiot £5m a year?”
Then she can be sacked and bought out of her contract, after a press conference where she admitted to missing the first half against Portugal as she had to get to Lidl for some arctic roll, because with Ronaldo coming round it’s best to have something posh for tea. And eventually we’ll be cured of imagining we stand a chance of winning, and start to enjoy the games instead.