And so we get the inevitable plunge into despair for that strange, 2-yearly, mutually-masturbatory coalition of English TV, radio, tabloids and football fans.
Whether it’s the European Championships or the World Cup, we see the same repeated cycle of over-stimulated expectations followed by a slump into despondency when the realization of the true worth of their team dawns. Love and hate are never far apart for this coalition of the absurd.
A team that was never much good to begin with, but which was endowed with hope far beyond that which objectivity and common sense could ever allow, falls from grace and slides from adulation to abomination, and all in the short 90 minutes or so between the first and the last blow of a referee’s whistle.
The biggest culprit in all of this, of course, is the football media parade, from Talk Radio to the back pages of the tabloids to the brainless inanities of BBC Radio 5 Live (with the honourable exception of Danny Baker, who suffers the highs and lows that every true football fan suffers, but who always brings humour and intelligence to the aftermath).
In Scotland, we laugh at the childish witterings of Chick Young — even his fellow pundits find him amusing. Alan Green, on the other hand, 5 Live’s very own Chick Young, is taken seriously by pundits and fans alike. Green, despite watching and commentating on football for half a century, has never learned that the categorical statement simply doesn’t work in football (as, for instance, in November 1999, when he told 5 Live Newsdrive’s Peter Allen that it was simply not possible for Scotland to beat England at Wembley that evening — Scotland won 1–0).
Elsewhere on the BBC, we hear the casual xenophobia that dismisses the footballing (and, for that matter, refereeing) pedigree of any team from a country that the witless mavens they employ find difficult to locate on a map of the world. England invented football, don’t you know.
So, here we are again. England need to beat Slovenia. Should they qualify, all of the hand-wringing and all of the neck-wringing will be forgotten…until the next bit of fumbled goalkeeping or the next missed penalty…and then it all begins again.
There’s more than one spectator sport happening at the World Cup in South Africa.