English look on as Euro 2008 shows gulf in class
In our area of London, national flags have hung in shop windows, kids have worn team shirts 24/7 and, after a couple of Euro 2008 games, complete bedlam broke out.
The main road was blocked by dancing crowds and horn-blowing cars raced around the side streets with youngsters hanging out of the windows. The parties have gone on almost until dawn.
For England fans, watching our Turkish neighbours’ unbelieving joy at their team’s Houdini acts on the pitch has been as close as we’ve got to taking part in the tournament.
But I would bet that for most, this has been the most enjoyable European championship or World Cup since Euro 96 and that night we beat the Dutch.
Jingoism and club loyalty have been put away for the duration and very cleansing it has been too. In the pubs, you hear fans talking about foreign teams and individual players in an overwhelmingly positive fashion, although Cristiano Ronaldo and Jens Lehmann could be the exceptions to that.
Instead of sitting on the sofa debating the recovery rates of metatarsals, swearing at Sven’s lack of daring and working out just when we would be knocked out on penalties, England fans have been able to watch most games dispassionately and marvel at the skills of the foreign players.
We have been doing that for years, of course, in the Premier League. But Euro 2008 has shown up the shortcomings of the self-styled best league in the world and also explains why England never achieve any success.
The speed at which the English game is played creates a great atmosphere but the speed of thought and deed displayed by teams like the Dutch and Russians, and Portugal in flashes, is rarely seen in the Premier League.
The passing angles and switching of the point of attack in some games were almost an epiphany to those brought up on Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard – to name the best rather than the worst.
Touch and the ability to bring the ball under control whether it comes to you at chest height, to your midriff or straight to your feet is something most English players lack, and yet it is something German players, for instance, seem to be born with.
And to return to the Turkish team, England’s players just do not feel the same way about representing their country as those men did, and it shows on the pitch. The cream of English football talk the talk about their pride in pulling on the shirt, but do they really feel the same way about it as Fatih Terim’s charges or Bastian Schweinsteiger?
Club football is all that matters in England and even national coach Fabio Capello will find it hard to change that.
Robert Woodward, London
PHOTO: Spain’s Daniel Guiza celebrates his goal during the Euro 2008 semi-final against Russia in Vienna, June 26. REUTERS/Robert Zolles