As it turned out we didn’t have to worry about penalties because the Germans managed to beat us four one in ninety minutes. On Sunday afternoon as the nation sat sulking by the BBQ you could have been forgiven for thinking that it was the summer breeze ruffling the red and white bunting above our collective head, in fact it was the death rattle of ‘New Football’, the slightly older sibling of New Labour.
The similarities between the two are really quite uncanny, they both have their origins in a defeat that changed everything, owe much of their success to the influence of Rupert Murdoch and now resemble an awkward artefact from the nineties we’d really rather like to forget about.
Don’t get me wrong in ‘New Football’, in its way, did a lot of good, when Bobby Robson’s team lost to Germany in the semi final of Italia 90 football was a sport in a seemingly terminal decline, the injection of television money that followed the creation of the Premier League in 1992 allowed crumbling grounds to be transformed into modern sports venues with the toilet facilities to match.
New Football brought new people to the game, mostly middle class families, as a result the hooligan element which had been bringing the game into disrepute for the previous couple of decades were pushed to the sidelines. They haven’t gone away, but now we can see them for what they always were, a collection of pathetic Neanderthals dragging their tattooed knuckles along the ground on a long march to nowhere.
The trouble with New Football, much like its political sibling, is that its excesses and distortions of reality will be better remembered than any good it might have done.
The stock in trade of the Premier League and its subsequent incarnations was, from the start, high grade hype, no game could be merely important it had to be billed as an epic contest in which the fates of entire nations would be decided. As a result hype rapidly turned, as it so often does, into hubris, and even journeyman players started to believe themselves to be members of a ‘golden generation.’
As for the elite players, the likes of Rooney, Lampard, Beckham et al, they seemed to morph overnight from being people who were like the supported paying on the turnstiles in every respect apart from what they could do with a ball at their feet into jaded superstars watching the world they thought owed them a living sweep past the tinted windows of their top of the range Bentley’s and BMW’s.
They forgot the most important thing about success in sport or any other field, that achieving it has more to do with hard work than innate talent. By the time the current World Cup rolled around they believed themselves to have a divine right to win, then came the worst campaign mounted by an England team since we first entered the contest in 1950 and hubris turned into halitosis overnight.
New Football might be dead, but football is very much alive and kicking, there will always be people who surprise in themselves a desire to wear a replica shirt and stand in the rain watching their team grind our a goalless draw. The relationship between players and supporters, in the UK anyway, has changed forever though, the gods have failed and if they want the rest of us to keep the faith they will have to transform themselves back into ordinary mortals who don’t demand rewards and respect as their right.
Football may not have come home after all, but it has come back down to earth with a bump; in the long run that may be no bad thing.