Stop criticising England…just lower your expectations

Sarah Winterburn

If you listen to any 606 show after an England game, you won’t have to wait long for someone to call for Gareth Southgate (or any previous manager) to be sacked and ‘Arry brought in. Why? On at least one occasion “because he can speak English, unlike the last foreign manager” (the caller couldn’t remember Fabio Capello’s name). Mind you, this fella was open-minded; he said he would accept Carlo Ancelotti as manager, even though he is “flavour of the month”?!!! So it’s not like he’s narrow-minded or uninformed.

This is a great example of the sort of utter nonsense that curses England. These people are a real problem, not just because they pollute the public discourse, but also because they create a market for newspapers to target with their hysterical anti-England bleating. It is created for such people. So much so that it seems certain that saying England are rubbish is now a more commercial, more clickbaity proposition than just saying they’re a middling team that gets lots of good results in qualifying, but doesn’t play exciting football very often.

Journalists often claim they want to see England do well, but I’m far from convinced that their employers do. We live in a negativity-driven culture where some sections of the media employ people to write columns specifically to drive clicks via columns that promote anger, outrage and hate. Football has been totally pulled into that.

Surely not one single observer of England could possibly have expected them to play exciting football in the last two games. They almost never do. Literally, almost never. However, they do win an awful lot of games. We should just be happy about that. I am. I gave up expecting much entertainment from an England game many, many decades ago; consequently, I’m happy just to win, no matter who the opposition is. I have literally no expectations of them playing a high standard of football and am never disappointed when they don’t.

But despite the fact that only someone without any knowledge of England would have expected England to play well on Thursday and Sunday, there was still a small tidal wave of disdain, indignation and despair from media and fans, even though the manager has explicitly said that some of the players are not good enough and to expect them to play like a good international side is unrealistic. What more evidence do we need before we stop going ballistic at the national side? It really is time to stop the criticism and start being complimentary.

A good example of this was Danny Mills on 5live who in the past has criticised fans and media for expecting too much from England because we’re obviously not great, but spent the whole  Lithuania game criticising the team for, well, not being great. This happens all the time – fans and media assert that England aren’t very good, then they feign surprise when England aren’t very good and get the knives are out for someone to blame, usually the manager.

Eviscerating England for not playing great football is like berating a one-legged man for hopping and not running.

“Surely we should expect more from our national team?” said Danny (who also wanted Jermain Defoe introduced because “…he’ll run around…”) Well why should we expect more? Expectation, be it positive or negative, is largely based on history. If the history suggests they’ll play fairly boring football, then the expectation should be that they will do so again. We apply that logic in life all the time. If episodes one, two and three of a 20-part series are boring, you know episode four will likely be too and adjust your expectations accordingly. And thus when England play as per usual, they should not be criticised; they’re performing to par. To decry them for doing that is like complaining that red is not being blue.

There is a way to break this iron spiral of negativity. It is this: we collectively stop criticising the side. All we do is compliment them on the occasions they play quite well. There is simply no point in beating them up about it. It will never help. Indeed it is the root cause of a lot of the psychological problems the side clearly have.

It may be tempting to use the England side as a pinata to take out your frustrations at the injustices of life, or to use them as emblematic of an over-rewarded privileged elite. But it is just so much pishing in the wind; it comes back and hits us in the face.

This doesn’t mean we have to lavish praise on them when it is not deserved, because that is just as destructive. It just means that we don’t indulge in mudslinging and criticism all the time. It isn’t fair to criticise a side that isn’t very good for being not very good, because it is holding them to an unrealistic standard.

And it is just as pointless to say they’re not playing like they do for their club because football is a team game and the performance of any individual is contingent on the performance of the team and the attitude towards it. Different team + different context = different performance.

The fact is, even in a game which is really dull, whenever England score it still really excites me. I’m still addicted to seeing us win. I never want to lose that. And given that we win a hell of a lot, we really should be big fans of England. We’ve not lost a qualifier game for eight years now and yet the well of cynicism towards the team seems deeper every year, to the point that it now an undefeated ten-game qualifying competition is of zero achievement.

It has got to such a ludicrous extreme now that we’ve talked ourselves into a situation where winning feels like losing. Where is the worth in that? It’s plain wrong and it has to stop. These critics love to paint themselves as England fans who want to see the side do well. Yeah? Well just shut up, then. You’re not the answer – you and your ceaseless criticism are the real problem.

John Nicholson