Whisper it quietly, but being an England fan is actually quite fun nowadays. Of course, the team and performances are far from flawless, and until the front pages of the national press are adorned with the smiling faces of Harry Kane et al holding some silverware aloft it is all really for nothing. But, unless you were fortunate enough to live through the sixties, this is looking like it really could be the best time to be an England fan.
It is not just at the international level where our team is arguably one of the best in world football. A quick glimpse at the current odds for the Champions League shows just how healthy the domestic game is at the moment. Last season, English clubs occupied all four semi-final places in the two major European club competitions. Whereas not that long ago that was seen as something detrimental to our game, due to the influx of foreign players, suddenly those who were saying that in the long term it will ultimately be to the benefit of our young talent appear to have been spot on.
It would be hard to find anyone, at least someone without a grudge to bear, who finds too much to disagree with in those opening two paragraphs. Yet, there are still mumblings and grumblings aimed at the players and their performances. The first-half performance and attitude of the players in last Saturday’s game against Bulgaria was called into question. The defence and the second-half performance against Kosovo brought criticism on Tuesday.
Surely we need to take a little step back, draw breath and look at the situation England find themselves in. They sit on top of their qualifying group, with a hundred per cent record. They scored nine goals in their last two qualifiers, against teams (certainly in Kosovo) who many were predicting would give England a run for their money (and it can be argued Kosovo did just that). They have actually found the back of the net 28 times in the last nine internationals.
For those of my generation, that just did not happen when we were growing up. Qualifying campaigns against the likes of Bulgaria and Kosovo would be fraught affairs. They would be decided by a goal, usually a late one, occasionally an underserved or controversial one, and there would be no guarantee which side scored it. The following morning, the performance would be met with ridicule by the red tops, the team declared the worst in a generation and the manager would have to endure damming personal criticism. Admittedly, the FA did themselves no favours with at least one bizarre choice of manager.
Enjoy it While it Lasts
Those frustrating decades were made worse by the fact that we did have some very good players and occasionally a very good team that, for a number of reasons, just never turned that quality into silverware. Maybe that is why we as a nation are quick to find fault with the team, and often look for reasons why things are not perhaps all as rosy as they at first appear.
I am not saying for one moment that England are a team right here, right now who are number one in the world, or that they will be favourites to end their drought at Wembley next Summer. What I am saying is we have a manager with whom it is very hard to find fault; we have a crop of exciting young players that have tasted success at international youth level, have started to find success at domestic level, and appear at this stage to be capable of carrying that form on to full international level. We play an exciting, high paced game that does need to be tempered against better sides, but is so, so much better than some of the turgid performances we have endured over the years. It is not going to last for ever, so all I would say, is at least try and enjoy it while it lasts.