The Queen's Jubilee celebrations have come and gone, leaving many British citizens feeling good. It is now time for the front and back pages of the newspapers to focus on the tribulations of the England football (soccer to us North Americans) team as its players ply their trade at the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, June 8-July 1.
This competition, commonly referred to as the "Euros," is probably the most followed sport event in the world after the Summer Olympics and the football World Cup. For just over three weeks, the British public will be glued to television sets, cheering on England — or perhaps, if they're from other home-nation teams who failed to qualify, cheering on whomever England is playing. A little good-natured banter spices things up, right?
The drought of success can do terrible things to the fan psyche, and England has not won a major international competition — basically either the World Cup or the Euros — since 1966.
My first true recollection of such heartbreak was in 1986 during the Mexico World Cup. This was when Diego Maradona, arguably one of the best players ever, scored a goal that is famously referred to as "the hand of god" — with his own hand, that is. (It's called cheating in most places.) Granted, he also scored one of the best goals ever in that match, and England weren't exactly loaded with talent, but the defeat still made England cry foul and made me, as a 12-year old, just cry.
In 1990, the heartstrings were pulled even more when England lost on penalty kicks to Germany in the semi-final of the World Cup in Italy. The game will always be remembered for Paul Gascoigne's tears as he was given a yellow card for a foul on Thomas Berthold (who embellished) and would have missed the final should England have gotten there.
It never got much better than that: in 1996, England lost on penalties to Germany in the Euros (in England — the whole country cried then). In 1998, England lost on penalties to Argentina in the World Cup. In 2002, England lost to Brazil despite taking a lead. In 2004 and 2006, England lost on penalties to Portugal in the Euros and World Cup respectively. And the 2010 World Cup, England got beaten handily by Germany 4-1, although there was that goal that wasn't a goal to leave the fans crying into their pints once again.
England's build-up to this year's tournament has not been without its problems — which in all probability is a gross understatement. Their best player, Wayne Rooney, is suspended for the first two games due to petulance. Important squad players such as Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry are injured. And, of course, there has been some controversy in squad selection to cover for the recently injured Gary Cahill.
England's new manager, Roy Hodgson, takes on the "most difficult job in sport," part football coach and part diplomacy expert. To win the tournament, England would likely have to beat France, Spain, Holland and Germany. That is a tough schedule. Still, perhaps with expectation low and all the pre-tournament problems, England might have a decent tournament. The bookies have them finishing fourth, and they are rarely wrong. Britain waits with bated breath.
England's group games are June 11 (France), June 15 (Sweden) and June 19 (Ukraine). The final itself is played on Canada Day, July 1. Find full coverage on Yahoo's soccer pages.
by Matt Goff
(photo: England vs. Spain, 2009 by Alfonso Jimenez, via Wikimedia Commons)