England beat Moldova on Friday night in a World Cup qualifier. At one point I even turned to see the replay of a goal. Not watching England has been never been so de rigueur. Everyone’s got their reasons: the money, the players, the ground, the band – in Luton we hate the FA. But unlike supporter power at our clubs, with England resistance is futile.
“He’s just back from a broken leg” my dad said to me as we huddled round the TV watching Paul Parker warm up. He knows everything my dad. England vs. Holland at Italia 90 was the game, a nil-nil of which I have no further recollection. I was seven years old, and this was my first.
Gary Lineker was my hero. All I knew about him was that he scored goals and his haircut had the potential for longevity not present in the mulleted midfielders around him.
Also in Italy was Steve Bull of Wolves. A shorter, uglier man. Not a cartoon super hero like Lineker. To my young mind being a Second Division player meant he was almost certainly working on-site between matches.
For every boy I grew up with and every football-fearing bloke I’ve met since, the magic of that World Cup remains. Pavarotti, pens, Gazza, Sir Bobby: I was sold. And for the best part of the next 20 years I regularly sprayed beer into the ears of strangers in pubs, considered tattoos and indulged in uncharacteristic xenophobia, all in the name of England.
But on Friday night, as with so many nights over that past few years, I sat in a pub with my back to screen, barely bothering to acknowledge Lampard et al limbering up for their latest lazy fart into the soiled duvet of the national game.
I know I’m not alone. Many different roads have been travelled from the boyhood magic of Italia 90 to England indifference.
For some it’s a lack of connection with the modern football millionaire. The England players probably aren’t all bad, but giving 80 grand a week to a 21 year old will likely breed more gaudy twats than philanthropists. Though it’s a bit of a myth that the lower wages of the football league, or even (whisper it) non-league, mean the players are less mercenary or vain than the superstars of the ‘EPL’, one thing I’m sure we can all agree on is that John Terry elicits disdain at the very site of his sneering allegedly racist face.
For others, as they get older and wiser, it’s the inevitable nationalist rubbish associated with international football that begins to grate.
If the jingoism and the players don’t do it, a trip to new Wembley will. The all-seated (or else) corporate shame of the national stadium is enough to drain the soul of even the most ignorant football lover. The 'ground' is filled to the brim with tourists and coin-eyed hospitality spivs sneering from the free bar at the clappy-stick waving drones in their plastic hats, sponsored by The Sun, who have actually bothered to come out for the second half. The idiots.
And the band. The fucking Pukka Pies England Band. Like chubby toddlers after too many sugary drinks they vomit endlessly over terrace chants - songs started in the hope of forming a mass euphoria of drunken voices, ebbing and flowing to the beat of the game. Not the bell-end with the drum and the face paint.
For us brave, downtrodden Luton fans however, there’s a little something extra.
Supporting a team that the FA (Team England’s marketing department) has conspired to delete from fixture lists with points deductions that our wealthier cousins in the football family (West Ham, Man United, Chelsea) were able to avoid, means there is a principle at stake.
While the rest pepper their club vs. country rants with the arguments above, in Bedfordshire the FA’s modern England represent a personal insult. All that is corrupt and lost. A slight on our good name.
We aren’t just bored of the England team, we consider it a boycott. Viva la revolución!
But as we fight our righteous war, comrades, I’m afraid we do so in futility.
For unlike at our clubs where withholding season ticket money can force out a dodgy chairman in a matter of weeks, and where voting with our feet really counts, the FA and Team England know this: for every boy that once sat glued to Italia 90, for every second they now cheer on the brave attacks of part timers from Moldova, for every minute that passes... a new modern football consumer is born.